The UP Vargas Museum seems to have become a pretty exciting space this past year. While it had always housed an important
collection of paintings and memorabilia, it has transformed into a significant venue for contemporary art. In the past few months, we have seen a series of exhibits by artists represented by Manila’s leading commercial art galleries. Consequently, university students have gained access to works by artists critical to the current art scene. Credit must go to curator Patrick Flores. And this latest trio of shows that he put together, all three that opened simultaneously this week, definitely underscores this development .
In the main lobby, we find Bound, with Jose Tence Ruiz, Roberto Feleo, and Gaston Damag. The show works with the idea of straddling two realities. To quote the exhibit notes, “this project explores the feeling of being suspended, or the state of transition between past and future, or the thin line that divides the normal and the berserk, the gods and the erring.”
Gaston remounts a piece from Synthetic Reliquiaries, his SLab show of earlier this year. His resin bululs, arranged on a steel scaffolding, speak of his taking the traditional and indigenous into the industrial. Bob Feleo brings out two creatures from Filipino mythology, part of his Tau Tao series of a few years ago. The Agtayabun, the hawk-man or the winged god that either maintains peace and order or becomes the source of chaos, hangs beside a Bakunawa, the sea serpent-god of the underworld who has the power to cause eclipses. I had only ever seen photographs of his Tau Tao pieces, so seeing two in the flesh? What a treat! His version of
Agtayabun is super, both fascinating and menacing, full of multi-layered details. Please bring out more of them!
Above the gallery’s stairway landing hangs a bright orange sculpture, another incarnation of Bogie Tence Ruiz’s adventurous Christ. This one uses his cross as a surfboard, with arms outstretched like UP’s Oblation, sporting a Unicorn’s horn. This absurd amalgam somehow works, a beacon that compels you to come closer.
Look up and beyond Bogie’s surfer Christ hovers a glittering display that beckons you up the stairs. Ascend to the museum’s third level and Kawayan de Guia transports you from the world of folk beliefs into his glitzy exhibit, Bomba. An array of torpedo-shaped disco mirrors hang from the ceiling, at the center of which a chrome bomb houses speakers that blare out psychedelic music. What a hip, fun, fantastic installation! Ever wondered how Kawayan would top his jukeboxes? Well, here we have the answer! How does he dream of these things? He creates a video that plays along with the flashing lights, an absorbing film that I actually viewed from start to finish. To use Bogie’s description, Kawayan…”beautifully edits a combination of porno and violence without being gratuitous.” He also assembles another jukebox, this time made to look futuristic, without the folk embellishments he used before. This show alone makes the trek to
Diliman worth the cost of gasoline.
Back on the ground floor, at the gallery adjacent to the main lobby, Anino Shadowplay and invited guest artists mount Yari. Taking off from shadow puppets, the accoutrements of their craft, they developed pieces that viewers can interact with and manipulate. You have kaleidoscopes and laser guns sharing space with clocks, a mix-and-match installation, and a huge crane reprised from UP’s Lantern Parade. Patrick Flores challenged the artists to make use of the gallery’s glass windows instead of the white walls to display their pieces. I thought this gave the show a different feel. Don Salubayba, one of the founding members of Anino Shadowplay, shares that the exhibit comes even more alive when dusk falls and the light allows the pieces to cast their silhouettes on the floor.
Someone had commented that while the pieces in these shows worked individually, they didn’t seem to blend when put together. Perhaps. It didn’t feel that way to me. Maybe I enjoy an affinity with the works of these artists. Maybe because I do not work as an art professional, I simply let my instincts and gut lead the way. Maybe the students and artists milling around gave Vargas a buzz of positive energy that I enjoyed. Whatever it is, I certainly didn’t regret crawling through EDSA’s rush hour traffic to catch this set of shows. I bet you won’t either.
Bound, Bomba, and Yari run from 19 June to18 October 2010 at the University of the Philippines Jorge B. Vargas Museum, Roxas Avenue, UP Diliman, Quezon City. Phone (632) 928-1927 or (632) 981-8500 local 4024.