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Art Fair Philippines In Broad Strokes

One of the most popular art events in the country returned for its 7th year and if you didn’t go, then this is what you missed.


For this year’s Art Fair Philippines, I tried inviting a friend to come with me but she refused.

She said that she would rather stay at home and watch Netflix. She also said that she’s not “sophisticated” or “rich” enough to enjoy “ahhrrt.” While it’s hard to argue against a streaming service that lets you eat chips and sip a beer in your pajamas, I will say that Art Fair isn’t as exclusive or alienating as she seems to think it is.

Ever since it started in 2012, the fair’s following has grown exponentially. From the estimated 6,000 attendees that welcomed it during its maiden year, its 2018 outing hosted about 30,000 from all over the world and it’s mostly because of what it offers. Featuring a mix of artists representing various media, it has been established as an event capable of piquing the interests of different people from varying backgrounds.

It retained this identity this year as when returned to Makati’s The Link for a 3-day showcase. And if you’re one of those people who didn’t go because you thought it wasn’t for you, then these are some of the things you missed in broad strokes.

The fair’s layout is denser this year with one floor dedicated for commissioned works and the rest for galleries and talks. Each stair landing became a mini-exhibit of sorts which allowed people to take a closer look at the pieces.

It is always exciting to check out the commissioned work made by selected artists for the fair. This year, among them was David Medalla’s “A Stitch in Time” where viewers were invited to embroider or stitch a memento on a swathe of piña fabric. Medalla is a Filipino international artist known for a wide range of works (from sculpture, kinetic, land art, painting, to performance.) He has been based overseas since the 1960s and was part of the seminal exhibitions that helped define conceptual art for a generation. For this playful work, you–whoever you are–could stitch in a poem, a card or a button or even your name using threads and needles hanging over the piece. As the fair progressed, the fabric grew heavy with keepsakes, memories, and stories from its time in Manila.

Medalla also had other contributions to the fair. Beside “A Stitch in Time,” for example, are sand machines featuring bamboo contraptions and shells inspired by his childhood growing up in the Philippines. There is also a portrait series taken of Medalla by Adam Nankervis which now shows an aging Medalla’s face, presumably lying in bed, joyously festooned with everything from flowers to trinkets.  All of these displayed together compose a substantial profile of an artist as rendered not just by himself but by the people whose lives intertwine with his. It is a testament–intended or otherwise–to how one’s human relations and environs can enrich one’s life.

“A Stitch in Time” isn’t the only interactive installation in the fair this year, however. The late Ray Albano, for example, also attempted to involve his audience with “Step on the Sand and Make Footprints.” It is basically a room-sized sandbox where the audience is invited to enter. It is a reinstallation of his winning work at the 9th International Biennial Exhibition of Prints in Tokyo in 1974. The premise of the work with the footprint as the first print is amusing while also being performative and collaborative work. Albano was an artist known for his legacy as CCP director from 1970 to 1985 when he would not only curate the works but also design the posters for it. At the fair are 60 framed posters designed by Albano for shows that included paintings, photography, videos, and performance art.

Another interactive showcase came in the form of Christina Quisumbing-Ramilo’s “Forest for Trees.” Here, scrap wood shaped into books are stacked on shelves. People were invited to write on the blocks using chalk and place it back on the shelves. A rewrite of personal histories, perhaps? Indeed, this year’s Art Fair calls for much audience participation but there are also works that require none of that.

In Ryan Villameal’s “Behold A City,” for example, a remapped Manila throws shadows on the wall as cutouts of heritage buildings stand on glass shaped like areas from a map. A portion of a grid of the city in glass is mounted on a wall as well. Meanwhile, MM Yu’s “Subject/Object” takes hundreds of images of artist working spaces and the objects found in them. The photos are pinned to corkboards, or inserted in corners. They are mixed with other objects like a ball of yarn or a computer screen. And then there’s Oscar Villameal’s “Cheap Medicine:” a collection of 200 coconut shells on top of bamboo poles. Each shell is individually fashioned with an abaca hairdo, missing teeth and various expressions of what seems to be pained laughter. Meanwhile, divided from the rest of the floor by a red wall is Ian Fabro’s “Inferno, Purgatorio, Paradiso,” a triptych that nods to a 15th-century painting called “The Garden of Earthly Delights” by Hieronymus Bosch. In Fabro’s assembled sketch work, one frame is of crumpled, brooding layered drawings of four-legged animals; another frame features mostly snakes pinned all over like crazy acupuncture, and the last shows eyes and teeth in various stages of gouging and clenching.

Before leaving the Art Fair this year, I checked out the other sections outside the area for commissioned works and among them was the one for photography.

There, I found works featured by Luzviminda, an archive for Philippine photography with a focus on national identity. One of them is Karl Castro’s series on riding jeepneys called “Value Chain.” Castro has been taking photos of his commute home for years and in it, passengers are shown with pensive or exhausted faces under the low and jewel-colored light found inside jeepneys at night.

These are not sights uncommon to a lot of Filipinos who commonly ride jeepyneys to leave for work or go back.  This is not “ahhrrt” that requires you to be “rich” or “sophisticated” to relate to it. It is a truth of the local narrative that can cause us to examine our lives and perhaps inspire us to improve them.

Its the celebration of such works that partly account for Art Fair’s continued popularity and it is also one of the reasons why people should not easily dismiss it the next time around.


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