Carren's Pitch

Life by Design

12/03/2008

Guarding the edge

Posted by Carren Jao Pineda |

In conjunction with this event, Ateneo also held a series of talks on the state of art in the Philippines; while attending all of these talks, I was also given a chance to walk the halls of my alma mater. How much everything has changed! New buildings, new regulations. A guard even mistook me for a non-ID wearing student!

During the awarding ceremony itself, I was surrounded by great art and artists, as well as familiar faces like Fr. Ben and Mang Tony from the Communication Dept. All in all, it was great fun and I was privileged to watch Ateneo give artists the recognition they so richly deserve.
~*C
Text and photos by: Carren Jao
Published: MEGA November 2008
Bridging the Gap
THE BELL has rung and a changing of the guards is manifest. While impressions of Filipino art is most often associated with realistic depictions of idealistic country scenes, the local contemporary art practice has been undergoing a revolution.

With art that is more conceptual rather than literal, the vanguard of today’s Philippine art scene chooses to engage the intellect rather than simply rely on pure emotional response. Their works, showcased in Shangri-La Plaza Mall and moved to the Ateneo Art Gallery, betray their evolution- from simple to complex, from closed answers to layered questions.

Established in 2004 in honor of its benefactor Fernando Zobel, who himself has been known to support the works of avant-garde artists, the Ateneo Art Awards has found itself in the unique position- at the edge of the Philippine contemporary art scene. Its fifth year of existence is marked with the theme Zones of Influence, acknowledging the artists’ many harmonious and disjoint influences today.

Its theme, Zones of Influence, is in itself an evolution from previous years. Beginning with the first Ateneo Art Awards in 2004, Critical Condition is a commentary on the splintered contemporary Philippine art scene. In 2005, Cross Encounters, emphasized the crossed wires of influence that affect the lives of artists. In 2006, Outbound attempts to bring to light the “artists' tendency to eschew conservative acceptance as they work beyond society's comfort zones.” 2007’s Global/Vernacular acknowledges Philippine artists’ ability to cull from its local roots while still moving beyond to “reverberate cross-culturally.” Thus, this year’s theme “acknowledges the diverse sites and sources of contemporary Philippine visual art practice” and invites its viewers to experience these ever-changing “geographic and metaphysical localities” in the works of the shortlisted artists.

Turning inside out

Taking its cue from the early 1980s Critics Choice model, where renowned local critics would gather together to produce an annual list of the year’s best visual art, the Ateneo Art Awards has turned the competition process inside out. Unlike other art competitions, to enter, one must be nominated by people within the art community for works produced or exhibited within the 12 months preceding the nominations. In doing so, the process involves the museums, commercial galleries, and artist-run spaces that make up the diverse Philippine contemporary art scene.

The Ateneo Art Awards then becomes common ground, bringing the different venues of Philippine art together under one roof. It also acts as a historical view of the year that has just passed in contemporary Philippine art, attempting to showcase the varying artist exhibitions in the previous year. While certainly not the final say in contemporary art, the Ateneo Art Awards acts as an artistic Philippine State of the Nation address, giving commentary on the year passed and symbolizing the vibrancy of today’s young Filipino artists.

This year’s jury, composed of nine well-known art professionals such as Ateneo Art Gallery Director and Chief Curator Ramon E.S. Lerma; Independent Curator and Regional Contributing Editor for Asian Art News Gina Fairley; and multi-awarded writer and Filipiñana publisher Gilda Cordero-Fernando, convened and dove through 130 nominations, out of which 10 artists were shortlisted.

On a much-awaited night in Shangri-La Plaza Mall, the Grand Atrium was transformed into a gallery, showcasing the best of the year’s Philippine Contemporary art. Located within the cross-section of one of Manila’s shopping destinations, surrounded by foreign and local brand names, the exhibition- even with its choice of space- echoes its theme.

Getting to know the guards
The stage was surrounded by this year’s nominated exhibitions and, as one goes through each exhibition, one notes the divergent yet equally powerful styles of each artist.

Marina Cruz-Garcia rebuilds times past with her record three citations, Embodied Dolls, Recollections, and her winning Embroidered Landscape of My Mother’s Life. Her Recollection’s white figure encapsulating our own attempts at remembrance- often distorted, finding it easier to remember the objects that surround our subject rather than the subject itself. In Embroidered Landscape of My Mother’s Life, she prints an old dress on canvas and embroiders symbolic icons of her memories, creating her mother’s visual biography. This entry earned her two Ateneo Art Gallery International Residency Grants: the Ateneo Art Gallery – La Trobe University Visual Arts Centre Bendigo, Australia Residency Grant and the Ateneo Art Gallery – Artesan Gallery Singapore Residency Grant.

On one side, concrete rubble lie one after another, colorfully decorated like a hodge-podge of rags hawked along the street. This is Poklong Ananding’s Fallen Map, an inadvertent social commentary on the constant (seemingly unnecessary) roadwork outside. His work is at once playful and attractive, calling many a passers-by’s attention. Having won in 2006, Poklong once again triumphs, receiving the Ateneo Art Gallery – Common Room Networks Foundation Bandung, Indonesia International Residency Grant.

Standing face to face with the carousel, Baguio-based artist and first-time nominee Kawayan de Guia’s Incubator perhaps most overtly resonates this year’s theme. His painting, a “visual cacophony” free-wheeling with religious icons, text, and odd lines fills the canvas with representations of his many influences. Curiously, he leaves the canvas unfinished, leaving space for his future influences to occupy. His work completes the year’s roster of winners for the Ateneo Art Awards.

Though only naming three artists winners, the shortlist itself yields a treasure trove of Philippine artistry. Mark Salvatus recreates his performance slash visual art originally done for his residency in Goyang Art School, South Korea. Asking passers-by to trace their belonging’s outlines on the wall, he proceeds to draw traditional patterns “wrapping” them on the wall as if to preserve them and hold back the ravages of today’s fast-moving technology.

Lyra Garcellano’s Short Stories pits oppressive dark colors against white silhouette voids of children holding weapons or lying helpless in a crouched position. Outraged by the killing of human rights activists, she struggles to highlight the tragedy and brevity of the lives embroiled in the action.

Photography-based artist Rachel Rillo captures her impressions of Manila within the small stark photographs of crossed and tangled lines. At once, she expresses her entangled sense of being, while portraying the convoluted ways of working in the Philippines. She frames each picture amidst an expansive white background, as if to say this unforgivable bevy of knots and tangles is not all there is.

First time nominee and Dumaguete-based artist Mark Anthony Valenzuela’s Warzone diverts from cliché war visuals by combining digitally produced images and terracotta masks enthralled in peaceful meditation. His work borders playful as small Transformers figure can be spied drawn on one of the pictures.

Beside him, the youngest nominee, Robert Langenegger’s Irish Bull of the Mother and Child, combines the shocking and grotesque with the mundane perhaps inviting us to question what goes on in between the spaces of the commonplace.

Though no physical remains survive, images flash across a small television screen preserving Christina Dy’s massive effort of transforming a 15 x 18 meter wall into a work of art. Entitled Curtains Matching Carpet, the walls of the Silverlens Gallery are painted with the help of willing hands present in the gallery in an attempt to capture the flowing quality of hair. In a subtractive manner, Christina painstakingly removes the color on the walls to reveal the currents and dynamism present in a human being’s crowning glory.

Finally, drawing circles upon circles, inching slowly outward and inside, Mac Valdezco recreates the organic nature of development- not linear in any sense, but meandering and natural.

Tipping the balance
As we speak, the artists that continue to give the Phlippine art scene and the Ateneo Art Awards its vitality are gaining fame in the Southeast Asian Art Markets. The going prices of their artworks rival even those of masters- signaling the increasing demand for cutting-edge, fresh-from-the-incubator ideas of Filipino young artists.

It is the vitality of these young artists that the Ateneo Art Awards wishes to celebrate annually. In its fifth year, the Ateneo Art Awards continues to provide, in Ramon E.S. Lerma’s words, a “sense of constancy amidst the flux,” a virtual guard at the edge of development, ensuring that all is well and Philippine art continues to show its viewers what it means to be alive in the world today.


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