Sun Yuan and Peng Yu’s Hong Kong Intervention, Alfredo + Isabel Aquilizan’s Address, and Sandra Palomar and Nolet Soliven’s Flesh at UP Vargas

September 2, 2011

Artists Sandra Palomar and Sun Yuan

I’m a big fan of Chinese artists Sun Yuan and Peng Yu.  Ever since I saw Angel, a hyper realistic sculpture of a dead angel splayed on the ground, I have sought to keep abreast of their work.  Made from silica gel and fiberglass, the most striking feature possessed by the wrinkled seraphim is a pair of molted wings.  His feathers have withered away, and instead, he is left with wings of flesh and bone; they resemble chicken wings after they’ve been dressed. I saw it when it came up for auction last year.

Hong Kong Intervention, installation view

Another celebrated piece, Old Persons Home, also works with silica gel and fiberglass fabricated by the pair into elderly personages.  In this one, the artists assembled a group of world leaders (Churchill and Arafat, to name a few), sculpted as doddering and drooling ancients on electric wheelchairs.  Famously exhibited at the Saatchi Gallery in London, the figures would occasionally bump into one another as their wheelchairs moved about the space.

Hong Kong Intervention, installation view

When I heard that the duo would bring one of their more recent pieces to Manila, I made sure to make the time to meet them. They have worked together to produce a whole range of work, frequently causing controversy for their audacious use of materials (baby cadavers and human fat). Unfortunately, only Mr. Sun travelled to Manila.  Ms. Peng could not get a visa in time, and stayed in China.

Hong Kong Intervention, from 2009, and reprised at the 2010 Sydney Biennale, currently runs

Hong Kong Intervention, installation view

at the Jorge B. Vargas Museum in UP.  A project that involved 200 Filipino domestics in Hong Kong, the piece debuted at Osage, a gallery for contemporary art in the SAR.  It is through the cooperation of the Osage Foundation that this work made it to Manila. Perhaps, this counts as one of the duo’s tamer pieces, but it does ring close to home.

Hong Kong Intervention, detail

For this piece, the artists gave each of the Filipino OFWs a toy grenade.  The Pinoys stuck their grenades around the houses they work in and then photographed them.  They paired each of their resulting photos with one of themselves with their backs turned, concealing their identities from viewers.  One gets a thrill out of looking over the photographs mounted on the Vargas Museum walls.  You feel like an intruder allowed a forbidden peek, or an eavesdropper who unwittingly stumbles on an intimate conversation.  It is also fascinating to examine the images, guessing at the lifestyles suggested by the spaces.  In a sense, this mischievous piece captures the Pinoy penchant for chismis, for making uzi, for the unwarranted way we stick our noses into other people’s business.  If only the amos knew what their household helpers were up to when they weren’t around!

Hong Kong Intervention, detail

Address, a piece by another artistic tandem, has been mounted at the museum’s lobby.  This one, by Alfredo + Isabel Aquilizan, touches on the process of migration, an issue frequently tackled by these two artists.  It is one familiar to the subjects of Hong Kong Intervention.  The two exhibits relate to each other through this common thread.

Hong Kong Intervention, detail

In Address, we see rows of balikbayan boxes set beside what we presume to be rows of their contents, all precisely arranged.  They signify life stories reduced and compressed into cubes, transported and transposed into alien territories.

Sandra Palomar and Nolet Soliven have installed Flesh at the museum’s third floor space.  The exhibit illustrates their reactions to work in the Vargas Museum collection.  They deliberately chose two nudes made by uncelebrated artists (Nude Study, Marcelino Sanchez, 1935 and Sultana, Antonio Dumlao, undated), and dictionaries that translate Filipino tribal dialects.

Alfredo + Isabel Aquilizan, "Address"

Nolet’s Fleshcape dominates the space, bisecting the room.  He draws and paints magnified impressions of female body parts on both sides of a long sheet of paper.  Sandra’s Reflection Piece 001 stands between this and the Sanchez painting.  One is meant to peep inside to see refracted impressions of both the nude and Nolet’s work.

Another view, Alfredo + Isabel Aquilizan, "Address"

On the other end of Nolet’s drawing, Sultana is posed atop a set of drawers.  Arranged inside the drawers are the dictionaries, vintage photographs of tribal Filipinos, an image of Nora Aunor, and some sculpture.  Like the kayumanggi in the painting, the assortment celebrates our Filipino ethnicity.

Interview and translation exercise 001 is a video by Sandra.  It includes the written recollection of a young Manobo’s initial experiences in Manila.  A transplant into the capital city, he too is a migrant— like the domestics photographed for Hong Kong Intervention.  He knows only too well  the displacement explored by the Aquilizans in  Address.

Nolet Soliven, "Fleshscape", detail

Hong Kong Intervention, Address, and Flesh run from 31 August to 29 October 2011 at The Jorge B. Vargas Museum and Filipiniana Research Center, Roxas Ave., University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City.  Phone (632) 928-1927 or visit

At right, Marcelino Sanchez, "Nude Study"

Antonio Dumlao, "Sultana" over an open set of drawers

A peek inside "Reflection Piece 001"

Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, "Angel", image from

Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, "Old Persons Home", image from


“Mabini Art Project: 100 Paintings” Now Belongs to the Ateneo Art Gallery

March 22, 2011

"Mabini Art Project: Seascape"

It sure feels heartening to witness big business come to the support of the visual arts.  Last weekend, the Ateneo Art Gallery formally unveiled an awesome addition to its already fabulous collection:  Alfredo + Isabel Aquilizan’s Mabini Art Project:  100 PaintingsSecurity Bank acquired the piece for the university museum, a special project to celebrate the bank’s 60th anniversary.  This is not the first time that Security Bank has come out for the arts.  For the past three years, they have been one of major sponsors of Art In The Park, the annual project of the Museum Foundation of the Philippines.

"Mabini Art Project: 100 Paintings", installation view

"Mabini Art Project: 100 Paintings", another installation view

Freddie and Isabel Aquilizan are Filipino artists currently based in Australia.  They travel the globe mounting their work for institutions and art events.  They call their pieces projects, as they work on open-ended premises that evolve over time.   The Mabini Art Project is a commentary on the status conferred to artists and paintings found in the tourist belt of downtown Manila, a district within the environs of Mabini Street.  The pieces found here cater to the tourist trade; paintings are usually of tropical vistas, most of them of the famous Manila Bay sunset framed by coconut trees.

One of 100, "Mabini Art Project: 100 Paintings", detail

For 100 paintings, Freddie and Isabel sought to transform a large-scale oil on canvas piece by Antonio Calma, a Mabini painter.  They cut it up into 100 various-sized rectangles, and had each of these framed.  By doing so, they have bestowed a cachet of legitimacy, of respectability, to each of the pieces.  The frames do more than provide wooden casings to the now small-scale paintings.   Like crowns, the frames have elevated them into the annals of contemporary, i.e., serious, art. Indeed, in this particular instance, the sum of the piece’s parts is worth more than the whole.

Enjoying 100 paintings

The exhibit also includes other pieces that belong to Mabini Art Project, works kept by Freddie and Isabel for their private collection, or those still with The Drawing Room, the gallery that represents them.  Just as in 100 Paintings, the other pieces demonstrate how the Aquilizans’ manipulations have altered our perceptions of these pedestrian works.  Through the artists’ interference, they have been gentrified.

"Mabini Art Project: Sunrise to Sunset" and "Mabini Art Project: Dusk to Dawn"

A magnifying glass held aloft a minute painting invites us to come closer and examine the bull’s eye painted over the original in Target.  In Dawn to Dusk and Sunrise to Sunset, the artists have converted these ubiquitous paintings into sculptures simply by arranging them in stacks atop wooden plinths. They have also been made into video art.  Seascape takes off from 100 Paintings:  another large canvas has been chopped up, the resulting smaller pieces individually framed, then put back together to reform one big piece, albeit one totally different from the original.

"Mabini Art Project: Target"

Security Bank deserves a big thank you from Manila’s art lovers for this very generous gift.  Congratulations to the Ateneo Art Gallery! This should be a good time to remind alumni and other university benefactors:   the gallery deserves just as much attention as the basketball team.  Its collection is worth more than a dozen championships!

A few of the 100 paintings

Mabini Art Project may be viewed at the Ateneo Art Gallery, Rizal Library Special Collections Bldg, Ateneo de Manila University, Katipunan Road, Loyola Heights, Quezon City.  Phone (632) 426-6488 or visit

On video, "Mabini Art Project: Sunrise to Sunset, Dusk to Dawn"

Thank you to Security Bank, the Ateneo Art Gallery, and to The Drawing Room for the installation photos on this post.

The Seascape and the stack, installation view

Security Bank and Ateneo Art Gallery celebrate milestones

Last look at some of the 100 paintings

Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan Take Us To Another Country while Kawayan de Guia Bombs Away (Again!)

December 18, 2010

"Another Country" installation view

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.

From the "Mabini Art Series"

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.

Freddie and Isabel Aquilizan with one of their daughters

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.

Walking through the field of bollards

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.

Another exhibit installation view

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 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.

Kawayan de Guia

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.

Letter envelope from 1943 with original postmarks and stamp, superimposed with typewritten lyrics shaped like a fighter plane

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

More manipulated letter envelopes

Kawayan de Guia collage

Another envelope

Kawayan and Dennis Lagdameo