Dedication


For Norma Crisologo Liongoren

To say Norma Crisologo Liongoren was dedicated is an understatement. On top of the curatorial work she had been doing since 1981 at the Liongoren Gallery in Cubao, Quezon City, Liongoren practiced social research, and community organizing and development, while nurturing and supporting the careers of countless visual and performance artists.

Born on September 22, 1946 in Lingayen, Pangasinan, Norma Crisologo, or Nong as she was called by those closest to her, studied nursing at the University of the Philippines in Manila, where she first encountered Alfredo Liongoren, who was then the Art Director of the Philippine Collegian. After marrying the artist, Nong’s nursing degree took her to Davao, where she practiced an art of caring that became vital to her curatorial endeavors.

To call her dedication an understatement however feels cliche, especially in a field known for thankless jobs and inflated egos, where one is expected to work for love and getting paid in exposure. Nong knew all of this, yet she labored quietly but relentlessly, joining both mainstream events known for spectacle (and speculation)–such as Art Fair Philippines–while opening her own often community-based efforts in the confines of the gallery where she also made her home.

Cultural work, especially in the highly-specialized, highly-competitive field of fine art, often utilizes a small, skilled staff, and Nong was no stranger to this fact that many museums employed fewer than a dozen to hang, market, guard, explain, and ultimately conserve works of art – making space not only for beauty, in all its subjectivity, but the often contrasting ideas that accompany this very subjectivity. Nong knew all of this, and made sure to treat those around her not simply as workers, but as friends and family. These ideas fueled a relentless drive to make something or somewhere more than a gallery, with so much to be said for what she actually made space for in the house on New York St.

“She adopted a whole family,” shared her daughter, Hannah, of the people running the Liongoren Gallery’s day-to-day affairs. On top of that, studio space in the compound also served as temporary shelter for those displaced by Typhoon Yolanda in 2013, when as many as twelve families took refuge within those walls.

“Ma never had a problem in her mind about opening her doors to people,” continued Hannah, “Up to the very end, my mom stubbornly worked and fleshed out her beliefs. Her lifetime couldn’t catch up.”

And from the beginning, ahead of her time, she clearly understood that a gallery was meant to make space for the better world imagined through art. Art, Liongoren understood, expressed in form and concept the potential to spark revolutions; more importantly, and beyond Art with a capital A, she understood the limits of the gallery space. For cultural work to mean anything, Liongoren knew that culture was about people, and the most meaningful events took place when relationships were formed.

Published in the Nov-Dec 2016 issue of Art+ magazine, in loving memory of Norma Crisologo Liongoren.

Beyond Autobiography

Alee Garibay’s As It Is…

In the years since I began writing about the painting practice of Alee Garibay, her work has drastically shifted from the abstract to the unmistakably concrete and personal, with this show as no exception; yet, the same cannot be said for the horizon of her concerns, which continue to grasp for the universal. The layer of text that has become characteristic of her paintings is noticeably absent from this series – perhaps rendered superfluous by the scale and intricacy with which she attempts to recover the coherence of a life that could so easily be dismissed as random or accidental.

With As It Is…, Garibay reframes the everyday, reclaiming the banality that allows it to be swept aside or cast off. The work documents a brief period of perpetual motion, living between home and studio or hosted by old friends. Ironically, this “semi-nomadic” lifestyle also allowed her to more closely observe the personal as well as the general conditions of domestic space–or a lack thereof. Movement is crucial to the work, in that the series narrates a period in Garibay’s life wherein home was not necessarily a place, but a verb.

This is often joked about as a symptom of “trying to find oneself” – a state bearing the same damning diagnosis of narcissism that this generation has become accustomed to; but what we can choose to see instead upon peering into these works is a recovery of the poetics of noticing – or The Everyday (2). The very phrase As It Is… references this political and artistic movement originating from the 1960’s avant-garde, one that involved “the embrace of the ordinary” and “a lyrical appreciation of the small, simple, and ephemeral things in life…” The aimlessness and “deliberate strategy of boredom” evident in the aesthetics of The Everyday, however, are contradicted by Garibay when asked about how she portrays the subject.

“There’s an impetus for clarity and form, for ‘refining’ the concept of self,” she explains. Indeed, the spaces that turn up in this series are intimate, recalled photographically yet hazy with nostalgia. There is a voyeuristic quality in the (re-)composition and recollection of the rooms and unmade beds that have thus far prevented Garibay from drifting off into full-blown aimlessness. Her titles as well testify to an acknowledgement that these states are fleeting but necessary, as in Overnight or Abang (tr. “to wait”); and despite the time spent or lost, they may be for the better, as in Sanktwaryo (sanctuary) or Pahinga (tr. “to rest”)(1). The figures in Bantay and Paanyaya elevate the series to a spiritual level, implying how every act of exploration or self-care is also a matter of acting upon faith.

In “Clearing the Ground” (1961), Henri Lefebvre wrote that “it is in everyday life and starting from everyday life that genuine creations are achieved, those creations which produce the human and which men produce as part of the process of becoming human: works of creativity (3).” Through painting, As It Is… moves beyond autobiography, offering a deliberate and meditative observation of what has otherwise been rendered invisible by ubiquity. By re-stating and reclaiming a slice of life “As it is,” we are thus invited to look harder.

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(1) Note: This is not Garibay’s first time to intimately render domestic space; the subject was integral to her contribution to Kapitbahay – a two-man show with Renz Baluyot, also shown at Art Verite.

(2) Sally Banes (1993). “Equality Celebrates the Ordinary,” in Documents of Contemporary Art: The Everyday, edited by Stephen Johnstone. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008. p. 114.

(3) Henri Lefebvre (1961). “Clearing the Ground” in Documents of Contemporary Art: The Everyday, edited by Stephen Johnstone. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008. p. 31.

This is just the way people talk

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Ang Kwento Nating Dalawa (2015)
Nestor Abrogena
1 hr. 30 or something

This post has spoilers because I need to talk about that clusterfuck of an ending.

Ang Kwento Nating Dalawa opens with Sam walking towards a train station. He takes a phone call and explains he is late. We find out he is a filmmaker, among other important details meant to fill us in on the life of an accomplished young man who is on his way to Berlin for some filmy thing we’re never really filled in on. Further in, he meets up with Isa as he is transferring from one train to the next. She explains that she is also late, she has an exam. Oddly enough, there seems to be no rush, and for the next ten minutes we watch them dawdle, dragging their feet, towards the next train.

Using transport as a backdrop for a relationship that’s going nowhere makes for a promising metaphor, and references to movies that have done the same (Two for the Road, Richard Linklater’s Before… series, Sa North Diversion Road, That Thing Called Tadhana) are peppered throughout Ang Kwento Nating Dalawa. There is a very clear debt to Before Sunrise, specifically: there it is onscreen in one of Sam’s classes.

What Ang Kwento… seems to neglect however is that these were films that coasted by on the strength and sheer delight of watching two very intelligent people talk, with love as the side effect. That’s not what this movie is. In Ang Kwento Nating Dalawa, we have the opposite in that it is fucking painful to watch its characters attempt conversation–which is really strange considering that Sam is a filmmaker and Isa is a writer. But it’s painful and awkward and you wonder how these two even bother, but whatever. We’re already here! Here being this mess where Isa has a boyfriend named Frank who is abroad  (maybe?), but the point is this dude she was cuddling on the train with is not Frank. He is Sam (the filmmaker who can’t talk good). And Sam all throughout is trying to sit Isa down to talk about “the plan”. Like so: “So what’s the plan, Isa”

“I don’t know, I have to a) meet my groupmates, b) record this song, c) rewrite my script because it’s cheesy.” Heck, I thought the plan was to rush to school because she had an exam. Or something. Whatever, she’s avoiding him, we get it. I thought this whole time was that Isa’s plan was to take her midterms, but I guess not.

This happens throughout the day and into the night. We follow them around while they try to talk but end up not reallly talking. There are cases in which actions speak louder than words, and this…could be one of them. Actually, there are so many other vehicles which could have been used to unravel the messy narrative of Nestor Abrogena’s directorial debut: comic book, music video, photo essay. It is, after all, very beautifully shot. Instead we have this full-length feature that requires dialogue and gets awkward chit-chat for trying to convey that man, relationships are hard! Cheating on boyfriends is hard! Commuting is hard! Life is hard!

You know what else is hard, this film seems to say, writing a script for people who can’t improv to save their lives. When the narrative isn’t overburdened with the infidelity-induced anguish of these kids, it takes a stab at lightness by bringing in Luke – some smug asshole whose only job is to call everyone else in this movie an asshole–and Karen, who Luke is trying to either date-rape or charm into having sex with him despite repeatedly being rejected. I know this is supposed to be funny, but it’s not. It’s gross. And “Baby It’s Cold Outside” was written more than half a century ago, so this “he’s only being a jerk because he likes you,” needs to stop being packaged as rom-com fodder.

BUT WAIT, we soon find out that Luke is not the biggest jerk in this movie! And neither is Isa! The thing is, it took me two tries to get through Ang Kwento Nating Dalawa: the first time, I could only take an hour of its insufferable babbling, but I also wanted to understand the links between conversation and reason and the constant claims about how “real people” talk, especially with the current administration.

Then I read a review in which a plot twist THAT WILL BLOW MY FUCKING MIND was mentioned, and here it is (spoiler):












Sam is actually Isa’s professor. Or, Sam is also Isa’s professor.

So here’s the thing: we have a movie, we have several hours to justify this even messier side of the quandary in that YOU DO NOT DATE SOMEONE YOU’RE GOING TO HAVE TO EVALUATE. It’s pretty fucking basic that allowing the personal and professional to intermingle that closely just adds up to some really fucked-up power play, and no amount of “love” or anguish that looks like love, or agony can fix that.

Unless, of course, you can talk your way through it (e.g. “Brief Interviews with Hideous Men”, “Apocalypse Child”, or “Sa North Diversion Road” again)?

The even bigger problem here is that despite there being other characters given screen time, specifically to lecture Sam on why this shit should stop, no one mentions that “Dude, maybe you should call it quits with this chick because SHE’S YOUR STUDENT.” First, ew. Second, we are instead led to believe that she’s the one with the problem. She’s the one who needs to make a plan, to clear shit up. This whole thing is packaged as “romance” because we’re supposed to find it ***AaaaaawwwwwW*** ˜ROMANTIC˜ when people (dudes, in particular) pull this against all odds bullshit rather than respecting someone’s space–especially if that someone is YOUR student (note: not A Student, Your Student, as in someone you will be giving a grade to). In that rather than see Isa as off-limits because she’s in this ethically compromised position, she is only off-limits because she “belongs” to someone else.

That, right there, is some serious Wattpadd-Twilight-50 Shades level toxicity packaged as noble infinite sadness wank, and despite having all the time to clarify or justify why these jerks keep being jerks, Abrogena fills the screen with establishing shots of Metro Manila (here is Makati CBD! Now here’s the Pasig River! Now Edsa! And now we are in…side Isa’s bedroom? What the fuck just happened, where the fuck are we?!). The rest of the film is Sam being sad: here he is being sad by the train tracks, now he’s sad while looking out over the balcony, now he’s sad while staring at himself in the bathroom…and before that, he’s really sad while looking at his laptop. What’s he even looking at? It’s a mystery…

From what I’ve read about this movie (from the little that is posted online) Ang Kwento Nating Dalawa began as a twenty-minute short, and to be fair, it works as a collection of scenes.

Strung together in an attempt at coherence however, the thread is lost, with cardboard cutouts fumbling through a story that unfolds over the course of one day and the following morning. This isn’t the kind of story that really needs to be told though, because it gets us nowhere, speaking only of messy people without revealing any of the inner complexity that makes them into actual human characters. These are pretty pictures though, but what a waste of film.

It goes on

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One of my kittens, Porky (aka Paul, Jr.) died last week while I was in Malaysia. The first message I received upon landing was from my Mom, expressing her regret at having to be the one to deliver the sad news.

I try to give all my cats fair attention, but I somehow overlooked whatever had been ailing Porky. Right before I left, he was finally vaccinated, after a long wait due to his frail health. Nicknamed for his flaring nostrils, Porky had already been confined when he was very young for respiratory problems that prevented him from putting on weight–despite his having been pudgy as a newborn kitten. He was born in December, and being the only tuxedo in Paul Stanley’s litter of three, became her Junior. He was a sweet kitten with a kind face and big inquisitive eyes. This picture is of him perched on the pile of books that passes as my nightstand. This is the view I often woke up to when he was still living with me, before I had to leave him with my Mom, who cares for my cats whenever I’m away.

I was so busy before leaving for that last research trip–this time going from KL to Penang to Sabah, and back to KL to wrap-up. Little Dot had fallen very ill, and to this day she still hasn’t fully recovered. She still can’t walk. While Porky was never the liveliest in the clowder, none of us saw it coming. Still, I can’t help but feel sad, despite the urgency to keep going. Small animals by default lead small lives, and his whole world was limited to my apartment, his vet, and my mom’s house. I would have wanted him to see beyond that, but all I can hope for at this point is that he at least felt loved while it lasted. I wish he had known that if I could have been there to cradle him as he passed on, I would have been there.

But if life goes on after the loss of a human being, what more with a six month old kitten? There’s essays to be written, exhibitions to hang, places to go, people to meet, etc. Not that my cats give a shit about these things, which is precisely why their company provided so much comfort. With them, it was all about food and naps and time slowly being emptied out.

A sick cat on the other hand is all about grief and worrying and “why can’t she stand?” But it’s also about the tiniest, most incremental improvements: warm paws, color restored to their noses and ears, finishing their food. Now that Little Dot can lift her head, I feel like celebrating.

Mom assures me that he went peacefully and that he was buried properly, and that’s really the least we can do to recognize that a life was lost, however small. It still angers and frustrates me that so little is expected of us when it comes to the way we treat the other beings that we happen to share this world with–and how quick we are to abuse this privilege, this belief in what we’re owed by virtue of being human. And how undeserving we are of the title.

Rest in peace, Porky. We really did our best to give you a good life.

Line By Line

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Marc Gaba goes beyond the visual

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Marc Gaba, Vault, 2016, oil on canvas, 65 x 80 in.;

There is an exuberance to Marc Gaba’s use of color, a buoyancy that almost contradicts the discipline of each stroke, each stripe on the canvas. Using a palette knife to apply the paint, one can imagine the amount of care that went into the seven paintings that make up Days of Creation – a visualization of first chapter in the Book of Genesis, which was exhibited at Galeria Duemila from April 8 to May 30.

And yet, color is not the first thing that comes to mind when speaking of Gaba’s work–at least not when confronted with One, an oil on canvas measuring 80 x 65 in. which opens this series. A bright white orb floating in a sea of darkness, One represents the calm command to let there be light, signifying not only the dawn of time, but the separation between the visible and the unseen. For Gaba, it could also be “a ball of yarn, suggesting ‘the beginning of the spin,” or–in jest–“the white-haired vagina of a very old African woman,” suggesting perhaps the cradle of civilization?

Kidding aside, Gaba pointed out that despite telling a story of contrasts, the color black was not used in this rendering of the first day–nor does it appear anywhere on the palette used to paint the Days of Creation. By using very deep browns instead of black, Gaba meant to evoke that “if to be human was to be of the earth, then the act of God creating man can be derived from the same idea.”

And it was good and thus, Gaba asserts, through this seemingly inconsequential choice of colors, that the book of Genesis is a story not only of how God made a world of differences (between night and day, between sky and sea), but an ongoing narrative of humanity’s place on earth. This affirms Gaba’s belief that true power is not about spectacle and grandeur, but can be found in the calm, gentle rhythm of shared responsibility, as seen in Kingdom – a wall-bound installation showing 139 photocopies of the artist’s hands.

Beyond showing how we got here, the creation myth he renders is about presence: where the Days of Creation take place not in a largely constructed past, but in a future that continues to take shape in the now. It thus becomes no wonder that Gaba’s paintings–especially his more recent works–are so large, demanding an awareness of their countenance and a need to step back in order to be viewed in their entirety.

“I am acutely sensitive to scale,” says Gaba, a statement affirmed by New Condition (2014), created for a group exhibition at the Vargas Museum entitled, Still. From afar, New Condition depicted an aerial view of Tacloban in the wake of Typhoon Yolanda. It measured approximately six by seven meters “in order to capture a disaster that was larger than all of us.” Up close however, the work becomes a collection of crowdsourced responses to “what, in the context of climate change, do you love without apology?” Applied in varying shades of grey and blue, the words on the canvas act as “a tendered primer for environmentalism,” honest answers to what makes existence worthwhile, amidst crisis and destruction.

The smaller works in Days of Creation measure 60 by 80 inches (or five by six-and-a-half feet); the other pieces are not much larger, at 65 by 80. Like the small moments that are revealed in New Condition, what appear to be lines on canvas become layers and textures and an entire spectrum of color that is barely perceptible from afar–let alone on a screen or a page, which is a typical problem for painters. Gaba’s insistence on the experiential nature of his work links him to the legacy of abstract minimalists, such as Agnes Martin, who painted details so precise and so exquisite, that they made her work difficult to photograph and just as impossible to document.

Rather than rely on documentation, Gaba asserts the need to “experience painting.” To this, the use of lines in his painting practice can be described as both strategic and conceptual – a means of describing the process and tracking the work’s unseen dimensions, where lines denote the strokes and textures that come with the application of paint, as well as their trajectories. To Gaba, the line is both a means of representation and a means of thinking about painting.”My work is about space, about what lines produce.”

“What lines produce” may also refer to Gaba’s writing. A published poet, Gaba has a way with words that skillfully articulates his formation as an artist working across several disciplines. “The work that I was doing in poetry very much resembled visual art,” he says. “I spent a lot of time staring at the words…so when people say I was a poet and now I’m a painter, that comment tends to overlook the fact that my poetry was a very visual practice.”

To this, Gaba cites the influence of Mark Lombardi, who gained some notoriety in the early 2000s for his graphs and maps which drew links between global finance and international terrorism. Lombardi referred to these works as “narrative structures”, and in a similar manner, but completely different method, Gaba combines the visual and the verbal in his work. It is in his combination of media and disciplines that one finds an insistence on the visuality of poetry and on painting as a literary medium, as well as a working definition of what it means to practice abstract art.

Through abstraction, in what is arguably his most accessible work, Gaba goes beyond using painting to illustrate and interpret the word of God. Here, painting is also a method of inquiry and an ongoing, open-ended exercise, hence Days of Creation. In the white cube of Galeria Duemila, the exhibition consists not only of a suite that signifies a week’s worth of work (at least that’s what it was in the hands of God; the series itself took Gaba months to complete), but is completed by installation and sculptural pieces.

Affirming this need to go beyond the visual, the viewer’s hands are required to complete the Future Shape of the World, a sculpture composed of a mirrored pedestal that houses a soft lump of black clay which one can play with–shape, if you will–by reaching through a round opening on one side, covered by black garters. Through Future Shape…, Gaba composes an exercise in contradictions: here is a vitrine one can look into without actually seeing its contents, in a space and a module that demand the performance of reverence while requiring the viewer to reach in and touch what has been deliberately concealed. These are elegantly rounded out by Future Shape being, after all, a malleable object.

“The world is an unfinished work of creation,” wrote Gaba in his statement on this latest series, “and as long as we exist, we are still creating the world.” The choice of the pronoun “We” refers just as much to how reaching in to touch, feel, and manipulate the Future Shape of the World requires not only faith in what we create, but how–amidst this ongoing act of creation–the self remains the only thing we can clearly perceive and deliberately shape, so that we may live on this earth among others.

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This is an unedited  version of a feature written for Art+. At the time of writing, the visual artist Marc Gaba was getting ready to open an exhibition on the Book of Genesis entitled Days of Creation at the Galeria Duemila. The show will run until May 30. Galeria Duemila is located at 210 Loring Street, Pasay City, Metro Manila.