Alfredo + Isabel Aquilizan
Alfredo + Isabel Aquilizan
21 x 26 cm / 8.27 x 10.24 in
In the documentary to be exhibited alongside a motley of pictures for the art fair, Antonio Calma sits comfortably for the camera, posed against the fabled and majestic Mount Arayat. Calma is actually ensconced. After all, this is his social world, his art world. He is a painter of landscapes such as the one that frames him and one that he sells quite copiously in his trade. He is what back in the day would be called, oftentimes with condescension if not outright derision, a Mabini artist; in our own time, he persists to stand his ground, with his own gallery in Pampanga and Tarlac, a nest feathered by an atelier of artists and a cohort of loyal clients as well.
Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan have earlier worked with Calma for an intriguing and in many ways difficult series on Mabini art, a fascination for eight years already. For the Aquilizans, the discourse around Mabini is a viable site from which to think about the circulation of art and the creation of its value from the origins of the market during the reign of Fernando Amorsolo in the first half of the twentieth century to present-day scenarios in which primary and secondary markets interact very briskly, sometimes vertiginously briskly. Mabini references a lot of logics vital to the commerce of art. It also implicates the afterlife of academic realism of the nineteenth century as a foundation of tourist and souvenir art in the American period. It relocates Amorsolo from a revered master seemingly beyond the machinations of money to a purveyor of taste and things in a wider economy of both kitsch and collectible. Finally, it complicates the notion of the contemporary itself. How do artists like the Aquilizans appropriate the lively practice and ecology of Calma in the context of contemporary art? Can Calma survive the translation, or is it only the Aquilizans who gain from this contentious gesture? Both Calma and the Aquilizans have been recognized because of this project: exhibition presence for the latter; and business prospects for the former. Can there be reciprocal mimicry here?
These questions are not masked in the exhibition. Rather, they are laid bare, the better for the public of the art fair to keenly revisit the questions of value and the social life of commodities. In previous collaborations with Calma, the Aquilizans radically intervened in the form of Calma’s art. It was cut up, reframed, painted over, stacked up, made to look much more besides how it is supposed to appear in Mabini and its satellite retail outlets. In this fair, the Aquilizans decide to pursue another trajectory. They practically transplant the gallery of Calma from its homegrounds to the premises of the fair, set up as a gallery like any other at the event. Alongside it are iterations of the oeuvre of Calma, only that they are significantly mediated by the Aquilizans and that the discipline of art history encroaches to historicize it. This cohabitation is meant to confuse, to productively confuse, so that the idea of market and its political economy are viewed from a broader vantage and that the modernism of art does not elude the critique usually reserved for commercial interests enslaved by lucre. An argument can be made that it is commerce all over, just like the salon hang of the works in both the galleries of Calma and the Aquilizans. And if it is so, is there nothing outside it? Does inserting Calma into the art fair circuit merely indulge the market, or does it finally disabuse it?
There are no narratives in Martha Atienza’s work but rather propositions of narratives and questionings of unexplored terrain. Like the fishermen and seafarers in her 2011 three-channel video Gilubong ang Akon Pusod sa Dagat (My Navel is Buried in the Sea) — who skim and sink into the ocean— Atienza asks us to immerse ourselves into the precarious and unfamiliar phenomena that surround our social lives.
Steady hand. A soft, phantasmal mist. Her work for the fair is a gripping image of the sea diffused in a gentle haze. It is the infamous and seductive Atlantic crossing that once tied together territories: plum to power, slave to master. As we gaze into the slow but certain movement of froth and ripples, we are given a sense of the bigger story, the moments of victory and tragedy that have marked the surf. Dense and unyielding, the water has seen all these and looks on.
For the Dutch-Filipina artist, water is germ and pivot but also, ultimately, survival. It is the fantastic and fearsome wellspring of the people of her hometown in Bantayan Island in Madridejos, Cebu. Water, too, is the elemental agent that shaped the Netherlands, a small country borne of sediment and flood with its residents famously conquering the latter through technology and conjectures of the earth’s future stirrings; it is also Atienza’s other home.
The immensity of the sea vis-a-vis our physical and emotional relationship with it remains a constant obsession for the artist. She is attentive witness and patient chronicler of the people of Bantayan whose lives revolve around the ocean’s bounty and temperament. Through sound and the moving image, Atienza carefully weaves their stories together and turns them into a strange and palpable confrontation with the magnificence of the sea.
Her work reminds us that the Latin root of the word “record” is re-cordare meaning “to recall”, literally “to return to” or pierce through the heart. We see this as she expands her role as recorder to becoming part of the community she represents. The artist— a blend of two cultures obsessed and dominated by the sea— is merely returning to familiar dwelling after all, a prescribed space within the heart.
Deeply committed to social engagement in her practice, Atienza initiates long-term projects through a combination of art and ethnography. She continues the discussions initiated by her video and sound installations and extends them further to actual interventions. These engagements seek to address collective aspirations: a sustainable source of livelihood and approaches to wrestling with disasters, both natural and manmade.
Her documentation, thus, isn’t really just a recording of events and doesn’t really end once recorded—- it transmutes.
Gilubong… has now spawned Para sa Aton (For Us), a gathering of people from the area who maintain a research and development platform through new media and group dialogue. This in turn has generated Aton Isla (Our Island), a group of young filmmakers who have acquired training and equipment from the Para sa Aton workshops.
Through these actions, life and art become inextricable for Atienza. They bloom and coalesce, carving out mutual dreams, moving together—steadily— towards a safe berth.
182.8 × 243.8 cm / 6 x 8 ft
The tension between painterly representation and mechanical translucence in Nona Garcia’s now-familiar juxtaposition of paintings and x-ray prints rests in our grappling amidst commonplace objects and sacrosanct symbols embedded in everyday life— a disposition of constant reckoning that we subsume into our habits and rituals. And what images these are. They summon pain and silence but with such careful tenderness, reminding us of our extraordinary lives and seemingly ordinary deaths.
Garcia acknowledges the depth of missing and the gravity of loss within the traditions of portraiture, still life and landscape painting. Contemplating on the act of effacement, she reminds us that appearances may be secondary, and presences, provisional. These visual displacements and erasures may be elegiac— as in the smudged out details of a landscape or the layered, paper-tole of a living room submerged in water— and sometimes absurd, as in the floating hairpieces of faceless heads.
While these visions, rendered in muted and austere palettes, may appear somber, her work can also be full of life in the sense that while the animate character is barely present, our awareness of the processes of everyday life is heightened through traces and bits of what has passed or been hidden from us: animal bone, crumpled paper, curved nape, the remains of a storm. We wonder: why do you think she keeps her hair down? What sort of people once crowded this room? To whom do we owe this elegant wreckage?
Submitting these remnants to the stark realism of painting or the soft glow of the x-ray machine, they become newly hallowed. Their presence (or absence?) suggest of a lively kind of existence, one marked by activity and industry. It is here in this juncture where we, once again, begin to reconcile polarities— the beloved, daily matter that make up our chaotic lives, where folk and science intertwine and imaginings of generic forms are capable of encompassing monumental spaces.
Garcia welcomes this incredible ordinariness of being, this bedlam, our mortal coil.
130 x 251 x 77.47 cm / 51 x 98.8 x 30.5 in
Mark Justiniani’s recent installation art and three-dimensional works activate viewing and motion at several levels. First, the artist animates spatial depth to suggest action. Second, one’s awareness of plasticity is activated by way of a framed scene unfolding across layers of screens. Interestingly, the screens are nearly always contained in a box or box-like enclosure. Third, surrounding or enveloping space is enlivened through modulations of light. These articulations emphasize what Alex Potts (2001) notes as a ‘shift in modality’ in the way sculptures and installations are experienced and viewed. He cites the change may be due the greater role ‘staging’ plays in shaping our experience of art works. This is a brief introduction to the latest addition to the artist’s extensive body of works and aims to show that at the root of his art practice is a striving to discover the rudiments of art making in changing circumstances.
Our first encounter with the Infinity series we can claim as marked by grandeur of vision and form, apt characterisations of Justiniani’s deployment of grand scale alongside enchanting intricacy. Unfolding in space and time, they eventually reveal deft manipulations of form and light, the art embodies structures shaped either by profound distance of the spirit or the material immediacy of life. Structures for these installations include a pit of mirrors, a swerving track, a deep tunnel, a dark cavern, a dim cathedral nave, the belly of an atom collider, amongst a few. In them all as well as this recent piece for Art Fair Philippines, vision and experience are inextricably entwined. We enter a darkened space, teeter on the precipice of an abyss, tread an undulating path, rest in a room of reflections, replicated and severed all the same. The experience is best captured across a spectrum of fascination and wonder, rapture at best.
Current works take from the retablo, Baroque altarpieces for colonial cathedrals in the Philippines and the Americas. They condense architecture, sculpture, and painting into sumptuous theatres of artistic expressions. Blurring hierarchies between art forms, they also embody transgressions in art making and perhaps speak fully to Justiniani’s ideas about the tension between invention and transmission. Taking from works of the Infinity series, we encounter this conglomeration of the retablo in enclosed space intimating a coalition of architectonic and plastic qualities, oscillations between surface and depth, and the eventual flattening and consequent dematerialisation of our physical bodies in relation to the works and their placement in space.
Mark Justiniani renders complex contradictions between shallow and deep space, the interplay between the receding and advancing trajectory of the gaze, the scale and intensities of dark and light through this tableau of altars. Perhaps what is curious is many of us would be tempted to record the scene by way of ‘screen capture’, adding another flimsy layer to an already existing strata of screens, modes of seeing and becoming.
The play on construction and structure references the artist’s recollection of seeing Victorio Edades’ painting The Builders being moved out from a conference room at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. The very real bodies transporting the work may well be reflec- tions of those in the image before the artist. This brought him to a deeper reflection of the work’s monumental impact on the development of modern art in the Philippines. Justiniani thus inquires of the processes that make the formation of sensibilities, the muta- bility of sources, and the fluctuating force of influence.
Monumental and ambitious in operation and scale, these works may perhaps make us momentarily forget that Justiniani is consummate painter, adept at drawing and painting, keenly attuned to the vicissitudes of scale, skilful in deploying space both in two- or three-dimensions, and most important, perpetually preoccupied with pondering the foundations of art making—which is after all the invention of new systems and codes of reality. Our experience of these works and others in the Infinity series are shaped by ‘containment and dispersal’, an outcome of staging elements and forms in a manner that plays with what is visible to the eye, a trick on vision. This ultimately speaks of a condition that pervades contemporary life: the teeming abundance of screens, our fascination with appearances, a flatness that threatens to obliterate our material bodies, and an overarching desire to capture and grasp a comprehensible version of the real.
One of the most sought after and respected photographers in Manila, At Maculangan is largely recognised for his magazine work of crisply shot portraits and solidly lit interiors. He has also produced his own photography, working these in between his numerous assignments.
Recently, however, he has distanced himself from what he considers as commercially-tinged endeavours, slowly easing towards more art-related photographic work. He has become more involved with producing work together with art book editors, taking images for exhibition catalogues and museum publications, and has been busy collaborating extensively with other artists on their projects. This current set of photographs is an off-shoot of one such commission.
A small room filled to bursting with objects, each one with the potential of becoming a prop—from typewriters to rubber duckies—is the backdrop that frames the two subjects of At Maculangan’s suite of photographs Corners Amplify Low Frequency. Shooting inside a foley studio on a project for Paul Pfeiffer in Bangkok, Maculangan found the process intriguing. Foley recreates the sound effects for background and ambient sound for films, video and other media, during post-production. A slowly vanishing art, in part due to the rise of digital sound libraries, there are still foley artists who work on the craft, but few and far between. The invitation to video foley artists working to produce sound for the video or a sporting event was a rare opportunity. Maculangan says, “We were shooting in a foley studio, and it was packed with much stuff, props for the foley, more than the ones here in Manila. I was familiar with foleys but this was the first time I witnessed foley artists at work.”
For this series Maculangan creates portraits of the two foley artists, Thanasak Julakate (Neh) and Chat Mahapichayakul (Lek), as they work at threading together sounds for a boxing match. The sound effects are made using very economical movements coupled with unlikely material. Often times the artists are sitting down, either on chairs or on the foley stage shuffling in place as they watch the video, timing their movements to the ones on screen. The portraits reveal the variety of props they used to mimic the sound: meat punched to create the impact on skin, boxing gloves are brushed against each other recreating the boxer’s jabs, cloth is rubbed against cloth to add depth to the shuffling of shoes on stage. In Maculangan’s photographs the foley artists are found at the center of the image, everything is arranged symmetrically. As with most of this images, the compositions are tight and spare. There is no excess fat in his photography, no extra flourishes of shadows or special lighting, no off-center, assymetrical tehcniques. Maculangan is once removed from his photographs, denying his personality from interfering, using balance and symmetry as foil instead. It is precisely this sparseness that lend the images their sense of contemporaneity. Free of sentiment, his work perhaps parallels 19th-century, anthropological photographs, they admit to nothing except for the recording of images, for later study.
Shot in two different circumstances, while working or posing for their portraits, they are shown bare chested, dressed in plaid shorts and singlets, and wearing sneakers. They hold wrapped tubings, wear boxing gloves, sit on the floor punching pounds of meat, or scuffle in place. The frugal and humble production of the foley finds itself somehow in line with Maculangan’s spare aesthetic. For him these are his ‘found objects,’ in fact, they are found images. Not necessarily in the way that artists use found objects per se, Maculangan says, “images are always available, but the event, that is, the circumstance, is what I try to catch.” This is what he does with his own work—capture that event, recognize that circumstance—sift through the images and present them as they are.
122 x 295 cm / 48 x 116.1 in
No other Filipino artist today has transformed the art of sewing into such a breathtaking accomplishment than Raffy T. Napay, one of the featured artists in the 2016 edition of Art Fair Philippines. His works, made up of multi-colored threads intricately sewn (and sometimes tufted) onto canvas, may technically be considered as tapestries and yet, by just a quick glance, one can tell that his creations—evoking scenes from daily life as well as symbolic journeys into the interiority of self—transcend their humble materials, casting off a splendor and an expressiveness that can rival the nobility of oils and acrylic.
Rather than perceive the threads and twines as poor relations to pigments, one should see them as natural extensions of the canvas (which is, after all, also made of threads), transforming it from a surface or a staging ground into an inextricable element into which the incalculable filaments are meticulously applied not with the expressiveness of a brush, but the single-mindedness of a needle. The act of creation is necessarily slow, incremental, fastidious and meditative, conducted one stitch at a time, painstakingly deliberate until something completely representational appears: the English countryside at the approach of autumn (Sanctuary, Ateneo Art Gallery, 2015) or the swelling and the heaving and the churning of an ocean beneath an eventful sky (See and Silence, ArtistSpace, 2015).
“(His) alchemy,” writes Fr. Jason Dy, SJ in the catalog text of Napay’s exhibition Sanctuary, “lies in exploring potential of craft materials and tools as a medium for communicating his artistic ideas. He has been successful in appropriating the tailor’s skills of stitching and tufting into his own creative processes. The repetitive acts of disentangling and entangling twined threads as well as sewing them into canvases and other scraps of fabrics have become performative acts of deconstructing his experience of humanity and environment in order to build his particular synthetic view on the complementarity of familial and natural habitations, and the interconnectedness of persons towards their quest for growth and wholeness.”
This sense of wholeness is one of the supreme gifts that Napay, a recipient of the Lorenzo il Magnifico Award of last year’s Florence Biennale, bestows upon his viewers: a full-bodied sense that what is being looked at is an entire world—breathing and complete— whether it is a slice of the visible world (the sea at midnight) or the anatomy of human relations (two figures with twines connecting their hearts). Because of the meticulous details of the composition (we won’t mistake the works as less than created, labored over), we see this world as deeply reflective of the artist’s life, an investment of fecund thought and feeling, bringing forth—in the medley of contiguous, crisscrossing threads—an imprint of experience. And this is what we ultimately receive once we look at—and walk away from—a work of Napay: an experience enacted by active perception seduced by the transformative magic of the artist’s hands.
Pamela Yan Santos
Pamela Yan Santos
Pam Yan Santos strides into the art fair with the intention to slow down, or in fact to carve out a space for respite. She finds the fair, or the current market in general, restless, with the public all too consumed to make objects out of everything. And we all know what happens when energy, even the most creative kind, turns into things. Or do we?
Perhaps, this logic of objectification is overlooked in the frenzy of the fair. And the artist simply wants to recover a ground for herself and for anyone who wishes to get some peace and quiet before “art,” if that at all were possible these days. In many ways, Yan Santos looks to that space she knows fairly well: the house or the home, or whatever form of residence one takes up to seek shelter and there derive a level of comfort. But she realizes full well, too, in her forays in the past into this fraught territory that such a sphere though deemed private is not totally free from trouble or the influx of forces.
As she domesticates the gallery, as it were, she explores resources from the two dispositions that have sustained her practice all this time. First is the graphic and the design it evokes; in this project, she scatters around seven hundred letters, cut out in wood, across the walls for the audience to make sense, compose, mix and match, and try to figure out what might happen in the quest for possession — or if the search would even be rewarded by a word or a phrase or some meaning. This is one way to impede the perception of the art piece amid the highly accelerated condition of the speculative environment that surrounds the room. Second is the simulation or ornamentation of furniture. In this particular project, the artist works on the floor that she covers with a carpet. The latter simulates the look and feel of grass, with the unyielding and impersonal cement of the parking lot of the art fair morphing into some kind of familiar lawn. It is actually fabric that resembles lush pasture.
The letter and the lawn are the devices the artist enlists to keep people in place in this chamber, to stop them in their tracks, to let them catch their breath, and, maybe in the fullness of time, a critical consciousness. What layers this gesture is for sure the artifice of it all. Behind the prompting to slacken in the irrationality and the importuning of consumption is the kind of game that is at play in the puzzle of letters and the potential meanings, in the effort to delay cognition — and hopefully challenge the easy capture of art in the market. Gamey, too, is the faux grass that becomes the surface on which the straggler might laze or finally sprawl. Likewise, the preoccupation of Yan Santos with childhood and its idiosyncrasies is subtly revealed here; between frolic and fatigue are the boredom and the adventure of a child learning the ropes of patience. This language game is key to the current reflection of the artist on a hyper-stimulated bazaar and the best laid schemes of mice and merchants.
KAREN H. MONTINOLA SELECTION
Mac Valdezco has an affinity for the sculptural, discovering its tempo and terrain in various mediums. She believes materials ultimately dictate the dimensionality and plastic qualities of forms. Her pieces whether stand-alone, wall bound or hovering in space; those that recall natural forms, earth bound or galactic descended show an intimate understanding of the act of coaxing life from otherwise dead or deadened objects. The latter attributes especially apply to the industrial surplus Valdezco is fond of, not a few of them she discovered by accident. We can surmise there are three central elements to Valdezco’s practice: a reverence for material tempered with a celebratory playfulness, ‘joinery’ as the backbone of her craft, and the ability to transform ordinary objects into vehicles of wonder.
The artist recounts her often accidental discovery of material, storing them until she discovers a use for them. The rug bindings she transformed into wall bound pieces, actual objects from everyday life she fashioned as armature for her cling wrap works, nylon ties and a bevy of other plastic objects were joined into conglomerates of organically growing forms or in one other show, into constellations of galaxies and the beings we imagine to thrive in them. There is painstaking attention to detail, a fineness to the craft that relies greatly on stringing, lashing, or binding things. There is innate rhythm to the act: the limp or rigid hold, the loose or tight joint, the chromatic scheme achieved by the proximity of conjoined objects, even seamed or frayed edges of works. We can say this act of making is akin to breathing, the drawing in and release of air; the flaring or constriction of muscles, the alternation between cavities or hollow forms and those of muscles and organs.
Transformation is essential to this dynamic creative process. Valdezco is fascinated by impermanence: animals changing skin, memories dimming, seasons turning, the flight of forms is what she strives to capture. The possibilities of medium defines a practice hinged on animating lifeless refuse or discards. We may refer to the now popular terms ‘repurposing’ or ‘recycling’ but a more localised ‘making do’ better applies to the way she breathes life into objects. Extensive labour (she describes the painstaking task of binding and how she allows the act to somehow dictate the termination of process) is braided with the stamp of the new.
It is worth noting that Valdezco’s chosen mediums are remains of industrial processes, remnants of factory produced objects, the very same ones that crowd our lives and seemingly, if not misleadingly render them meaningful. Valdezco’s making and crafting bears the imprint of a chain of productive labour – Cavite’s industrial zone, smaller cottage or home based businesses, an abbreviated map of a world flattened by the objects we consume, throw, and take up again. The after lives of these industrial remains is cartography of global consumption and the labour that assembles them into useful objects. It is not surprising to find junk shops in the peripheries and outskirts of business districts, or in some, entire dumping sites where unusable junks are sifted, sorted or taken apart from whence they enter this cycle over again.
One can say the artist’s pieces likewise enter another sphere of consumption, that of the art world yet it is a site where these remains are animated by wonder; a place that we can perhaps aspire to rescue from vacuity. Astonishment in turn conjures joy and hope, however fleeting. Valdezco’s engagement of material and respect for form transforms objects into vehicles of wonder, her creative process a platform for dynamic transformation. In a world as deadened by the materials she rescues, reworks and transforms, perhaps this capacity for wonder may enable us to be redeemed by hope.