Louie Cordero is a painter, illustrator, sculptor, and the man behind Nardong Tae—a superhero out to save us from ourselves, while cursed with the misfortune of being a literal pile of s***. Cordero graduated in 2001 from the University of the Philippines Studio Arts Program. He was among the artists running Surrounded by Water before co-founding Future Prospects, another artist-run space.
Cordero has participated in both local and international residencies, including the Vermont Studio Center, where he won the grand prize for painting at the 8th International Freeman Foundation Awards in 2003. This set off a streak, with Cordero winning the Ateneo Art Awards in 2004, placing as a finalist in 2005, then being recognized as one of CCP’s Thirteen Artists in 2006. On the international exhibition circuit he is just as prolific, having shown work all over Asia, Australia, France, England, and across the United States.
Cordero draws from folk mythology and pop culture, citing the jeepney, in all its repurposed glory, as a consistent source of inspiration. These elements came together in My We – a multimedia installation based on the “My Way” killings (or death by karaoke) – which was the Philippine entry for Open House, the 2011 Singapore Biennale.
For Art Fair Philippines 2014, Cordero has created four fiberglass tables, amorphously shaped and airbrushed in the garish, acid colors that have become his trademark. Coming from reminiscences of having played ping pong with his father at home, he expands these tables’ capacity for narrative by literally breaking their edges and reshaping their borders, effectively eliminating the game’s repetitive and meditative nature. Complementing the display is the prospect of engaging visitors in a sport named for the onomatopoeia conjured by launching a ball back and forth, suggestive of the discourse between the artwork and its spectator.
Using action as material, Cordero’s ping pong tables evade being fetishized as commodities, thus his art practice evolves from one of making objects, to one that sits on the boundary of the participatory. By organizing a tournament at the opening—complete with scoreboards and trophies—Cordero challenges visitors to go beyond looking, engaging them in both the mechanics and ambiguities of sportsmanship by toying with the overlapping notions of being in it to win, as opposed to just having fun. These concepts are apparent in opportunities for play, but have since become characteristic of art as it is co-opted into the market, where players become brokers and artwork becomes stock.
By opening with an on-site ping pong tournament, Cordero places the idea of art as a competitive sport at the center of this spectacle. In the presence of this game (or any game), visitors may choose to watch, join, or leave. The choice to leave becomes a choice not only to abandon the action, but to cast off any pretensions borne upon entering hallowed halls dedicated to cultural expression, in a reminder that these are not pedestals, but tables.
After all, why call it a fair if you can’t have fun?
Marina Cruz is a native of her childhood. Home has always been a constant form of address, or better to say, of addressing. She revisits the abodes that have reared her and patiently empties out the vessels that have kept the clothes of the years, worn by time and people she will always cherish. Such a wistful process offers up dresses, which mingle the quaint and the kitsch. She unfolds them and reflects on how they not only index the lives of the past but also the history of appearing and the related virtues of appearance and even of beauty, instincts that are as much socially instilled as they are expressions of a mindful body. In many ways then, this explication of the desire for dress is very much a tale of surfaces, of the exterior that surrounds the body, with the dress housing the latter, an architecture of textile sheltering an at once vulnerable and preening figure. This has been the preoccupation of the artist: memory as embodied in fabric, festooned and persisting like fantasy. In this exhibition, she recollects
the dense material and lays out a range of articulations. First, she presents twin dresses, swathed in resin, and therefore stiffened; they are disembodied but stand with certainty like a pair of party attire. They become the ground of painting, which references the patterns of the dresses. Second, she paints the image of these dresses on canvas, focusing again on ornamentation, and revealing the various conditions of a dress, from a flat artifact affectionately delineated to one without substance, denied of tumescence, so to speak, wilting under the light of scrutiny, or simply reduced to creases as the body slips out of its armature, its potentially stifling carapace. Third, she paints life-size faces of dolls in a straightforward manner; they are singular and prominent, basking in some plastic sublime, but can also be haunting and macabre. Fourth, she constructs boxes, sectioned like a doll house, its inside filled with pictures of interiors and furniture; the outside is lavished by painting as well. Here, she gathers two aspects of her recurrent themes: the house and the doll. They condense in an evocation of the “doll house,” an exemplary trope of childhood that intimates how the social anticipates the role of the woman in a gendered world. This repetition of play within this dwelling, within this address, prefigures such a world, rendering certain performances of the woman “natural” and “expected” in a doll house of a universe. A naked mannequin dwarfs its setting like some somnambulist in a dreamscape or a ghost returning to the locus of crime. This particular project elaborates on the earlier discourses of domicile, the burdens of beauty, and the remembrances of wearing. The structure is part toy, part maquette, part diorama; in itself, it is a device of observation as much as it is a scenography unveiling the various adornments of the artist’s repertoire. But all this is in miniature, another salient turn in this foray into childhood and the many corners of its restless mind
In the imaginarium of Rodel Tapaya, mythology looms large. It evokes for him the lush imagery of the Philippine primeval, a forest of signs that are “taken for wonders” from the perspective of the equally perplexing present. Such a disposition is affirmed by studies in the archaeology of the region that trace concepts of ancestry to notions of ecology, specifically of plant life, and how it flourishes in rhizomes of relations. In the language of Bahasa Indonesia, the word alamat is address; in our lexicon, it is legend. In both senses of these meanings, address is irreducibly origin. And this is what the artist has been keen to probe in many of his excursions into the dense foliage of precedence: everything is before us in many ways. Tapaya lays out this proposition through certain modes. Foremost of which is scale. The works can be large, the better to pose the picture to a public that is meant to gather around it in the ritual of collective looking. This also enables him to conceive of a sprawling landscape of event, character, and ornamentation within a narrative of many turns and of myriad crossings across different planes of time. The other element is color, strident and lavish, a reference not only to a locality and its chromatic climate, but also to the demands of storytelling in the form of fantasy and otherworldiness.
Then there is the palimpsest, a layering of details that bleed into each other. These juxtapositions have earlier found their place in dioramas, installations, and intermedia works that Tapaya has held out with circumspection and humor. Finally is the peculiarity of the figure: grotesque, hyperbolic, playful. This can run the range, from the folk expressionist to a sleeker, almost digital impression. In this particular exhibition, the biography of an identity through the revelation of myth poaches on the memory of nature, with flora mingling with fauna, and both inhabiting the space of the human and the mythic persona in a cosmological constellation that is very much on earth. This piece of earth takes on density ethnically on which thrive the vines of fictions and fables. The artist appropriates tales from communities like the B’laan and the Ibanag and places like Zambales. In The Magic Frog, the B’laan folktale called Salandungoy frames the scheme. Salandungoy is a young man who clears his rice field and makes it fertile exceptionally with the help of a frog; the giant and avaricious Gamaw would ask for the frog and later would devour it because it did not help him the way it did Salundungoy. The Heirloom spins off an Ibanag lore on a potent medal that yields for Juan and his mother a fortune; it was found inside the trunk of a tree cut by a bolo bequeathed by the father. In The Helpful Horse from Zambales, a poor man named Pedro is captured by a witch named Baroka in whose fold he befriends a talking horse, which helps him flee the lair of the witch. This is the sort of yarn that unravels from Tapaya’s spool of allegories of glee and dread.
Jose John Santos III
Jose John Santos III
Jose Santos III finds himself in a time of transition. In 2013 at the University of the Philippines Vargas Museum, he tried to widen his exploration of the relationship between object and pigment, everyday life and memory through an installation consisting of large paintings, a heap of drawings, and fragments of a construction site. Paving the path for this venture would be assemblage, which was diligently put together for a project for the Hong Kong Art Fair in 2012. Here, he referenced the day’s routine in the house and studio through slender canvases that morph into legs; they are arrayed along a sequence as if to cue a movement according to clockwork. The painting remained proficient, supplemented by scrupulous integration of found objects and finely crafted artifacts of the quotidian. The acute instinct for painting and the talent to mix image and thing would condense in a common scheme that demonstrates the potential of the artist’s emerging practice. The critical deed here is to move away from pure painting and blur the boundary between depiction and nature as well as between semblance and contrivance.
In a way then, Santos deepens his fascination with illusion, so that the device of the trompe l’oeil becomes a vital means of probing the allure of the overlooked. At a certain level, however, he may be abandoning painting altogether. And the speculation thickens in this current foray in which painting becomes nearly negligible. He recycles flour sacks and fills them with all sorts of objects so that their surfaces would take on idiosyncratic shape. It is the fold that intrigues him, the fold that he has painstakingly evoked in his canvases to capture light or facet a figure in relief.
In this instance, the ground of painting yields to ordinary fabric and pigment gives way to resin that thickens the constitution of the cloth so that it becomes some kind of substance standing on its own, achieving a sort of integrity. It is an ambiguous integrity. According to him, the shape that is created intimates the object that creates it. But the shaper is not seen; its presence is indexed by the stress caused by its containment. It is this tension between invisibility and visibility, revelation and concealment that stirs this sortie into another cycle of assemblage. There is history in this obsession. Santos relates that in 2009, he revisited his interest in objects after what he considers a “decade of work on figuration.” In the mural Lifeline for a hospital, one of these recurring objects is the “cloth bag.” He describes his feeling: “It amazes me how a simple thing like a bag can have so many possibilities both in form and meaning.” This bag would transfigure in another exhibition, this time informed by a remarkable disaster: “It is interesting to note that while preparing for that exhibit, typhoon Ondoy devastated Metro Manila. The damage, the loss and somehow the resurfacing of belongings heightened my concern in using objects of the everyday as subject matter. Now, as I continue the exploration on bags as sculptural and installation pieces Yolanda strikes. Then bags suddenly meant relief goods, evacuation and hope. It is because of this that my concern has expanded to embrace the possibilities of what these bags may or can become.” Inscribed in these bags sourced from bakeries are texts and drawings by strangers whom he has asked to round out the task and leave art open, holding the bag, as it were: “For me it’s the elusiveness of its meaning, the mystery of not knowing and it’s open-endedness that is of greater significance than knowing exactly what’s contained inside.” The bag that had held fine grain for bread is more than for the taking.
After nearly fifty years in the art world, National Artist Benedicto Cabrera should need no introductions. BenCab received his education from the University of the Philippines Fine Arts program, where he majored in Illustration and was awarded an honorary doctorate in Humanities in 2009. He began his practice as an illustrator for Liwayway magazine in 1963, and would take part in a number of landmark exhibitions, including an invitation from Arturo Luz to participate in Young Artists 1968 – an annual event which showcased young talents at The Luz Gallery in Manila.
This marked the first of many opportunities to further his practice. By 1970, the same year he was recognized as one of CCP’s Thirteen Artists, BenCab had his first solo show outside of the Philippines, in London, where he would live for more than a decade. Upon his return to the Philippines in the mid-80s, he would join a group of Baguio-based artists, which included Santiago Bose and Kidlat Tahimik, to establish the Baguio Arts Guild. It was also around this time that BenCab acted on his long-held fascination with the “rich material culture and traditions of the northern Philippine highlands” by making Baguio his home. Here, he would later build the BenCab Museum, which opened to the public in 2009, where he houses his private collections of his own works, those of “acknowledged Filipino Masters and rising contemporary artists”, as well as “outsanding examples of the indigenous arts and crafts of the Cordilleras”. The museum is operated and managed by the BenCab Art Foundation.
For this year’s Art Fair Philippines, BenCab has created a collection of free-standing sculptures that have been shaped in clay before being cast and finished in bronze, and bent metal wall-bound pieces. While he is better known for his works on paper and canvas, BenCab practiced sculpture on and off throughout his career and has taken courses as early as the 70s to hone the craft. The images in this series represent his legacy as a lyrical expressionist, drawing from concepts that have turned his images into icons. Pulsing beneath the surface are echoes of his past renderings of the nude body, as well as clothed figures that recall the graceful draping inspired by legendary dancer, Isadora Duncan, and a new character, “Man Thinking” which treads between expressiveness and quiet contemplation, reminiscent of another iconic “Thinker” cast in bronze.
Using small and careful movements to shape the material, BenCab is able to convey sweeping gestures and a broad range of emotion on an otherwise inert object. A mastery of the practice shines through, illuminating how sculpture is a means of re-animating a subject rather than reducing it to mere statuary. As described by Henry Moore in “The Sculptor Speaks” (1966), sculpture is a means to “think of, and use, form in its full spatial completeness.” A sculptor should be able to see the object from every angle—even if he is only facing one side; thus making the craft a fitting metaphor not only for the scope BenCab covers in this collection, but also for his extensive artistic career.
Having grown up in flood-prone Malabon, Ronald Ventura is no stranger to the disastersusceptible landscape of Metro Manila, which often figures into his creations not as any recognizable setting, but as an overall mood. His belief in Filipino versatility and resilience in the face of adversity is translated into the layered, complex visual language of his works.
After graduating from the studio arts and painting program of the University of Sto. Tomas, he then taught for nine years with the Fine Arts faculty. As a student, he went from winning competitions to subsidize his education to the speculative exercise of competing in the booming market for fine art. He was a finalist in the Taiwan International Biennial Print and Drawing Competition in 1999 and also won first place in the Lithograph Competition of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. Later, Ventura was named among the CCP Thirteen Artists in 2003 and a winner of the Ateneo Art Awards in 2005. He has exhibited at the National University of Singapore Museum, Institute of Contemporary Arts in Singapore, Akili Museum of Art in Indonesia, and the Institut Valencià d Art Modern in Spain, where he participated in the 2011 landmark survey, Surreal vs. Surrealism in Contemporary Art. He has sold out shows at the Primo Marella Gallery in Milan and Tyler Rollins Fine Art in New York, among others, and has also shown work at the Prague and Nanjing biennales.
Through a combination of timing, hard work, and technical virtuosity, Ventura has carved out an impenetrable spot for himself in contemporary Filipino art and is among its greatest commercial success stories. In Ventura’s work and in the reputation it has earned him, we are able to observe the trappings of accelerationism in contemporary art production: wherein his success on the auction block is rarely paralleled, while his techniques and aesthetic remain resolutely traditional.
A Ventura piece often combines conventional brushstrokes, airbrush, and pen and ink into large-scale photorealistic compositions. Drawing directly from his imagination, a Ventura canvas is typically made up of icons from popular culture recontextualized into the experiences of the Filipino everyman. For his sculptural pieces, he often juxtaposes high-gloss surfaces with abrasive ones in a single installation. Known for appropriating imagery from Philippine history and ethnography, he turns inward for his contribution to this year’s Art Fair Philippines by transplanting the stuff of dreams into the white cube.
In the large scale fiberglass installation he has prepared for Art Fair Philippines, Ventura employs his now familiar hyperchromatic sweep over an anachromatic ground. By using elements that have become something of his trademark, Ventura displays an awareness of the subjectivity of the iconic in a rapidly globalizing environment. Elements from past works—the masked character, the rainbow, and the combination of inky blacks and murky greys, reminiscent of the oil slicks and floodwater that characterize the Metropolis he grew up in—all figure into this space he invites us into, a space in which we learn that even a dream must carry the weight of a cautionary tale.
Karen H. Montinola Selection
In the 1970s the world had its eyes pinned to history’s most electric boxing saga. Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier were competing for the title of World Heavyweight Champion. The two previously undefeated hulks engaged in a battle of the worlds that went well beyond the sporting event and, by an ingenious marketing twist, came to represent the wrestle between polar sociopolitical universes: freedom and conservatism.
The gran finale of this already surreal trilogy was held in Manila on October 1, 1975 – hosted by the Marcoses, three years into martial law. A Roman recipe: when disquiet festers among the abused, entertainment remedy has been used throughout history to divert awareness far from political matters. International attention was drawn to the Pacific archipelago, now having the chance to inject a selected symbology into local and global consciousness via the country’s biggest public relations campaign ever: after all, the power of images is not so soft.
“It’s more fun in the Philippines,” blushes in its shadow.
Pio Abad fixes this ultimate Filipino iconography in the installation, Designs for a new society (Ali), a chapter in a wider project reflecting on personal and national history.
Austere wallpaper creates an abstract pattern formed by the modular use of an interior shot of the Philippines Pavilion, designed by Lindy Locsin for the 1970 World Expo in Osaka, Japan. This provides a cultural context, while a series of four silk scarves are like a Trojan horse: a matter of strategy. Like in chess, there are elements on the board; we recognise the elements (we know the rules of the game), yet they don’t quite belong to us (a horse? a bishop? a castle?). This symbology has been passed on with every game, perpetuating a hierarchical understanding of power of medieval lineage. The game transcends its history, carrying a message of social order.
Graciously composed on a scarf, Abad’s elements (the repeated figure of Ali, and a collection of findings from the Marcos’ personal archives) are conjured to reveal the rules of this other game. Ali, the gorilla-hunting hero of black America, poses haloed by a wreath of Imelda Marcos’ embroidered slippers; so flat is his image that one of the shoes manages to find comfort resting directly on his face. Then, alternated, additional elements are introduced: a golden salakot, shells, jewellery, fragments of ivory tusks – alluding to other stories that are not fully retrievable.
Irony is a powerful communication stratagem that culminates in complicity. Temporarily, it suspends the correspondence between language and “reality”: things are said that are not “real”, but the underlying, optimistic belief is that the interlocutors of that given conversation will understand the rationale for this mismatch between verbal and visible, and via this commonality another (unsaid) narrative can unfold.
Abad’s artwork, taking on the form of domestic accessories, glides seamlessly between historical events, enacting quasi-fictional combinations with their leftovers. The resulting hybrid language is a question of interpretation for the present. As events like Thrilla in Manila reoccur as manifestations of deeper conflicts, linking the pieces on a board becomes an exercise in social rehabilitation.