For almost a decade and a half now, Alfredo Juan and Isabel Aquilizan have been traversing the globe, unfolding the stories of
their life together through their artistic collaborations. They work mostly with installations that involve collecting objects laden with histories and memories. Their pieces, which they label as projects, relate to family ties, diaspora, community, and identity.
In recent years, the Aquilizans have relocated their family to Brisbane. From this base, they actively participate in both the Australian art scene and the international biennial circuit. Two shows, ongoing almost simultaneously at the UP Vargas Museum and The Drawing Room, give their Manila audience a chance to experience their most important projects, as well as take in their most recent work.
STOCK, JORGE B. VARGAS MUSEUM, UNIVERSITY OF THE PHILIPPINES
Freddie and Isabel blur the boundaries between their art and their family life as parents to a brood of five. Because of this frequent interaction between their realities and their work, their projects do not have finite lifespans, but constantly evolve and transform.
Stock has been installed in the two ground floor galleries of the Jorge B. Vargas Museum within the UP Diliman campus. At the lobby by the main entrance, you notice sundry items arranged to form several perfect cubes. This piece, from Project Another Country, is meant to mirror the process of the Aquilizans’ migration from Manila. The balikbayan box, ubiquitous accessory of the Pinoy traveler, serves as the mold that shapes these personal possessions. For the immigrant, a previous life is suddenly reduced to what can be transported within the confines of these perfect squares.
They first mounted Project Be-longing in 1997, and this has evolved into a series spanning ten years (1997-2007). For this exhibit, Freddie and Isabel reprise Be-longing from 1999. Two wooden crates hold plaster casts from 500 shoes. Each cast is as different from the other as the people who once owned the shoe from which it was made. The artists have molded unique imprints of personal histories.
The question of identities comes up via two pieces that use a collection of ID pictures. Future Tense made the final list of the Philippine Art Awards and the Asean Art Awards in 1999. While in Specimens, black push pins cover faces and erase individual identities from sets of 1″x 1″ photos.
The Mabini Art Project is a fairly recent undertaking. In 2009, they collaborated with artists from Mabini, the downtown Manila street which is the center of the honky tonk tourist belt. Derided by the art cognoscenti, these works are usually of sunsets and Philippine landscapes. Freddie and Isabel have glamorized these paintings, hanging 100 of them in various frames on one wall (100 Paintings). Five hundred have been stacked up to form a pillar (Edifice). A number have been manipulated and painted over with white dartboards (Target).
The 2008 Singapore Biennale featured Flight, an installation that involved working with 4000 transparent rubber slippers collected from inmates of the Singapore Correctional Institute. Like pennants, each slipper had been attached to bamboo poles staked beside a body of water.
In this exhibit, we see Flight transformed into Wings: the flipflops have been arranged to take the shape of three pairs of freestanding, gigantic angel’s wings.
As these slippers age, their rubber material loses its transparency. The varied states of the flipflops result in the wings exhibiting an uneven—and very interesting— color pattern, with shades ranging from milky white to light brown. These three pairs of wings are SUPER, my favorite pieces of this show.
PLETHORA, THE DRAWING ROOM
You could say that the Aquilizan exhibit at The Drawing Room in Makati serves as an extension of the Vargas Museum show. Here,
Freddie and Isabel show newly-produced renditions of their previous projects, work that have never been brought out in Manila before.
You can’t help but notice the proliferation of used toothbrushes in varied shapes, forms, and more importantly, colors. In 1997, for the Havana Biennale, these toothbrushes made up Erasure/Remembrance. Once again, we see this collation of personal histories. Used toothbrushes serve as repositories of intimate details. Now, part of that cache of 10,000 toothbrushes have been reconfigured into White, a new wall-bound piece for this Drawing Room show. At Vargas, they had accumulations in all red or in all blue, or had the toothbrushes arranged to form a spectrum . A good number of the toothbrushes from Havana now belong to the Asian Art Museum collection in Fukuoka.
Amihan refers to both the name of the couple’s eldest child as well as to a series of wall-bound pieces. Used baby sweaters have been folded to resemble female genitalia. Freddie started this series in the late 1990s. From 1996-1997, he lived away from Isabel and their then-newborn daughter to pursue his master’s degree in England. The act of purchasing and shaping the used pieces of infant clothing served as a balm to his homesickness.
To create Local, two photographs of urban landscapes printed on metal, Freddie used a Widelux F7 camera. As he explains, this is a “groovy, mechanical, all-metal Japanese panorama camera with NO SHUTTER and a 140 degree angle with a swing arm that sweeps from one side to the other to record images. They don’t make this kind of a camera anymore.”
For the 2000 Venice Biennale, the Aquilizans created M201 In God We Trust, a model of the original military jeep used by the Americans. As a reference to that piece of ten years ago, they present four jeepney windshields, complete with flashing lights and Pinoy witticisms in chrome and steel.
As in UP, the Drawing Room show has its own pair of angel’s wings, this time painted on canvas and crisscrossed by nylon string. This piece made its debut at 2009’s Scope Miami art fair.
Stock runs from 23 February to 10 April at the U.P. Jorge B. Vargas Museum and Filipiniana Research Center, Roxas Ave., University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City. Phone (632) 928-1927 or visit http://www.vargasmuseum.org
Plethora runs from 20 March to 17 April 2010 at The Drawing Room Contemporary Art, 1007 Metropolitan Ave., Metrostar Bldg., Makati City. Phone (632)897-7877 or visit http://www.drawingroomgallery.com