Cast of Cool: Meet Art Fair Philippines 2017's Featured Artists
Restraint seems to be the last thing in Maria Jeona Zoleta’s vocabulary. Free from the dictates of tradition, be it in her interdisciplinary artistic practice or real life, she creates works that resonate to the subconscious of a woman born into the digital age, yet holds no fear to be seen. The glitter, buzzing neon colors, and rainbows merely envelop the message of childlike liberation in her pieces. It is a carefree noise that screams for her own sake and not for others.
Hers is an installation piece that extends her practice further through the inclusion of her first full-length film and performances. Diaristic in approach, we enter her alternate universe that unapologetically merges surreal metaphors with realistic storylines. There is no straightforward plot, as we are presented with unpredictable leaps and quick snippets in her narrative. It is a stream of consciousness, whose limit is only her imagination. Paintings, lights, and a random collection of things are also put on display, with her own brand music playing alongside it, resulting in an immersive psychedelic experience.
Still apparent though is a sense of authority from Zoleta amidst the supposed clutter, as though challenging the very borders that separate awareness and spontaneity, reality and fantasy, innocence and perversion, digital and the traditional. It is as though we are pushed far enough to keep looking, but never over the edge to step out—as real control is in being able to pull the reins even in the sight of the seemingly uncontrollable.
Patricia Perez Eustaquio’s practice involves plotting the points from which objects persist in the modern day topography of our appetites. With the use of a variety of materials, viewers become privy to the changing algorithms of desire, particularly in the arts. At this year’s edition of Art Fair Philippines, she wanders along the path of textile arts and poses the question of its position in today’s world.
Tapestry’s history of opulence and vanity has situated it among the elites in the past, as it was mostly made for trade and endowment. However, its rarity and value has declined in recent centuries, as it is now relegated to being a mere residue of tradition. Eustaquio’s decision to utilize paint as object and thread as medium pivots the dynamics of the contemporary arts scene, where paintings are given the highest regard among the variety of media used by artists. This formalistic approach conveyed through a digital process lies in great contrast to the abstracted and natural imagery of the pieces. Although there is difficulty in identifying its reference, the depiction clearly directs us to a landscape that is at once real and fictitious. With a desaturated quality, it voids the possibility for identification; yet with silhouettes of mountains and waterfalls, it retrieves a sense of the living earth.
In spite of the ever-growing encroachment of commodities, Eustaquio remains faithful to the reminder of nature as a point of deliverance and liberation.
THE JAZZ BAND
“Confused and confusing,” is how Lean Alejandro described the period after the 1986 EDSA Revolution, “where everything is falling apart, and everything is touch and go.” On September 19, 1987, the charismatic and influential student leader and activist was murdered at the age of 27.
In a chaotic period characterized by coup attempts and street protests, a generation of Filipinos came of age and attempted to find their place in a time where nothing was certain.
It was Alejandro’s death that prompted a similar awakening in Elmer Borlongan, Emmanuel Garibay, and Mark Justiniani—today, three of contemporary Philippine art's premier names but in 1987, just young artists getting their start.
The three met each other as members of ABAY—Artista ng Bayan, a group of young artists who used their talents collectively— in murals, interactions, collaborations—to call attention to the time’s important issues. They joined the group separately but found each other there. “Kay Lean, dun ko naisip sumali, dun ko naisip ma-involve,” Justiniani says.
“Nung nasa art school kami, ang thinking lang namin ay very Western-oriented and yung iniisip lang namin was about art,” Borlongan says. “Individually, nagkaroon ng questions… Gusto mo hanapin yung art with a social purpose. Saan ba pwede gamitin yung art maliban sa gallery system?”
And through the years, they’ve remained close collaborators—as they’ve grown individually, they’ve also grown together and in the same direction.
“It’s not easy to reach a level where you can actually work together,” Garibay says. “Hindi madali sa artists yun eh, especially painters, it’s a very individual process.” But in almost three decades of collaboration, they have found a groove that’s allowed them to push each other to their respective limits and create important, lasting work.
“It’s like a jazz band,” Borlongan says. “In terms of form and content, whatever ideas maisip nilang dalawa, walang masyadong handicap. Immediately, dahil nga dun sa technical capacity—pen and ink, watercolor, oil—mabilis nag mamaterialize yung form. Siyempre pag nakasama mo rin sila, you also get inspired. Gusto mo rin labas yung galing mo kasi maiiwanan ka. ”
In the same way that Alejandro’s death roused three young artists to go beyond themselves and start creating work that spoke of bigger things, the three men—older, wiser, and in their current status as three of the most respected artists of their generation— are once again coming together to make art that speaks of our national condition. This time, they’re one of Art Fair Philippines 2017’s special exhibitions, as part of CANVAS Gallery.
They won’t give too much away. But when you visit The Link for the annual Art Fair Philippines, expect a large-scale painting on canvas, about seven feet by 27 feet on the theme of our nation’s journey. “Where are we headed? Where are we going as people?” Justiniani asks.
“After 30 years, iniisip mo, bakit parang napaka cyclical ng patterns?” Garibay says. “You have a new leader, you have high expectations, it doesn’t work—and then someone comes and there’s always an issue that would destabilize the administration ... And then there’s another round of expectations—paulit ulit. In other words, do you commit yourself again to the same process? Is it asking for a different response?”
“Part of our efforts, at this point, is a realization that art is more permanent than contemporary political issues,” Garibay says. “It may be reflective of contemporary situations but it’s going to go beyond that time.”
It was a physical move that instigated Mark Valenzuela’s interest in art. After leaving Pagadian for Dumaguete to attend Siliman University, he became engulfed in painting, drawing, and terracotta works. Despite the lack of a formal art education, the selftaught artist immersed himself in learning, prompting him to pursue a career in the field. He launched his first solo show in Manila in 2007.
“I have always conceived and presented my work as installations,” he says. Valenzuela is known for multi-layered pieces that spark interaction and connection, always forming a broader narrative. His pieces are just as significant as the space that envelops them. “Over the past few years, I have worked increasingly to integrate painting, drawing and ceramics. These three core elements come together so that a single work can be viewed both singularly and as an installation at the same time.”
Context remains an important influence in Valenzuela’s art. Living between Australia and the Philippines has allowed him to work with myriad materials—from commercial stoneware and porcelain clays from the southern hemisphere to terracotta from Dumaguete, and the shift between two different cultures has informed the concepts he works with as well. “I am constantly comparing and questioning both of the spaces I inhabit. Living between two countries prompts me to investigate my own perceptions. Distance can bring clarity, but my own views are certainly influenced by displacement and nostalgia as well,” he explains. Ideology, identity and history—all these play a significant part in shaping his installations.
A recipient of CCP’s Thirteen Artists Award, Valenzuela notes that having his work recognized across the globe helps open his eyes to perceptions and interpretations of different audiences. His most recent exhibition, “Violently,” at Artinformal, consisted of two large installations of ceramic sculptures and drawings, concrete, butcher’s hooks, and terracotta shards. “
It focused on themes of fanaticism and machismo—there’s a long-held preoccupation with conflict and resistance that’s at the core of my art practice,” he says. “While the subject matter is fairly serious, there is also a certain amount of humor in the work. It’s playful, vindictive, and a way of engaging in free, critical dialogue.”
Art was never too far away for Jose Tence Ruiz—he prefers to be called Bogie. As a restless preschooler, he was exposed to books on Caravaggio thanks to his step-grandfather, Arturo G. Rosenburg, a Filipino literary anthologist. The art, he said, kept him quiet. Having a book dealer for a grandfather worked in the artist’s favor—his exposure to everything from book cover art to illustrations to children’s books was far beyond a typical child’s.
Another early teacher was his paternal uncle, Virgilio “Pandy” Aviado. Only 12 years Bogie’s senior, Pandy’s own career in art helped open Bogie’s eyes to the art world. “I attended my first opening at 10 years old. It was his first one-man show at LUZ gallery, then along EDSA.” His uncle was a scholar who had been to Europe in the '60s, and during family reunions, Bogie would steal into Pandy’s studio and witness art creation firsthand.
Bogie took this appreciation for art and ran with it through a plethora of influential teachers that took him from childhood to his 20s. Aca Versoza, Brenda Fajardo, Ben Hur Villanueva, Araceli Dans, Conrado Estrada, Rod Dula, Pat Cordero, and Onofre Pagsanghan are just a few of the figures that helped him cultivate this passion for art. “I realized at 16 that this was what I wanted to live my life by,” he shares. Immersed in the arts even with the friendships he kept with fellow figures Ike Red, Angie Palanca, Sonny Veneracion, and Joey Ayala, he moved on to be greatly influenced by social realism through the Kaisahan men.
“Art was always about the meaningful interpretation and dramatization of both the history and the everyday,” he says. His dive into social realism allowed him to seek artistic effort that would ultimately uplift all humans, not just a handful of elite figureheads. The democratization of work took him to explore political cartoons. “It was a steady income, albeit filled with daily pressure. But it was a way for me to reach out to people,” he adds. Editorial work allowed him to defy the common belief that art was not lucrative—it was a way for him to work on parallel pursuits. In turn, the work allowed him to develop discipline and systematic creativity.
Bogie’s most inspired piece to date is 2015’s Shoal, a metal and velvet conflagration resembling a ship, which was part of the Venice Biennale. His jeepney series, the Kariton Kathedrals, the Kotillions, the Bunjeefixions, etc. were also a significant part of his expansive portfolio. “My Door to Door piece (1995) is also a favorite, but when asked, I always revert to the idea that my favorite artwork is the one I have yet to complete.”
“It’s hard for me to separate my work, considering my practice has me considering 10 ideas all at the same time,” says the artist. “I have volumes of notebooks with at least 35 pieces still waiting to be started. Time is always the most difficult material to procure,” he adds.
A substantial part of Agnes Arellano’s body of work revolves around the realm of sex and spirituality. The artist explored these themes with relentless vigor by reading books and other literature, as well as through her travels. With her works, mostly voluptuous sculptures of the female form and its parts, Arellano chips away at imposed notions and express an expansive view that pulls from mythologies, religion and her own imagination.
The artist’s hybrid mythical female icons will descend at the Art Fair Philippines 2017, each holding attributes that signify her power. Flying Dakini, a sculpture from past exhibitions, will make an appearance in its new reincarnation—crowned with a pair of tamaraw horns (from the artist’s previous campaign to save the endangered beasts), with multiple breasts taken from the Bogobo underworld goddess, Mebuyan. It will be accompanied by other compelling sculptures such as Kali, the Hindu goddess of time, death and destruction, as well as Mary Magdalene, which the artist revealed, “will bear Jesus Christ’s crucifixion wounds, as well as his fruit.”
The rubber molds for the works come from a live cast of the artist’s body done many years ago. From this original shape, the Arellano modified some parts, adding and subtracting gestures to create new forms. “This series is part of my life work that deals with the Sacred Feminine and Sacred Sexuality. I continue to use my body to portray the female with all her glorious undulating mounds and valleys.”
Arellano’s works reference various teachings and ancient tales. But she liberates her sculptures from the constraints of intellectual concepts and traditional notions. In their cross-pollinated forms, the artist’s sculptures convey a feminine ideal, unshackled by definitions.
Soft-spoken and frail of built, Dex Fernandez seems like a fragile, benign presence among the art world’s more flamboyant, blusterous characters. But his art is anything but timid and delicate. Fernandez explodes colors and forms on his canvases inhabited by the strange creatures born from his own imagination. “Polarity,” he says, explaining the disparity. “
There is also stillness about the artist, a sense of balance amidst the chaos of the real world. This too is evident in his works with the artist creating tension between opposing elements which he tempers with vibrant graphics without losing the artwork’s serious tenor.
Fernandez’s practice encompasses both fine art and public art. Garapata, a character based on the fleas that once took over his childhood home, symbolizes the artist’s direct and simpler approach to street art. Of late, Fernandez noticed an unconscious merging of the two branches of his practice which he found disconcerting at first.
“Nag-meet sila sa gitna, in terms of theme, medium, and concepts,” he says. “Hindi ko matanggap. Sa sobrang spontaneous ko, ’yan ang kilabasan. Pero inaral ko... Ngayon happy na ako. ”
For Art Fair Philippines 2017, Fernandez is working on an animation project where random people, both from the art circles and the streets, become participants in the process of creation. “Baon ko lahat ng art materials ko for that project, para maski saan ako mapadpad, makakacollaborate ko ang mga tao,” Fernandez says.
The untitled project marks another phase in Fernandez’s artistic journey, wherein he has allowed the convergence of his two distinct practices. It also reveals the artist’s remarkable generosity of spirit.