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


Disco Bombs, Suspended Leaps, and Shadowplay Explode At UP Vargas Museum

June 19, 2010

The UP Vargas Museum seems to have become a pretty exciting space this past year.  While it had always housed an important

By Jose Tence Ruiz

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.”

Roberto Feleo, "Agtayabun"

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", detail

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.

Kawayan de Guia Bomba installation

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

Kawayan de Guia's futuristic jukebox

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.

Anino Shadowplay, "Anino Bodega"

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.

Jose Tence Ruiz for Yari, "Diablo Ex-Machina"

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.

By Marc Cosico for Yari

By Robert Alejandro for Yari, "Tatang"

By Brendale Tadeo for Yari, "Makinarya"

Beth Parrocha for Yari, "Puppet Show"

For Yari

For Yari

For Yari

For Yari

Bernadette Wolf, "Yari ng Diyos"

By Anino Shadowplay for Yari, "Theocracy"

Profiles of Courage: Juana Change Portraits at the UP Vargas Museum

November 11, 2009

You gotta hand it to Mae Paner.  First, she creates an alter ego that fearlessly takes on the political issues of the day.  As Juana

mark justiniani parting

Mark Justiniani, "Parting"

Change, the obese and vulgar personality she adopts on You Tube broadcasts, Mae has

winner jumalon supercalifragilistic

Winner Jumalon, "Supercalifragilisticespialidocious"

created  a cult phenomenon.  Now she publicly challenges herself to lose weight, to take on a healthier lifestyle.  But not before allowing 36 artists to document her in all her voluptuous glory.  She lets it all out—stomach folds, cellulite ripples, Rubenesque buttocks and arms—naked, for  all of us to see.  The exhibit notes say that we should expect the artists to mount Part II sometime before the May 2010 elections.  Mae will then reveal her, hopefully, much more svelte self.  In the meantime, let’s enjoy her hefty proportions while we still can!

winner detail

By Winner Jumalon, detail

kawayan de guia

By Kawayan de Guia

Two untitled pastels by Charlie Co

Two untitled pastels by Charlie Co

As with exhibits of this magnitude and variety, I can’t help but choose my favorites.  Kawayan de Guia‘s photograms top my list.  He prints them on glass mirrors, and when viewed from different angles, his images distort like holograms.  He frames his pieces in a sunburst pattern from cut  oil cans (literally Baguio oil!) which seem reinforced with wood underneath.  His frank, grotesque, in-your-face treatment of Juana induce just the right amount of cringe that I look for when deliberating on art.  He piles on the humor too.  In one of his pieces, he juxtaposes a stretched out Juana against a sweatshirt that reads “Physical Education”.  Another shows a pensive Juana perhaps dreaming of  her beauty underneath the blubber.

benjie reyes ng nakalabit

Benjie Reyes, "Ng Nakalabit"

I also loved Mark Justiniani‘s pieces.  No one works with pastel the way he does.  His oil on canvas piece, Parting, is vintage Mark.

The show also aims to raise funds for Mae to continue her You Tube productions. What a great way to do so!

kiri and julie

By Julie Lluch and Kiri Dalena

Pangatawanan Mo Nah! runs from 5 to 15 November 2009 at the UP Vargas Museum, UP Diliman, Quezon City.

entrance instal

At The Entrance

Brenda Fajardo, "Angel's Wings"

Brenda Fajardo, "Angel's Wings"

lee paje ang bote ni mae

Lee Paje, "Ang Bote-buti Ni Mae"