If I had not known any better, I would have reacted just as bewildered as the shoppers strolling down Bonifacio High Street. A rooster’s intermittent crowing mingled incongruously with the Christmas carols that blared out from the mall’s speakers. Passers-by jumped up and glanced around to find its source. A misunderstanding had allowed me to view the current exhibit at MO Space a few days early. So I knew very well that the repeated cock-a-doodle-doos emanated from the building’s third floor, where Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan laid out their latest work.
When Freddie and Isabel debut a piece, one must make time to see it. This Brisbane-based couple bring their scrutiny of memory and history around the globe as regulars of the biennale and triennial art circuit. Manila hardly ever gets first crack at viewing their art, so this show at MO promised something special.
The Aquilizans call this exhibit Another Country, part of a long-running series of works told from their point of view as migrant artists. Another Country refers to the state they find themselves in as they commute between Manila and Brisbane. Each arrival feels like both a homecoming and a visit; they are not tourists but neither can they completely consider either place as home. While they participate in the daily rhythm of life in both cities, there exists a distance to their involvement. Their outlook remains that of detached observers.
In this show, they fixate on bollards, short metal posts supported by concrete bases found throughout the streets of Manila. Bollards create zones of exclusion– separating those that can from those that can’t, delineating areas and territories. To these Filipino expatriates, the bollard represents another instrument of divisiveness, underscoring the factions and classes within Philippine society.
Freddie and Isabel have scattered bollards throughout the gallery floor, flanked on either side by two large-scale paintings from their Mabini Art Series. While we look askance at these paintings sold in the honky-tonk tourist belt of downtown Manila, these balikbayans see them as connections to their homeland. They are as Filipino as the qualities the bollards embody.
Matt Dabrowski and The Many Hands of Glamour, a colleague of the Aquilizans from an art collective in Brisbane, has recorded the crowing that punctuates the air beyond the gallery confines. This piece adds an additional layer to Another Country. It captures a singular experience of the Philippines by an individual who, literally, is from another country.
Freddie issued a call for stolen bollards via his Facebook page, an experiment on the efficacy of social media as a device for creating art. Judging by the number of pieces they secured, many of his friends heeded his challenge. This response has allowed both the artists and their audience to appreciate the vast reach of Facebook, the communications tool for our times.
KAWAYAN DE GUIA AT THE PROJECT ROOM
Kawayan de Guia has reworked Bomba, his installation of disco mirror bombs from the Vargas Museum, and used it as a lynchpin for another engaging piece.
While the Aquilizans played around with Facebook, Kawayan’s work looks back to posted letters. It stems from his discovery of his grandfather’s correspondence. As remnants of a more gracious era, when recipients regarded written missives as precious parcels to be unwrapped, Kawayan noticed that envelopes that carried his grandfather’s letters remained intact; hardly any of them had been torn open or cut through. Unfolded, these envelopes reminded him of planes. Given that they had been posted and stamped in the early 1940s, he specifically thought of World War II bombers. By linking this to the bombs from his Vargas Museum piece, Kawayan has put together another installation, one that he has half-jokingly dubbed Bomba…Redux.
A bomb-shaped disco mirror, reprised from the original installation, hangs suspended from the ceiling of The Project Room at the rear of MO Space. It rotates from a chrome case that Kawayan had fabricated to resemble a plane’s belly. For the collage that takes one wall, he has reproduced a 1940s pin-up, one of the images of women that American GIs’ would paint onto the bodies of their bombers. The installation’s most interesting pieces, however, are those scattered on the room’s other walls.
Kawayan has taken envelopes from his grandfather’s stash of letters and, with a manual typewriter, filled each of them with songs from the 1940s, popular ballads and kundimans from that era (although one or two carry his favorite tunes from today). He transcribed the lyrics and typed them out so that the words form patterns of various fighter planes. Because the typewritten words complement the yellowed paper, you don’t immediately notice the shapes they form. But once you do, the mix of images—vintage stamps, postmarks, embossed names, plus the typed verses—make for fascinating scrutiny, one undertaken amidst dots of reflected light thrown from the mirror bomb rotating above.
Both shows run from 11 December 2010 to 9 January 2011 at MO Space, 3F MOs Design Bldg., B2 Bonifacio High Street, Global City, Taguig. Phone (632) 856-2748 ext. 2 or visit http://www.mo-space.net