Once considered as the enfant terrible of the art world, David Medalla is now its grand old man, having tirelessly contributed an extensive body of work—ranging from painting to performance to kinetic art to any of its exquisite combinations—for more than half a century. From a global perspective, Medalla is probably the most well-known and respected artist from the Philippines, if not the region.
For his exhibition, Medalla stages A Stitch in Time, a participatory work of art that gives the viewers the freedom to attach any keepsake—be it a photograph, a poem, a promise—on a 15-meter long canvas, suspended in space like a hammock or an “inverted rainbow.” Its genesis can be traced to the handkerchiefs Medalla gave to his ex-lovers in the late 1960s, telling them that they could sew on them any of their beloved objects. Since then, the work has been unspooling its multiple strands of transient, portable histories across the globe, from London and Lisbon to Manhattan and now Manila.
While keenly attentive to method, Ray Albano (1947-1985) left parts of his deeds up to chance. His posters, only a fraction of his oeuvre, are a testament to this process. Poster work found a place in Albano’s curatorial work at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Hoping to engage a wider audience, Albano took risks with his design, experimenting with exciting graphic options.
Albano’s interactive installation, Step on the Sand and Make Footprints, complicates the nature of the graphic aesthetic, even as it returns to its fundamental gesture of marking an index: the pressure of the human body transferred onto a surface. First submitted and awarded at the Tokyo International Biennial Exhibition of Prints in 1974, the piece encouraged chance and play. It was all at once, graphic, installative, and performative, inviting the audience to make a step and leave a trace in the very act of nearly uneventful walking.
Mauro Malang Santos
Mauro Malang Santos
In the iconography of Mauro “Malang” Santos (1928-2017) that spanned at least half-a-century, nothing has achieved as much renown—and fondness—as his “women.” . They are mothers, vendors, devotees, evoked through a medley of organic and geometric shapes, with a few works verging on abstraction. Hair left to cascade or wound into a tight bun and looking at the world through pinpoint eyes, these long-necked, round-faced beauties are some of the most recognizable in Philippine visual arts.
For the exhibition, Soler Santos, Malang’s son and himself an accomplished artist, has chosen a suite of works in paper depicting the women of Malang. All drawings, the works feature a variety of media, from charcoal to gouache, from pencil to ink. It is the first time that these works, accomplished in the ‘80s and the ‘90s and kept as family treasure through all these years, are assembled for and exhibited in a show.
Fernando Botero is the most well-regarded artist to have emerged from Latin America. A native of Medellín, Colombia, the master is known for his rich color palette as well as his style known the world over and rightfully assumes his name: Boterismo. In his paintings, the figures are rotund, voluptuous presences, as if going through their everyday routine until they pause for that luminous moment when they meet the gaze of the viewer.
This volumetric style is in full display in a capsule retrospective organized for Art Fair Philippines—the first of its kind ever assembled in the country. Spanning from the 1970s to the present, the works, he states, “reveal my primordial subject matter: everyday life…in my hometown of Medellín, which has always been my main subject because I believe that an artist should approach the topics nearest to his soul and these are usually related to his childhood years, when he is developing as an artist and as a human being.”
Known for his eloquent sculptures and installations primarily made of paper, Ryan Villamael has elevated cutouts into an art form that is not only formally stunning but also critically investigative. In its extensive use of archive and cartography, his work meditates upon—and mediates—history, collective memory, the interpenetrating layers that constitute a city.
This impetus to plumb the intersection of self, space, and society is expressed by the exhibition, Behold A City, which Villamael first showcased at Silverlens Gallery in 2015 and which now makes an appearance in the art fair. The city in question is Manila, not whittled down to a scale model but re-imagined by the artist in his ardor to approximate its complexity both as a physical, urban fact and an evolving concept. The work is Villamael’s “love letter to the city,” an epistolary address to the shared locus of our private and public lives.
Oscar “Oca” Villamiel’s installation works, usually sprawling and composed of materials assiduously collected from rural and urban spaces, reveal his discomfort with the current state of affairs and are oftentimes an indictment of man’s proclivity for destruction—from the failure of government to provide sustainable housing for the poor that resulted in massive death in Payatas (Singapore Biennale, 2013) to the denudation of forests in Back to Nature (Finale Art File, 2018).
Bearing a similar trajectory, his installation, titled Cheap Medicine, is composed of more than 200 “heads” made of coconut shells balancing on bamboo poles driven into a base of concrete, their hair of abaca fiber in wild disarray. With every face distinctive and open-mouthed, they reveal menacing gaps between their teeth, displaying a ludicrous expression. Perverse totems of euphoria, the heads indulge not in the so-called curative power of laughter (“cheap medicine”) but in its masking of deeply-lodged existential pain.
In works that are usually always large-scale, Ian Fabro re-interprets existing narratives (such as man’s fall from grace) through a complex layering of images that viscerally confronts the viewer. Lush, hypnotic, and oracular, his are the allegories of the times in their foregrounding of the surfeit of the spectacle, the collapse of the given orders, the decenteredness of the human condition. Despite the gravity of his subject matter, it is hard to look away.
For his exhibition, Fabro gestures at a masterpiece of Western civilization: The Garden of Earthly Delights by Hieronymus Bosch. Just like its inspiration, the work is a triptych featuring an orgiastic array of uncanny images. Through his version of the assemblage and his unique process, Fabro offers the viewer a fragmentary narrative of how the sacred and the profane share the same skin, of how the variety of human pleasures are mutable and multiple.
Christina Quisumbing Ramilo
Christina Quisumbing Ramilo
Christina “Ling” Quisumbing Ramilo refers to herself as an arranger and maker of objects, most of which have already served some kind of function in the world—from squares of sandpaper to a collection of dental casts to repurposed furniture. The artist doesn’t conceal their original forms but in fact revels in revealing their previous contexts and histories, as if to underscore that the beauty of these objects lies precisely in the secret life they carry.
Forest for the Trees is a testament to Ramilo’s assiduous collecting. Envisioned as a “bibliotheque of books that are made of wood,” the work features an archive of the wood remnants from houses. Just like a library, Ramilo’s work employs a system of ordering, complete with the annotations of the respective origins of the pieces of wood. Much like an open book, Forest for the Trees offers a multitude of readings to whoever encounters the piece.
Olivia d’Aboville has always heeded the call of the sea. When she was studying at Duperré, the prestigious textile design school in Paris, “the theme of the ocean was always on my mind.” It was also at Duperré where she began experimenting with non-conventional materials, discovering the practicality of plastic.
Plastic, of course, is the primary culprit in the pollution of the seas. Rather than using it to provide the illusion of an underwater realm, the artist employs it as a didactic medium that exposes this chronic crisis of the times. A net strewn with squares from a multitude of wrappers, the main work evokes the cascading, helplessly unstoppable on-rush of this unfortunate human debris. Instead of drawing in a plenitude of fish, the proverbial net of d’Aboville symbolically returns back the plastic we have thrown at sea, which the environmentalist Rachel Carson calls as “the great mother of life.”
For years now, MM Yu has been using photography not simply to document the world around us but to explore and flesh out ideas intrinsic to the medium itself—from its porous borders in their ability to frame, superimpose, and exclude, to the meeting of self and space on the same photographic surface, to the medium’s capacity to provide an alternative to, if not a new version of, history.
For this exhibition, Subject/Object, MM Yu proposes a narrative on visual arts without words, relying primarily and exclusively on photographic images and objects, which follow no predetermined order and arrangement, simply transpiring simultaneously in space as a constellation of signifying markers. Without the textual support and the chronological or thematic ordering, Subject/Object makes evident the underlying threads of association and inspiration that connect artists within the expanding field of the art world.
Karen H. Montinola Selection
Karen H. Montinola Selection
The recipient of the Karen H. Montinola Grant, Liv Vinluan appropriates the volumizing power of textile design that has so enthralled her by transforming a single roll of paper, called Stonehenge Vellum, into a three-dimensional structure. With both ends connected, the work conveys the illusion that it is floating in space, propped up by clear acrylic support and suspended by strings—a continuous, organically-shaped loop that features tableaus of sketches.
With both sides of the paper drawn on, the viewer combines and recombines images from the different segments of the roll. By offering no beginning or end, the work heightens its conceptual thrust that it “is endless. You can look at it from anywhere, it wouldn’t have that fixed orientation. It’s just one thing.” It is a saga with no protagonist and no discernible plot, composed only of simultaneously unfolding phenomena, contravening the linear progression of history.