Private Tour Of Vargas Museum's Exhibitions October To December 2020
The art community is one of the sectors that have been badly hit by the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, with resilience and resourcefulness, industry leaders have relentlessly transitioned gallery viewing experiences, artist talks, and auctions to various digital platforms. Also, there is a number of galleries that have kept its doors open for collectors and enthusiasts alike through private tours. Personally, I take a lot of time in exploring a gallery and get lost in its treasure troves, hence having a private tour was beyond perfect. Booking an appointment is not that difficult (as one may think). Also with the gradual easing of restrictions, today have let us slowly go back to how things were.
One of the things that have changed drastically since the outbreak of the virus was our working lifestyle. Most of us have resorted to work-from-home setup or have started reporting to our offices twice a week and with transportation supplied by the company. Interestingly, the 2020 exhibition that will welcome you as you enter UP Vargas Museum focuses on labour.
A trajectory of its 2019 exhibition "The Nature of the Collection", this year's exhibition on the 1st Floor gathers artworks from various artists that are "centred on labour—be it public or private, domestic or social, personal or historical". Entitled, "The Work of Art", the exhibition attempts to bring to light "the conditions of making and doing".
"The idea of work or labour is intrinsic in the conception of art because at the crux of art is creation or creative production," Dr Patrick Flores, curator of the Vargas Museum, says. "Here, art and science need not be seen as alienated from each other. Artistic expression is an experiment; scientific exploration is informed by sensitive sensing or observation. Both partake of the interplay between intuition and intelligence, subjectivity and the material world."
Included in the exhibition are paintings from the mid-20th Century with impressionist style depicting scenes from the country. From the typical depictions of women doing household chores to fisherfolk at the break of dawn, the exhibit encapsulates Filipino culture before the rise of industrialisation in a dramatic manner through distinct lighting techniques. At the centre is a table laden with various iterations of salakot, a native Filipino hat used by the proletariat in their daily occupation, set across the wall with paintings of men wearing it.
At the far end of the hall, two paintings will get your attention: Philippine presidents planting rice. Both by Romeo Enriquez, these two paintings immortalise actual events in history. Bare from Presidential regality and soaked in mud, we see two very different presidents doing manual labour that has been a significant sector in the country's economy. Both served exceeding their first terms, the two share similarities and differences that could easily start a conversation for museum-goers.
Accentuating the exhibition is Mervy Pueblo's video work from 2012, entitled Stone Maker. The artist describes it as a reflection on the process of making and the experience as maker. He says, "I use video and photography to see the moment when the material is alive and animated during the ritual-like process of mark-making. I see stone as my gong, while the chisel and hammer as my Dorje."
But the depiction of Philippine culture hasn't always had Amorsolo's dramatic atmospheric lighting. Sometimes it is dark—macabre even—especially when one cannot tell the difference between an old wives' tale and daily news reports anymore.
This is the theme of Jo Tanierla's exhibition on the 3rd level of UP Vargas Museum. In partnership with Tin-aw Gallery, the exhibition curated by Carlo Paulo Pacolor was entitled, "Pagburo at Pag-alsa: Natural Depictions and Illustrated Prophecies (Gelacio, 1910)". It is a fictionalised archival of stories, journals, sketches, and paintings, weaved together by an eerie narrative. The writing on the wall says, "A pair embarks on a year-long pilgrimage from a bridge in Tayabas to a cave in the mountain of Pamitinan, Montalban, Rizal. Gelacio, an itinerant scholar in the city, and Manta-tio who speaks in tongues. They meet other characters along the way, and they also hear stories: of mornings and massacres, a whole banana field ablaze with santelmo like clenched fists, contraptions floating like ghosts, and a cow that brings with it the night. No immediate proof is left of neither their journey nor the fantastic stories, save for a poem about Bernardo Carpio: 'Ngunit may 'di nagdiriwang—mga babaylan sa may pampang, ang buwaya't mambabarang, ang mga duwende't tikbalang; lahat sila'y nag-aabang.'"
The exhibition transports audiences to the turn of the 20th Century, right after the Philippine-American war. With graphite drawings on dated papers, type-written journals, and naturalistic watercolours, the exhibition juxtaposes the past and the present.
Not only does it present the fictional narrative in a creative and well-thought-out archiving process, but it also pushes the artist's—as well as the artistic subject's—messages of socio-political pleas.
"Tanierla invites us to come to terms of the fictions and narratives that have come to shape our material lives," Dr Flores says. "They are stories and as such are animated by different forms of telling. This telling is the basis of the exhibition. What he does is to explore some symptoms in narratives and release them into the realms of myth, allegory, and other translations of tales. And so, for instance, violence inflicted on a person may resonate with how bodies are defiled in the present. According to Tanierla: 'The mythological aspect of Pagburo at Pag-alsa is an articulation of dissent against fascism, neocolonial, and capitalist abuse. I wield them not as objects of terror per se but as an orientation of resistance, a 'materialisation' of desires for liberation. The folklore transcends its benign significations and becomes a potent ingredient for direct action."
Despite the foreboding feeling that the exhibition exudes with each of its pieces, for Dr Flores, it directly addresses the present with optimism. "[It has] a certainty that our malevolent conditions will cultivate a massive and relentless movement that will physically demand progress," Dr Flores says.
Progress, however far it has reached, began in the simplest of things. For epics, there were tales. Before the season of harvest, there was planting. Altogether, the exhibitions inside UP Vargas Museum speak of the nation's development of consciousness: a metamorphosis.
Similarly, Roberto M. A. Robles' installations outside the museum speak of the same thing as well. Originally scheduled from March to May of 2020, the exhibition "Form | Kata Proto-type" was already partially installed when the pandemic struck and forced art institutions to close temporarily. Three of the four marble sculptures remained in place for the by-appointment private tours.
Robles' exhibition, as per the writing of the curator, seeks to delineate the identity of the Katagalugan, the descendants of the taga-ilog, from the cultural dominance of the West. Robles traces the processes that shaped the Tagalog, the accretion, pressure, time, and crystallisation of a people's collective identity through habitat, language, trade, and power relations, while drawing parallels in Eastern civilisations. The metamorphic rock, quarried and processed by the Teresa Marble Corporation from the mountains of Teresa, Rizal, is hewn into minimalist forms Robles refers to as post-sculpture; the cubes, cross, rectangular cuboid, and concentric circles standing as symbols with different meanings ascribed by different cultures, countries, and continents, but also with the meaning imbued by the present it inhabits.
"For Robles, marble may reference locality as well as formidability," Dr Flores says. "The marble he uses is locally sourced, but the material itself evokes permanence, classicism, authority. He might be drawn to the discrepancy. In terms of materiality, it might present to him a challenge as a sculptor and as an eternal student of stone carving. In his words, 'Inspired by rich memories of summers spent in my hometown, my mind is filled with genres of heritage—of the Filipino. This sense of the picturesque has equipped me with the desire to be a stone carver; to work with the medium with ease, taking away only the unnecessary elements and retaining the desired forms, lines, and natural temperament of the material.' Moreover, Robles is invested in the prospects of post-sculpture, moving away from the status of the sculptural and into the process of translating the form in the context of culture, the environment, ideas, and the complex elaboration of language in historical events like revolutions."
The three exhibitions have made me revisit the months that we've had in quarantine. The crisis may have affected our country from all fronts, but it has also become a testament to how much we have already progressed as a nation. The concept of metamorphosis, Dr Flores interjects, can be defined as incremental morphing from condition to condition. "It foils the concept of fully-formed-ness," he says.
If that so, the Filipino nation has truly learned a lot from the months that have passed. Lifestyles have changed drastically that what was once built has been destroyed to build something new and better. Like how the Robles' prototypical installations were set against the backdrop of the formidable facade of the building, we see the tension that is vital in the relationship between agency and resistance, says Dr Flores. We see what was, what could be, and what is. The question is, how much beauty do we see in the mundane?
The current exhibitions inside the museum, including the Permanent Collection are available for viewing until 12 December 2020. The outdoor installations can be seen until the end of the month.
- Photography Franz Sorilla IV