Arts & Culture

Contextualising Art Fair 2020

Images and people converge in a discourse and display of the here and now.

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A queue snaked through a sidewalk in one of Makati City’s busiest commercial districts on the third weekend of February. Thousands of visitors waited their turn to ride the lifts up an unassuming parking lot complex. The Link is annually converted to house Art Fair Philippines. 

Image courtesy of Sean William Ocier

On its eighth year, the 2020 edition aligns with the platform’s long-haul commitment to the expansion of local audiences to the arts. The three-day exhibition mirrored the vibrant Filipino and Southeast Asian art landscape with 61 exhibitors in total. 

The past and the future intersected in a mix of collections from more seasoned galleries to up-and-coming curators. A juxtaposition was seen in a selected array of traditional media and new technology on display. Augmenting more learning opportunities for fairgoers, Art Fair 2020 became a cultural exchange, sparking thought-provoking dialogues.

Socio-political narratives

Image courtesy of Sean William Ocier

Irresistible Grace in the Regime of the Plague by Julie Lluch 

Julie Lluch reimagines the same idea of protesting against oppression evident in Juan Luna’s Spoliarium in an installation that tied bits of her personal history and the country’s. In a montage of ghostly white and stark black heroes and political personalities reproduced in cast marble cued from their bronze originals, eyes are drawn to a carcass lying in a pool of blood.

Among larger-than-life renditions of individuals that emerged from the country’s tumultuous past like Jose Rizal, Manuel Quezon, and Corazon Aquino is Josephine Bracken. She is portrayed gripping a long list of names belonging to the deceased as a result of the current administration’s anti-drug war. While the exhibit’s title may seem prophetic of the global pandemic, it was meant at the time to convey the veteran sculptor’s belief that the recent extrajudicial killings in numbers and fatality could be likened to the effects of a plague.

Image courtesy of Sean William Ocier

A Moment Defined By A Point and A Line by James Clar

Drawing from telecom and film experience, James Clar manipulates light to create spatial installations that are beyond the limits posed by two-dimensional pieces of art. The contemporary sculptor drives a strand of light contained in acrylic, depicting the mathematics involved in the trajectory of the bullet that had shot Benigno Aquino Jr. in 1983.

Clar reduces the critical assassination that led to mass demonstrations, which would later upend the two-decade Marcos reign in the Philippines into a single geometric stroke of motion. Here, he freezes the historical moment in time for audiences to assess this representation of the subtlety of violence and consequentiality of choice.

Critique of faith

Image courtesy of Sean William Ocier

Ang Dupola sa Karagatan ng Manipuladong Senakulo sa Kamay ng mga Uwak at Lobo by Jojit Solano

Dupola sa Karagatan and the Senakulo are archaic literary pieces performed across provinces in the Philippines to retell the biblical story of Christ’s final days. Housed inside woodwork reminiscent of centuries-old churches from the country’s Spanish past, are malevolent and sacrilegious images painted in detail. Solano ominously frames a wicked imposter at the centre of the dark altar, surrounded by followers in praise of it in the shadows.

The piece critiques organised religion and its ability to corrupt generations of followers and blind believers, all beginning from the inside. The defilement of consecrated symbols is Solano’s bold statement about a country and culture that was first colonised through religion. Now the painting mirrors present-day events as people continue to rely heavily on their faith as a crutch in times of strife. Through this deliberate interpretation of religion, Solano warns of the pitfalls of Filipino god-fearing attitudes.

Image courtesy of Sean William Ocier

Pizza Eater by Orley Ypon

Master realist Orley Ypon arrests viewers from a distance in an entirely reworked Last Supper, except that it really isn’t anything like Leonardo da Vinci’s mural. Curiosity stems from untouched pizza in place of bread at the table; instead of wine, they share a litre of coke. An individual resembling Christ is seen seated and reaching the centre, unbothered at the unsettling ruckus in the background, while contemporary men and women come forward instead of his apostles.

A closer look into the disorderly scene finds that this version of a localised Christ might just be a Filipino man dressed in layered tunic. This is a false messiah. Ypon’s re-imagination of garbed divinity among the banal warns of figures hiding underneath holy vestments that prey on the vulnerabilities of common folk. The initial disillusion of the painting asks, would the divine ever be found in the chaos of the profane in the first place?

Objects for discourse

Image courtesy of Sean William Ocier

Screaming Faces by Gabriel Berredo

Screaming Faces is a piece from iterations of Gabriel Barredo’s Opera exhibitions. The late artist was renowned for his object-led narratives dispersed across kinetic art installations of a grand scale. The theatrical collection Barredo had re-worked and reimagined over the last five years features interpretations of facial and bodily anatomies and expressions to evoke macabre.

Rows of varied screaming faces, often showing fear, exasperation, and dread are representations of the challenges and primal emotions human beings typically grapple with as they go through life. The yellow resin show stopper offered a daring look into the artist’s mind through his reclusive phases coupled by his life-long affinity with the performing arts as an avenue of expression.

Image courtesy of Sean William Ocier

Istorya conTEXT: Amon Ni in Kabalasan Series by Karina Broce Gonzaga

Karina Broce Gonzaga’s installation literally translates to “Story conTEXT: This is Ours” from the Ilonggo word for story. Interchangeably a noun and verb, in daily use ‘istorya’ could refer to a light gossip or a historical account, as well as to convey the act of narrating in Negros Occidental. Here she weaves a visual anthology of six Negrenese women artists’ exploration of the Ilonggo woman’s identity.

Each multicolour resin glass pot shines the light on stories of community and the impact of women in it. The signposts hanging right above them have written texts signifying the constant and nurturing selflessness embodied by women who run the local shops and stores. Their role in the community has been expected and imposed on them for generations. Rhetoric is drawn from ads, bathroom graffiti, roadside eateries, and children’s rhymes in the Visayas region. Contemplating the Ilonggo woman’s part in society proves to be a personal one for each of them however deeply rooted in the same collective experience.

Pauses for perception

Image courtesy of Sean William Ocier

Nobody’s Home by James Clar

In yet another clever use of his chosen medium of laser light within confined spaces, James Clar quite literally manipulates shadows to trick viewers’ imaginations, even just for a few minutes. Passersby stood in front of a wooden door, perplexed if there might have been somebody pacing right behind it. They all recognised hyperrealistic footsteps.

Clar generated the illusion of footsteps behind a door from underneath the cracks of light coming through the gap. The rest of the prevailing mystery was filled out by what human minds could readily assume. The simulation generated by a strip of LED was a nostalgic memory for some who recalled the anticipation from their childhood playing hide and seek, and a treat to others that fascinated over the ingenious use of three simple things at play: timed light, a door, and the ever-perceiving mind.

Image courtesy of Sean William Ocier

Silent Forest by Erwin Leaño

Erwin Leaño demonstrates careful attention to detail in the creation of an imaginary forest, painted in calming hues of warm greens and lime. He deliberately distils various shades and hardness of paint onto canvas using a monotone in a challenge to demarcate sunlight from bush and clearing to treetops. The eden composed of eight-large scale paintings can stand alone in their unique peculiarities. Together in exhibition, they created a vast landscape, which fairgoers found escape in.

The artist expresses a desire to return to the quiet hush of nature against the deafening commotion of city life, and he offers this momentary. The repetition of acrylic paint and the pristine scenes could be likened to the meditative utterance of a singular word, a phrase, or even a syllable over and over again through the course of time. Then Leaño’s visual lyricism in the Silent Forest becomes a visible mantra and a call to retreat right by the paintings or to the very origins of their conception.

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