The Drawing Room recently opened two solo exhibitions reflecting on aspects of Filipino existence: Mark Salvatus’s ‘Crackling for a Piece of the Moon’ and Christina Lopez’s ‘Pro Forma’. Salvatus uses a topographical point of view to survey land and space, from his early life in the province to living as an artist in the city. He subtly presented access to land, home, and social justice in works of paper, found objects, and acrylic scratches. Meanwhile, Lopez explores ways of visualizing big data and the vagueness and abstractions of algorithms. She worked on the technologies and ideas used in manufacturing perception that spilled over in the country’s elections. Surprisingly, despite the different trajectories explored in the exhibitions, from the tactility of land to the concept of data, both artists reveal nuances in the lived reality of our experiences, including unequal access to an acceptable quality of life, continuous oppression and exploitation, and deeply embedded social injustice.
I moderated an artist talk by Nice Buenaventura and Jo Tanierla last February 23, 2022.
Note lifted from Ateneo Art Gallery:
We continue with the last of our Ateneo Art Awards 2021 lecture series by inviting Fernando Zóbel Prizes for Visual Arts winners, Nice Buenaventura and Jo Tanierla.
In this session moderated by Portia Placino, winner of the Purita Kalaw Ledesma Prize in Art Criticism for ArtAsiaPacific, Buenaventura and Tanierla discuss their creative processes and the collaborations necessary to create their works in their respective exhibitions.
Nice Buenaventura won for her solo exhibition titled Fools will copy but copies will not fool which was held at Artinformal Makati from 1 June to 29 June 2019. In this exhibition, Buenaventura attempted to mimic print failures using charcoal and oil in the same spirit as to how a printer produces unfaithful copies.
Jo Tanierla emerged as a winner for his first solo show, Pagburo at Pag-alsa: Natural Depictions and Illustrated Prophecies (Gelacio, 1910) which was held from 20 October until 12 December 2020 at the UP Vargas Museum. Pagburo at Pag-alsa is a historical fiction set in 1910 Luzon about the journey of Gelacio and Manta-tio from Malagonlong bridge in Tayabas to Pamitinan cave in Montalban. The project was Tanierla’s response to fascism and its imperialist origins.
Conversing with Kidlat Tahimik was as surreal as watching his movies. His narratives unfold in different layers, steadily unraveling stories and perspectives, giving insight into his practice and the world he examines. He described his film practice and aversion to scripts, shared his life story and how his experiences translated into his works, offered his perspective of taking time and letting things ferment like tapuy [rice wine], and put forward Indigenous beliefs as a key to understanding our culture and attaining happiness. “I think of myself mainly as a storyteller; it’s what I tell people. Forget any awards you attach to Kidlat Tahimik, that I got a National Artist Award in Cinema. Yun nakakahon yun [Those things are boxed away]. I feel for the last two and a half decades I’ve been doing art installation and performance and film. And even architecture . . . I built all these structures without an architect using recycled materials and kung anong [whatever] inspiration at the moment. It’s like my scriptless films—architecture without blueprints. And maybe my whole life is like that: nothing I guess has become a solid structure. I tear up my MBA, and suddenly I become a hippie and I’m doing crazy films.”
“Cast But One Shadow: Afro-Southeast Asian Affinities” was a densely researched exhibition. It was the Manila iteration of curators Carlos Quijon Jr. and Kathleen Ditzig’s ongoing project reviewing global solidarities from a Southeast Asian positionality, which began in Singapore with the show “In Our Best Interests: Afro-Southeast Asian Affinities during a Cold War” (2021). Expansive in its explorations, the presentation occupied all three floors of UP Vargas Museum, even stretching into its external spaces, and included new commissions, loans from the museum, diplomatic gifts from the Macapagal collections, and archival materials that trace the historical and imagined ties of Afro-Southeast Asia.
“Considering the long history of these seemingly chronic conditions that we are in, it is of utmost importance that we create art that exemplifies sensitivity to the struggles, heartaches, aspiration, and dreams of our fellowmen.” Conversations like these with Leslie de Chavez are often enlightening. He navigates the art world through its institutions, markets, and communities by consistently keeping his responsibilities as an artist as a guiding point. His socially and politically charged works confront their audience—whether in the white cube of a gallery or out in the streets—even if the points of view he presents run against popular taste, particularly at this time of historical revisionism and the silencing of dissent.
**More drabble from the anthropology class. Professor asked us to visit a virtual museum. So I did. In memory.
Musee du Louvre is by far the most popular museum in Paris. Museum-lovers, myself included would fly to Paris for the sole purpose of visiting the Louvre. Much of what we study in art history is housed there. Yet, one of the most deeply felt experiences would be across it. Walking through the sandy Jardin de Tuileries, with people sunbathing by the fountain, drinking wine, and talking, then turning left towards the River Seine, one would find the Musee l’Orangerie. It houses Claude Monet’s Water Lily series which was donated to France on the day of the armistice in 1918.
It feels strange to revisit the site online, with vivid memories of a past visit. Looking through photographs and 3-dimensional scans of the museum and surroundings gives an eerie feeling amidst the pandemic. Tourists flocked to the Louve, with long lines, exciting chatter, and eager photographers. The l’Orangerie is quite different. It is much smaller with no tourist lines. Yet, it is a popular place to visit for tourists and locals alike. I imagine it empty as I navigate the keys of the online counterpart. But I still remember the small crowd gathered, particularly the small children, probably a kindergarten class, sprawled on the floor in front of the Water Lily paintings, with their coloring materials drawing their own version of Monet’s work.
It is difficult to imagine now, but about 50 years before the donation of Water Lilies to France, Claude Monet was rejected by the Salon. His work, Impression Sunrise, painted in 1872 and exhibited in 1874 was mocked by critics at the time. His technique was considered rough and unrefined. But things are changing at the time and modern art is just beginning. Impression Sunrise would evolve into the label that would be given to the early moderns, Impressionists. Now, of course, the play of light, the rough brushstrokes, and painting en plein air or outside are considered beautiful. 50 years after Monet and his fellow impressionists were rejected by the Salon, Water Lilies would be gifted to the state.
The Water Lilies housed inside the Musee l’Orangerie are 2 sets of large-scale paintings of Monet’s water garden in Giverny, Normandy. Monet have worked on the Water Lilies for decades until his death in 1926. The works were offered on the day of the armistice in 1918 but the ones displayed in the l’Orangerie were turned over in 1922 and were displayed in the museum since 1927, a year after Monet’s death. It was designed according to Monet’s wishes, with the 8 compositions installed in oval-shaped rooms. The ceiling was designed to give natural light to the paintings, similar to the intentions of the impressionists in playing with light. Going around the two oval rooms gives the impression of moving through time, with the water gardens changing with the light.
Monet’s offer during the armistice was intentional. He wanted his paintings to be a symbol of peace for France. The donation was made through his connection with politician Georges Clemenceau. Monet constantly worked on and revised the Water Lilies series before turning it over to France, at some point facing that there is nothing left to be done. Walking through the museum, digitally or in person, gives the feeling of peace as Monet wanted. The 50-year journey from the rejection of Impression Sunrise to the state’s acceptance of Water Lilies reflects the journey of modern art. Now, people can easily see the beauty and serenity of Monet’s works.
Looking at the small building of Musee l’Orangerie after spending a peaceful time with the Water Lilies can give a lasting impression. The museum was named as such because it used to house orange trees during winter, before eventually being transformed into a museum for Monet’s works. You can feel the wind blowing through as the museum is just by the River Seine. Upon exiting the l’Orangerie, you can see the Place de Concorde and its notable Egyptian obelisk. But before walking away, you can also see a reproduction of Auguste Rodin’s modern sculpture The Kiss. Locals and tourists alike would hold their knees and wish for love, as tradition. This serves as the perfect, picturesque end to a tour of the museum. The question now is, do you turn towards the River Seine and bask in the long sunset or walk towards Place de Concorde and onwards to the Avenue des Champs-Élysées?
**Drabble I wrote for a penalty graduate class in anthropology last year. I haven’t posted here in a very long time, maybe I’ll write about it, maybe I won’t. But life changes.
How do we survive a pandemic? I do not really have an answer for that, I only have a story of my own experience and my observations of things around me. The pandemic caught me and my family at an awkward time. My partner and I were in a transition in terms of family life and career. At the time, neither of us was permanently employed but things were looking up with new prospects. But then the lockdown arrived and our family was in a state of precarity. It turned out alright, but for a while the fear of surviving was palpable.
We all heard the news of the sickness in China, of course, then the panic-buying that was sweeping the western world. I wanted to be prepared, just in case, so we began stocking up on groceries even if the funds were a little tight. We were lucky to have credit, at least. As the news of an impending lockdown circulated, the feeling of mild panic became more palpable. My child was not yet 2 at the time, she drinks milk, uses diapers, and eats mostly fruits and vegetables. Even if we stock up on canned goods, she will not want to eat them. The fear was building up as the world gets more unstable by the day.
Our response was quintessentially middle class. I ordered bulk groceries in Lazmart, which was still delivering efficiently before the news of an official lockdown. I ordered boxes of diapers that would last for about 2 months. Lazada and Shoppee became a go-to app, ordering what was used in the household, for at least was 2 months. I ordered boxes of UHT milk from various suppliers as deliveries slowed down, trying to ensure that the child would always have her milk. I desperately wanted to find a fruit and vegetable delivery service, which I did, with an incredible markup from the market price. Everything was more expensive this way, but we were living with extended family members in a nice village but we have no personal vehicle. The extended family did not feel any fear of the virus or of the impending lockdown and they did not understand our fears. They just thought the grocery lines were too long, but they didn’t mind going, regardless. Precarity and access to resources played a significant role in the emotions and actions at the time.
When the lockdown came, we had what we needed, but the anxiety was still there. Our child goes to playschool and was raised to take daily walks and exercise around the village every day. The sudden need to stay at home, at all times, with no school, teacher, classmates, playmates, and time outdoors was a difficult transition. Luckily, the house has a large enough backyard, and we mimicked the playground that was found in school, with the absence of slides and the like. We set up water play, homemade outdoor play equipment, and busy boxes that the child can explore. They say children are resilient and can cope, and they are right. Eventually, she adapted and accepted the explanation that we cannot go out because there is a virus and a lot of people are sick. She still repeats this and as a mother, I can only wonder how this will affect her in the future.
I have said that I was quintessentially middle class in my responses. Aside from making sure that the child would have what she needed, I turned to gardening and baking. I planted the seeds and things from the vegetables that we eat. I ordered flour, sugar, butter, yeast, and all the other ingredients to bake bread. I baked before but not in the way that I did during the lockdown. I learned the traditional way of baking bread using yeast. I even imagined selling bread and cakes as the job prospects looked dim.
But we were lucky. Eventually, the job situation improved. There were “rakets” that brought in the money to survive the lockdowns. The credit card got overused, but the suspension of payment helped. We chipped away at our unpaid bills until things stabilized again. I see this more as luck than anything else. I was skilled, of course, but the privilege I had to begin with, as well as the luck of the draw, helped us survive.
Now, it is a cycle of things. I teach online; I edit and write on commission when possible. I do administrative work. I balance this with homeschooling my child, in combination with her online playschool. The rigidity of the traditional schooling approach is not helpful, especially as I have a job that I need to survive. Our schooling is attuned to unschooling, focusing on the child’s interests rather than a fixed curriculum. This seems to work as she meets all the target knowledge and skills for her age group. We still order our groceries online, using Waltermart. We still order our fresh produce weekly from Session Groceries. Everything else, as needed, is from Lazada and Shoppee. I think as part of my pandemic trauma, I still keep food and supplies that would last 2-3 months, in case there is another lockdown. I never truly want that to happen, but here we are on our 3rd one.
Tonight, I wrote a long entry in my journal. My first since the Faculty Center Fire of April 1, when I lost most of my books and catalogs and objects that I cherish. I also watched the finale episode of Gilmore Girls. I missed the before, as life got in the way. I am sitting in my darkened room, because my light burned out. I am also listening to The Smiths’ Louder than Bombs album. Tonight is a good night. Not perfect, as life is. But it is a good night.
For the next few months, I will be in Seoul. Ruin indeed is the road to transformation. I applied for the research fellowship a week after the fire happened. I was just so heartbroken. I meant to apply for this fellowship at one point. But then, the fire was the push I needed to just do it. I didn’t know if I would get it, my interview was not great because Skype kept on getting cut off. But a month after, I heard word that I got accepted. I’m in. Five months in Seoul.
I was not a flawless transition. I missed my apartment. I missed my partner. I missed the food that my partner prepares. But it felt good being here. It felt good moving—learning new things, experiencing life in a different way. I’ve always known that I want to live in different places throughout my life. I moved to Manila when I was 16 to go to college. I moved to different cities since then. I even moved back home for a couple of years. A part of me feel so lost sometimes, not knowing where home really is. But a bigger part of me love this sense of freedom. I love moving around. I just do. And I do not see myself stopping.
I should be writing more about what I’m learning here. I failed two dictation quizzes in Korean, but earlier today I finally got a 7/10, a barely passing grade. The language was an adjustment but I think I’m getting the hang of learning it. I finally passed a dictation quiz, didn’t I? Maybe it will bet better. Or I certainly hope so. I’m really not the dictation type and I do not like the pressure and stress that apparently comes with the territory of Korean classroom experience. Well, things do get better, eventually.
The apartment is right above a metro station, which means noise. But it also means convenience. And the first week I had here was spent trying to make a homey place for myself. Now, I think it is. We’ve visited quite a number of museums and galleries that I know I should write about. And I say this a lot but I really hope I will get to it. I’m full of travel stories since 2012 and I am partly afraid that the stories and memories are slipping away from me. Or maybe things that I will never forget are the ones that really matter. I don’t really know. I will figure it out.
Maybe the stories will come out of me like Marcel Proust’s Swann’s Way came out from him. Stories, memories, and disjuncts. Maybe I will write it. Maybe I won’t. Hopefully soon, or maybe not. Too many maybes. But for tonight, I’m listening to The Smiths. And it is a good night. And I hope there would be more nights like this. Or many nights where new memories are formed. Or maybe simply a night that I can call a good night.
I signed up to Writing 101 with a vision that I would complete every assignment thrown my way. It worked out that way the first two weeks but life seem to catch on the last two weeks and I ended up completing 3/4 of the writing assignments. I want to go back and complete everything. But whether or not I do it remains to be seen.
I don’t feel too bad about it though. I tried. And though it wasn’t perfect, it was a decent reboot. I also think that these changes reflect the changes in me. A few years back, I never would’ve let things slide of as they did. I would’ve fought tooth and nail to finish everything. I do everything that I need to do. It’s just the way that I was.
But things do change eventually. And I am not the same person that I was. I am not as productive but I don’t necessarily see that as a bad thing anymore. I do as much as I can, but I want to carry with me an important lesson that I learned—my value is beyond my productivity. I am not just a clog in the machine. I am not a machine. I am not simply a capitalist product. My value is not equal to the products that I have produced in my lifetime.
It’s important to rest and take things slow sometimes. It’s important to breathe. It’s important to spend time with your loved ones. It’s important to be alone. It’s important to do nothing. It’s important to be unproductive.
Being busy has become a badge of honour in today’s society. Everyone seems to be so proud in being able to say that they are too busy. But it is not honourable to be too busy to live. Sometimes, it is just as important to stay out of the glaring sun. Or to watch the leaves fall, to smell the flower bloom. Or to watch the sky darken and see the splatter of rainfall.
There is also the notion of the fear of missing out. But keeping up with everything often results in missing out of the present moment. Catching up with the news 24/7 means you miss what is right in front of you. You don’t smell the richness of coffee and taste the melty, buttery, flakey pastry. You don’t feel the chocolate melt in your mouth. Or inhale the aroma of food you cooked yourself.
If there’s something we should be afraid of, we should be afraid of missing out on the laughter to be shared with friends. Or cuddling under the comforter while watching your favorite TV show. It’s more fearful to miss things like the sand between your toes and the salty wind in your hair, rather than pounding on your keyboard or phone screens.
There’s so much to miss. But it’s not on Facebook or social media. It’s not on the latest news or gadgets. It’s not in the wildest of parties.
It’s in the ephemeral moment that you cannot capture with Instagram. It’s the smell and feel of things. Things that you glimpse of when you slow down. It’s beyond productivity, beyond income, beyond the self as the capital.
If you’ve been reading my blog, you would’ve read my writings about social issues as well. That is close to my heart and it is something that I hope I will never leave out. There is an ongoing battle to fight. But I have to admit that I cannot fight 24/7. I sometimes stop.
I didn’t go to the Labor Day rally. I went to the beach with my friends and colleagues. I swam and ate and rested. I went snorkelling for the very first time. I saw colourful corals and fishes in the deep ocean. I burned my skin off doing this. It felt amazing.
I went back to face all the keyboard warriors. I engaged some, I ignored some. I do what I can and I call on to others to do the same. As much as I possibly can. But I also face the guilt that I cannot do it all and I cannot do it consistently. It seems that I cannot do enough, but I also cannot stop. Such is life. We cannot live it perfectly but we live it anyway.
It’s the same with writing, I guess. I would never be able to do it perfectly, but I will continue to do it anyway. Perhaps I will continue on developing this expression. The only way to know for sure is to keep on doing and keep on trying.
What I really appreciate about Writing 101 is how supportive everyone has been to each other. We critique but at the same time build each other up as a community. Everyone tries to be as encouraging as they can in each other’s writing. This has not been the case in social media. A lot of times, people would look for holes that they can attack and gravitate to. It’s a very demoralising practise. It also incites fear of saying something wrong and fear of writing in general. But with Writing 101, there are a number of people out there to support writing, at whatever level you are. There are differing opinions but offered in a very healthy manner. I am truly grateful.
I will publish my post for Day 20 several days late. And I have about 4 more posts to catch up on. And I really hope to do it before the Commons close. Maybe I will, maybe I won’t. But the more important lesson here is to continue writing, no matter what. And to keep on the positivity, whether in a past pace or slow. I hope to have more experiences to write about, the motivation to write it, and people to share it with.