Taking Stock, no. 1: Table

New digs, view from above

Your apartment isn’t entirely yours until you have the essentials figured out: a can of Lysol, another of WD-40; a place for everything and everything in its place, including yourself. I finally moved into my new place and, as much as I like it now, it was only after seeing it again (for the first time after making the reservation) that I realized just how much I’d overestimated its size. The moment my furniture was carried in, my apartment felt oppressively tiny and it only gets worse when I have friends over.

Initially, I placed the blame on the size of the apartment, but now I can admit that the real cause is that massive green table at the back – an admission I did not want to own up to because I knew I would have trouble parting with this table. It was a gift from an ex-boyfriend and, estimating the amount of time since that relationship ended, I’ve probably had this table for over 6 years. Version 1 came up to my ribs and was large enough for me to lie down on it with my arms outstretched. “Your boyfriend thinks you’re a giant,” my sister would tease me. That was because it had to be large enough to draft paper patterns and stretch yards of fabric.

It’s been whittled down: about 6 inches off each leg to be precise. Since then, I’ve devoted more time to other pursuits, and consequently a few feet have been hewn off each side of this plywood monster to be fitted into a bookcase, the shelves of which had collapsed (not book-bragging here, it was a fiberboard number that had seen better days) sometime in between the move from Apartment 1 to divided storage between mom’s and dad’s houses. I went to live with other people for a few months (which is, come to think of it, what traveling looks like when you have good friends to mooch off of), which meant living out of a suitcase and limiting my workspace to the confines of a hard drive and a screen. Now, the table is just a large desk. I’m guessing it can hold at least 30 mugs of coffee, considering how many mugs of coffee I’ve buried under paper while working at this thing.

My first apartment was a single room. There were no divisions between spaces for work and rest, and like with most studio apartments, there was no distinction between what was and was not me. I worked in bed, on the couch, at the kitchen counter while cooking; even if I had a piece of furniture custom-built for the type of work I claimed to do, it remained mostly unused at my mom’s house while I chased other things to work on. I resolved that the next place I would move into would have to have enough space for the table because that would mean I could get back to the work of making things.

So here I am now: a new apartment in what is technically a new city, and I’ve brought pieces of my ex’s good intentions with me as well as the promise that I would work with my hands again. In reality though, I’ve just been bruising my hips from maneuvering around the thing. My worktable is getting in the way of the work I now do.

I’d like to think that getting older comes with a clearer view of generosity, which is why it’s so hard to part with the gifts that our younger selves were too petty or too stupid to really appreciate. This table is no exception – now it bears that reminder of having been loved, of another person making my happiness his priority. These things will only become more important.

But like I said, it’s a new apartment. So taking this inventory of a former self (or at least an earlier version of myself) into this new space comes with decisions on what stays and what goes. And while growing older comes with casting new light on all the love and kindness I’ve been lucky enough to receive, it also comes with the understanding that I don’t need a larger apartment, just a smaller table.

Crossing Lines

On Tad Ermitaño‘s experiments with interaction and inclusion

Uwang, formerly called “Eye of the Storm”, was shown at the 2015 Art Fair Philippines in a section curated by Erwin Romulo. This image was taken from the artist’s blog: cavemanifesto (http://cavemanifesto.blogspot.com/)

“An art show should not be an insiders’ club,” [says Tad Ermitaño], alluding to over a decade’s worth of circulating within the local scene. “There’s just too much of that here. You always feel like you’re stumbling into someone’s clubhouse.”

Trained in film and video at the Mowelfund Film Institute—along with his studies in Zoology and Philosophy—Ermitaño is a sound designer by trade. Having mastered a broad range of digital and electronic technologies, he is able to manipulate both soft and hardware in his art. Aside from his multimedia installations, Ermitaño also performs as an audiovisual artist, both solo and as part of the experimental media group The Children of Cathode Ray. This interest in the aural was clearly represented in Deus Ex Machina, a series of new and retrospective work that was shown at 1335 Mabini, concurrent with the Art Fair.

The new piece he created for Deus… was Bell – a metal cylinder the size of a small room, named after the inventor of the audio speaker and the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell. Through this venture into sculpture, Ermitaño sees “an alternative future where speakers are not transparent conduits of sonic information, but architectural artifacts that generate specific experiences.” This first iteration of Bell (or Bell 1.0) had an electromagnet held in place by a metal armature or “clapper”. This electromagnetic contraption vibrated against the cylinder at the frequency of a household current, causing it to hum. When touched, the cylinder would sway and wobble, responding to human presence while affecting the sound experienced inside the cylinder, thus generating another cyclic entanglement and another form of call-and-response, similar to that of Uwang.

“A lot of the things I do that I’m happy about succeed on a sort of naïve level. There’s a sensuality,” a curious assertion, considering Ermitaño’s association with the conceptual and experimental – genres not easily identified for having anything to do with the sensuous and visceral. This also seems at odds with his educational background which forms expectations of an artist who is preoccupied with the theoretical and cerebral.

“Art has better things to do than illustrate theory,” he contends, before going on to share his joy at having seen audiences for Uwang jump out of their skin upon finding out they were listening to a nest of larvae. He smiles at the recollection of VCD vendors watching his sound collage, Hulikotekan v. 2.1 (2002), and asking him afterwards why it could not have been longer. “My work has received very visceral reactions from three-year-olds!” he exclaims, echoing the uniform delight he sees when guests interact with his pieces. “They can think about what it means and what it links to, but that sensuousness is what crosses lines.”

This was excerpted from a feature on the artist Tad Ermitaño, written for Art+ magazine, May-June 2015,

Talking Through Walls

Renz Baluyot and Alee Garibay, Kapitbahay at Art Verite, Taguig, Metro Manila

Along every major thoroughfare in this bustling Metropolis, billboards have been erected announcing the grand plans for residential developments. It should be no coincidence then that by using the term “development” to describe an atmosphere of aspiration, the very idea of living in Metro Manila has been transplanted from the earth to the air. And yet, these massive advertisements also signify a parallel with the changing lifestyles of Metro Manila’s millions of inhabitants, where simply living your life no longer carries the same appeal as watching yourself live. This is evident in the influx of media channels and networks that have become available to the general public, thus reconstituting the entire concept of public space.

The central paradox however lies in the combination of “residential” and “development” – given the rising cost of living in Metro Manila, these billboards serve as reminders of a shifting value system where the terms of dwelling have shifted from necessity to luxury. There should be no question about it: the walls we build speak volumes of the kind of society we wish to create. We are living in an unprecedented era where the proximity brought (or wrought) by equating urban living with vertical housing comes with increased privatization, creating a veritable communion of strangers.

In his series of found objects and oil paintings, Renz Baluyot explores the fragility of exterior surfaces, using rust as both material and subject. Through a series of four found objects and two paintings, Baluyot’s titles act as proposals not to find beauty in decay, but to acknowledge the nature of degradation, or rather, degradation as part of the natural order of things. […]

As a continuing inquiry into the nature of inhabited space, Garibay invokes Thomas Moore’s Re-enchantment of Everyday Life (1996), defining “inhabit” as a “means to give and to receive.” Her renderings of the spaces she moves through in her own life become an act of generosity, showing her own efforts to open herself to receive what both space and place has to offer (Moore 1996). […]

Through these pictures of interior and exterior spaces, Baluyot and Garibay explore similar themes which diverge in their attempts to represent the tensions between outsider status and membership in a community—a tension that relates directly to the environments of otherness being built throughout Metro Manila. In this context, the title kapitbahay becomes crucial to understanding the conflict inherent to this unprecedented period. Compounded from their Malay origins, “kapit” means to cling or attach while “bahay” means house, thus invoking the tensions in dwelling and belonging. Should it be separated instead, the term “kapit-bahay” prompts viewers to consider those who have been rendered strange both despite and because of their attachment; or the fact that our need to belong to a community (no man being an island) still requires us to put up walls .

This is an excerpt from the essay written for the two-man show, Kapitbahay, featuring the works of Rina Lee Garibay and Renz Baluyot. The show will run until April 10, 2015 at Art Verite, Taguig, MM.

Figure Studies

Paul Pfeiffer, Vitruvian Figure at the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design, Malate, Manila

“Morning After the Deluge”, Paul Pfeiffer (2003), video still retrieved from artnet.com (http://www.artnet.com/Magazine/reviews/lovelace/Images/lovelace12-30-10.jpg)

What follows is an unedited excerpt from an article I wrote about Paul Pfeiffer for the March 2015 issue of Rogue Magazine. Paul Pfeiffer’s Vitruvian Figure, runs at the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design at the College of St. Benilde, SDA Campus, until April 16, 2015.

At the opening of Paul Pfeiffer’s first solo in the region, guests were invited to bask in the countenance of nature, perhaps as a respite from the chaos of Taft Avenue, one of the Metropolis’s oldest thoroughfares. Nature, in the form of 24 Landscapes (2000-2008), was the first thing visitors saw upon entering the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design, at the opening reception held on February 6. Hanging in a grid on the 20-foot wall by the entrance to the MCAD, Pfeiffer’s juxtaposition of detailed shots of the tiniest pebbles with expansive shorelines invokes awe, suggesting a higher power to oversee this meaningful coexistence.

To those familiar with Pfeiffer’s work, this invitation and interpretation could be seen as a potentially humiliating misreading of the artist’s work. Yet, it is not without a point. What appear to be photographs were rendered without Pfeiffer ever getting behind a camera, rather 24 Landscapes is a series of photos of Marilyn Monroe, or photos that once had Marilyn Monroe front and center. Having erased the iconic figure, Pfeiffer is not only left with a massive gap in which to re-imagine the titular landscapes, allowing him to characterize the work not only as “camouflage” but as a form of abstract painting. As a consequence, what appear to be images of the natural world are actually products of pop culture, a means not only of using the archival image as a canvas for contemporary concerns, but of blurring the boundaries between what occurs naturally and what is made by hand.

Bearing this knowledge of the subject erased, one wonders how it is possible that an image of such calm can bear such a tragic history. Then again, is this not true for all our icons? For all those we consider worth celebrating, there comes the tragedy of humanity erased, and it is this idea of the iconic that binds the seven pieces exhibited at Vitruvian Figure – the centrepiece of which is a sun that neither sets nor rises, shifting one’s attention to the ground as it moves above and below it (Morning After the Deluge, 2003). Much has been written of Pfeiffer’s reference to William Turner, yet taken in the context of this exhibition, the image recalls Guy Debord’s description of the spectacle as “the sun that never sets on the empire of modern passivity.” […]