Beacons burning down

The exhibition, will include four artists, two of them chosen from the crop of young artists and the other two, old masters. The four artists I chose for this exhibition are Poklong Anading, Rodel Tapaya, Fabian de la Rosa and the pioneer Filipino film-maker Jose Jimenez. These four artists were chosen because their works exemplify the influences and promise of recent contemporary art—works that were created during the last decade and the nascent modern art from 1896 up to 1920, which bring to mind the heralds and prophecies of the time. Upon that selection of works, the exhibition will create some storylines, although speculative, offer the very needed insight in interpreting and forming connections between works of art—actually of images—almost a century apart.

Out of these four artists, we can derive several separations and conjunctions. One such separation and perhaps the easiest one are the works that relied on the traditional method of painting, its latest motifs and formats and thus the episode of continuation of "the long tradition" through a
new decade. In this portion, a foreshadowing text is posted on the wall and it will be a quote from Rizal that says “Looking back into the past is knowing the present and seeing the future,” to serve as an easy framing and mood-setter for the viewer.

The exhibit will highlight approaches, and techniques at odds with tradition. Special emphasis is put on characteristics of the work that have embraced a new spirit, even though the spirit may differ from the common notions of what we call “contemporary”. This will bring about the contrast between the persistence of the artist going back to folk tradition and unearthing the old as a means of recalling or exotic local history; the life of the folk and in the exploration of and resignation from the urban subject. Vis-à- vis these works of art are piles of television screens showing an imprimatur of events prior to and during the past decade, just to put the artworks in context. For what is contemporariness without the TV?

Two sides of the coin

Take for example these two exhibitions: Poklong Anading’s “Between Intersections” and Rodel Tapaya’s “Diorama,” both considered the hippest of young contemporary art, but taking two seemingly different directions while coming from the same batch of UP Fine Arts graduates. These works though different in style are ultimately bound by the same themes—the concept of
loss, forgetting and the obsession with the “image” taking its root from the revival of iconography in recent artistic practice. Later on, we will argue that these themes in their art are actually the product of the same origin as purported by Ranciere’s Politics of Aesthetics.

Tapaya and Anading’s works have the undeniable virtue, of being at odds against each other, but to see them in the same lineage, one realizes that they are actually the fruit of the same tree. “Politically,” to quote the term from the philosopher, Jacques Ranciere, both bodies of works have struggled to enlighten us with the concept of equality as part of a social-historical context. The art world is caught up in the struggle of unrecognized kinds of art for equal recognition in the established order. In Jacques Ranciere’s “Politics of Asthetics,” he explains that art is bound up in this political battle, Rancière argues, because the battle takes place over the image of society—what it is permissible to say or to show (Ranciere, 2006). The two artists with further
discussion will unravel before us the contemporary motif of struggling over that image of society, as anchored in the image produced by contemporary art and this actually begins with the choice of medium. For Poklong, video or the moving image in “Between Intersections” and photography or still image in “Anonymity” both first shown at Finale Art File. Tapaya on the other hand has always favored painting, most notably in his “Bayan ng Ginhaw” and “Looban” both at Boston Gallery. In “Diorama” though he has turned to create “story houses” (Hilario,
2009). The story houses in the general recalls the altar or a traditional retablo or urna.

Leaps

The second part of the exhibit (displayed in conjunction) will take us back in time, during the first decade of the 20th century, centering on the works of artists, Fabian De La Rosa and Jose Jimenez, heralds of the Tolentino and Edades rift. The purpose of this is to illustrate the parallelism of both generations both in their history and aspirations and also the paths they have taken from fame to obscurity. Even if we cannot really distinguish a direct line between social history and art history, we will use the latter to situate the conditions where art was produced. Both generations, coming out from a revolution, bloody and the other one peaceful, both successes and failures depending on the way we look at it. The other one is colonial and the other neo-colonial. We would like to see this “transition phenomenon”—how one art generation leads to another, from both sides of the coin. And maybe, just maybe, predict what the future holds for us in the aftermath of so many art movements and generations.

Art historians have noted that the time after the 1896 Revolution was the “Leap to Modernism” (Roa). This leap, however far it has taken us, is only from the demolition of a tradition to the creation of another. During this time, the attempts of breaking away from the illustrado generation of artists by the new pensionado artists were still budding but they were also polarized with so much energy, it was shaking! And this atmosphere is no more obviously

replicated than in the present with the artistic obsession of creating something new or in the resignation of the “nothing is new” motto. Unfortunately though, the same art history book that that claimed that it was a leap has little record of art done from the 1900 to 1920, a crucial time to document, as transitions in art churn out more meaning than the result.

Prophetic Theme

More than just an exhibition, Beacons burning down, to ride with the Da Vinci Code popularity, is indeed a coded prophecy for Filipino Art. The “prophecy” will be the major motif of the exhibition, as predicting the future through the divine is always a jump ahead, the past as beacon from the distance, that diminishes in time but resurrects in a cycle. With Prophecy comes the interpretation of the subject, as a sort of reverse of the usual art-historical research that begins with the problem rather than the answers. Assumptions are laid out and are then debunked or exalted.

As far as we know, art history is a cycle of going back and forth, of retelling and recalling and most definitely, of forgetting and emerging. What the exhibition will tell us are yet to be uncovered. An exhibition of local young contemporary artists in one place and time that feature contrasting but related themes is always good to see. We have to catch up with the running gap within our art institutions since there has been almost no art-world conversation between the two streams that contemporary artists have taken during the past decade with specific concept or intention. Aside from working with existing museum collections, the works will be acquired through artists and private collections and through commissioned works or new works.The exhibition will be accompanied by a gallery catalogue that presents the research findings of the curator and excerpts from his interviews about the perspectives of the two young artists, including the methods, insights and personal stories, patterned after interviews from the Paris Review. All will be available through a website.

Partial Bibliography

  1. Roa, Lourdes Ruth. Leap to Modernism. Juan Gatbonton, Jeannie E. Javelosa. Art Philippines. Manila: The Crucible Workshop, 1992. 65.
  2. Ranciere, J. (2006). Politics of Aesthetics. Paris: Continuum.
  3. De Vera, Ruel, S. The importance of being Poklong. Philippine Daily Inquirer accessed
  4. 10/06/2006 through inq7.net
  5. Devilles, Gary. C. The cult value of Rodel Tapaya’s works. Philippine Daily Inquirer accessed
  6. 10/30/2006, published on page C2 of the October 30, 2006 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer
  7. Hilario, Riel. The Story Houses of Rodel Tapaya, Exhibit Catalogue: Drawing Room Gallery. 2009
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