Vancouver collage artist Jay Cabalu takes extra look at consumerist excess

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      Vancouver collage artist Jay Cabalu draws from a music video of Rihanna for the centrepiece of Extra, his first solo exhibit.

      In the video, the Barbardian pop star sashays in military-inspired couture, straddles the gun barrel of a tank, and wears a helmet with Mickey Mouse ears.

      Rihanna unabashedly sings: And I want it all / It's gonna take more than that, hope that ain't all you got / I need it all / The money, the fame, the cars, the clothes.

      From this, Cabalu created a collage called Savage Fenty (Rihanna), encapsulating what he wants to say in Extra, which opens May 7 at the On Main Gallery in Vancouver’s Chinatown (427-268 Keefer Street).   

      “It encompasses a lot of what the show is all about in terms of excess,” Cabalu told the Straight in a phone interview.

      Cabalu explained that Extra is a show about capitalist-driven consumption, and the resulting dominant culture of wanting to have “more and more”.

      In addition, there are “intersections” in that video for Rihanna’s 2009 hit single Hard.

      “It also brings to mind ideas of imperialism and war,” Cabalu said.

      Extra is likewise a “triple entendre to be taken literally”.

      It refers to the special editions of newspapers of a previous time, which paperboys sold on the street by yelling, “Extra! Extra!”

      “More recently, usage of ‘extra’ was co-opted into mainstream slang from African-American vernacular English, meaning someone who is ‘over the top’,” Cabalu said.

      In exploring the world of consumerism, Cabalu emphasized that he took a route “somewhere in the middle of an indictment and a celebration”.

      “I think it’s important for me to be honest about the negative effects of consumer culture and excess, but at the same time, also be honest about how cool and pristine and sparkly and enticing the culture as well,” he said.

      Cabalu said that he didn’t want to “detract away from how beautiful” many products and commodities are made for enjoyment.

      This explains why the collage artist incorporates a lot of images of consumer items in his mashups of cultural icons, pop figures, and scenes.

      “I like the shininess of everything, and I want to include those images,” Cabalu said.

      “I want them to look luxurious, while at the same time, being critical and showing how damaging and destructive it can be,” he continued.

      Moreover, “As time goes on, people are becoming more inundated with images and media, all portraying excessive consumerism, while we are also depleting natural resources.”

      Cabalu also pulls material from city life.

      His Flaming Chandelier is a reference to the SPINNING CHANDELIER under the Granville Bridge.

      The latter is a massive crystal fixture, which cost $4.8 million and served as the public-art component of the luxury condo development Vancouver House.

      Flaming Chandelier collage by Jay Cabalu.

      Cabalu adopted collage as his primary medium when he was taking up his bachelor of fine arts degree at the Kwantlen Polytechnic University.

      The art of putting together disparate pieces to form a new image spoke to his personal experience of growing up as an immigrant.

      Cabalu was born in the Philippines, and his family lived in Brunei for a time. He was a young boy when they moved to Canada in 1991.

      He made a lot of self portraits between 2017 and 2019 as a way of exploring his own identity.

      “My technique just grew so much when I was making the self portraits,” Cabalu recalled.

      With the increased confidence in his artistic ability, he wanted to see how he could apply this to subjects that have always been of great personal interest.

      One of these is pop iconography, which Cabalu reflected in his early works.

      Another is his continuous contemplation of how he relates as a consumer in a capitalist system that promotes acquisition as way of finding personal happiness.

      “When I was growing up, I became very much a collector of comic books and magazines, so I think that’s where this idea of consumption really started, which is me actually consuming a lot,” Cabalu said.

      Cabalu started work for Extra last year.

      He later invited On Main Gallery curator Paul Wong over to his Vancouver apartment to show his progress.

      Cabalu and Wong previously collaborated for the Pride in Chinatown MMXX art project, which featured works from queer artists of Asian heritage.

      “He was quite instrumental in assessing what I had created at that point, which was in September 2021, and bringing it all together and finding the throughline of the different pieces,” Cabalu said about Wong.

      Extra runs from May 7 to May 28 at the On Main Gallery (427-268 Keefer Street). Opening reception is on May 7 from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.

      More details here.