Nilo Ilarde Curates His Own; Philippine Art at the Prague Biennale

Nilo Ilarde, "I Have Nothing to Paint and I'm Painting It"

Nilo Ilarde, "I Have Nothing to Paint and I'm Painting It"


Every other exhibit in Manila seems to have a touch of Nilo Ilarde: the spectacular Alcazaren and Pacquing show at Finale in January, the Lara delos Reyes first solo show in

View of installation, "Writing on the Wall+Hole in the Wall+Wall= Work"

View of installation, "Writing on the Wall+Hole in the Wall+Wall= The Work"

Feb, and just two weeks ago, Hannah Pettyjohn’s American Sweet at SLab. And those are just the ones I’ve seen. When you come across a show that’s seamlessly put together, chances are Nilo’s had a hand at curating the concept or hanging the pieces. What then does he come up with for his own work? I expected to see something different, art that would make me think. And that’s what I got.

For starters, he used the gallery itself as his medium. Literally. He created his pieces by gouging its walls, stripping the panels of wood, laying bare wires beneath the frames, and reusing his debris. Because an expanse of space confronts you as you enter, it feels as though you’ve stepped into only one installation. Later you realize that he has fabricated each wall into a completed piece, and he

Nilo Ilarde, "The Higher Gods Command:  Let There Be Lightboxes"

Nilo Ilarde, "Higher Powers Command: Let There Be Lightboxes"

delivers the so-called prerequisites expected of contemporary artists: a painting, a lightbox, video art, and sculpture. His irony takes a while to sink in, but is all the more appreciated because of that.

Embedded in the gallery’s far wall, and the show’s most commanding piece, lies I Have Nothing to Paint, and I’m Painting It, a work in progress of thousands of empty tubes of paint gathered from various artists since 2004. Averse to constructing a permanent receptacle for this collection, he temporarily secures it underneath a glass panel held up by clumsily forged wooden hinges. He intends to continue amassing even more of these tubes, making the act of accumulation part of the piece.

In the gallery’s main wall he has slit WRITING ON THE WALL+HOLE IN THE WALL+THE WALL=THE WORK, and positions his “lightbox” underneath. Higher Powers Command: Let There Be Lightboxes references a previous piece, an accidental slashing of electric wires in the course of putting together a lightbox. As a reaction to the sudden preponderance of lightboxes on anything and everything. Nilo chooses to focus the spotlights on electrical wires usually hidden from view. In his words, he performed “open heart surgery” on the gallery walls.

Nilo Ilarde, "Video Of Its Own Making"

Nilo Ilarde, "Video With The Story Of Its Own Making"

Opposite, on the wall that hides the stairwell from view, we get his Video With The Story of Its Own Making. He has once again cut into the wall, this time a series of five incisions shaped like tv screens, each one revealing more of what lies underneath the plywood than the one before it. The last completely goes through the panel. This progression, when viewed in sequence, simulates a video that changes depending on the movement of people that ascend or descend from behind the opening, or from what angle we glimpse the posters that line the stairs.

By the gallery’s entrance, but which I noticed last, is Nilo’s response to the minimalist symmetry of Donald Judd’s Specific Objects. In the course of stripping this portion of the gallery, he uncovered an unsightly underbelly of orange that inadvertently enhances this installation. From his debris, he has fashioned Specific Abject, a square wooden bin that holds all the refuse that results from his work on this show.

Nilo Ilarde, "Specific Abject"

Nilo Ilarde, "Specific Abject"

Before the show completes its run, Nilo will start dissembling his pieces, bringing the gallery back to normal to complete his process. Actually, normal may not be the right word to use, as the culmination will probably result in the gallery’s walls coming out in a better state than it had been once Nilo repaints and repairs. How similar then to the effect on us, the viewers. Because we’ve experienced good art, no matter how ephemeral, we leave feeling better than when we arrived.

Cold Cuts by Nilo Ilarde is up until 4 June 2009, at Mag:net Katipunan, Agcor Bldg, 335 Katipunan Ave., QC. Ph

Nilo Ilarde , "Specific Abject" (detail)

Nilo Ilarde , "Specific Abject" (detail)

(632)929-3191 or visit


The May issue of Art Review describes the Prague Biennale as an art event that focuses primarily on paintings, particularly those by emerging artists from around the globe. That makes it a perfect forum for art from the Philippines, where painting has always been the dominant art form. In this year’s edition, Geraldine Javier, Nona Garcia, and Annie Cabigting represent the country, and do us proud.

Geraldine Javier, "Lifecycles (After Goya's

Geraldine Javier, "Lifecycles (After Goya's Disasters of War)

Photos cannot do justice to Geraldine’s workmanship in her piece, Lifecycles (After Goya’s Disasters of War). Here she paints a tree dried up and bereft of leaves. Much like ornaments on a Christmas tree, she hangs from its branches embroidered robins, bright red against charcoal. Encased in resin, she depicts each bird devouring beetles, actual preserved insects. Inspired, albeit inadvertently, by Francisco

Plate No. 39 of Goya's Disasters of War

Plate No. 39 of Goya's Disasters of War

Goya’s famous set of etchings that illustrate the barbarity of Napoleon’s conquest of Spain, here we see subjugation of

Geraldine Javier, detail of embroidered robin and preserved insect

Geraldine Javier, detail of embroidered robin and preserved insect

a different kind, that of predator and prey. The cruelty of what we normally see as a gentle creature do to what it sees as its source of life compares to how man treats man in times of war. She makes us dwell on the bloodthirsty circle of life, of the relationship of the strong to the weak.

Annie pays beautiful tribute to abstract expressionist Barnett Newman in Before and After Newman, capturing the intensity of the color of his zip paintings.

Annie Cabigting, "Before and After Newman"

Annie Cabigting, "Before and After Newman"

By Nona Garcia

By Nona Garcia

Nona brings out another piece in her signature style, exquisite portraits that depict the backs of her subjects’ heads. By keeping their faces hidden, they forever remain mysterious and elusive.  At the same time, though, there is something vulnerable about our backs,  a part of our anatomy that we can never look at without help.  And by depicting this, she leaves her subjects unguarded, as if we are about to intrude on a private moment.  Thus, even without their faces, the works never lose their intimacy.

The Prague Biennale runs from 14 May to 26 July 2009. For more information, visit and

Note:  I’ve since found out that the Marella Gallery decided to exhibit these pieces at Art Basel instead of  at the Prague Biennale.  The works from the Milan exhibit of Philippine artists had been brought to Prague instead (see January posts)


4 Responses to Nilo Ilarde Curates His Own; Philippine Art at the Prague Biennale

  1. jun-jun bulaklak says:

    bakit palaging ganyan, pagalingan (Borlongan, Esquillo, Javier, Sison, etc. etc.), Realism in whatever form (photo, surrealism, social, natural, etc.) is giving me diarrhea. Its all about skills, but not enough concept, or whatever concept there is, its academic.

    Hey, check out this article on “Provisional Painting”

  2. Rico Q says:

    Apparently these works were not really for the Prague Biennale but rather for the art fair which Primo Marella joined in. Am not sure if it was in Art Basel or in Venice. The works which were shown in Prague are here.

    Geraldine, Nona, Yasmin

    • manilaartblogger says:

      Thanks for that! I was told that these were originally intended for Prague but the gallery decided to offer this for sale in Art Basel and present works that were in the Milan exhibit instead (see January post).

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