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.

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 (

“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 (

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.” […]

Common Ground or “How do we live in a ruin?”

Project Bakawan creates a vision of a hopeful dystopia

Unedited excerpt, to be published in Art+, March 2015

Piratebox Workshop at the Vargas Museum, photo by Pat Nabong

Towards the end of January, a privately owned and operated landfill in Norzagaray, Bulacan changed the name of one its cells. From being just another dump at WACUMAN, Inc., the landfill was legally named “Ako” for a total of 11 days, after an anonymous bidder had purchased the naming rights for 11,111.00 Pesos. Heard as “echo” and translating to “I” (and heard then as “eye”), the new name was commentary on trash not as treasure, but as a reflective surface, signalling collective accountability for a publicly constituted land mass.

This was just one of the culminating events of Tokyo-based artist Yoshinori Niwa’s “Selling the Right to Name a Pile of Garbage”. In residence at the Vargas Museum for the exhibition, Forces at Work, Niwa’s project ran from November 2014 to January 2015, combining fieldwork, business and press conferences, public meetings, and a silent auction. The documentation of Niwa’s project will be screened at the UP Film Institute as part of the Luntiang Tabing Film Festival – curated by Rolando Tolentino (Dean of the UP College of Mass Communication) for Project Bakawan Arts Festival.

Bakawan, the name of the festival and the University of the Philippines-based collective running the show, alludes to the group’s goal not to solve the environmental crisis, but to engage artists in re-imagining life after and alongside it. Alee Garibay, one of Bakawan’s core members, cites the mangrove as an ecological metaphor – a sanctuary, a network, and a source of strength. As an art project led by Friday Abbas, Antares Bartolome , Ian Carlo Jaucian, and Emmanuel Garibay as their convenor, Bakawan cannot escape its identification with endeavours committed to the good, the true, and the beautiful; but unlike so much of what fills the commercial galleries and cultural institutions, the collective maintains an unwavering commitment to what is true – even if this means compromising the good and the beautiful.

“This,” the organizers and participants seem to point out, “is what is true about the world we live in.” And with that, the UP Film Institute, the Vargas Museum, the abandoned stud farm along C.P. Garcia Avenue, and other seemingly random patches and plots across campus were allocated to represent these persisting issues of precariousness and privatization resulting not only from the many iterations of our environmental crisis. While shedding light on the already overrepresented environmental concerns and advocacies, Bakawan uses art not only to make life beautiful; art in this case becomes instrumental in changing how we live. More importantly, art practice becomes a way to highlight what we typically overlook when defining the term (or terms of) our environment.

And this is where Niwa’s project makes a fitting introduction: by recognizing a landfill as a land mass and naming it for oneself (“Ako”), “Selling the Rights…” and its outcome drive home the point that we are what we have laid to waste and that this earth is more than just majestic mountains and pristine waterways, but the marks of human existence left by our oil spills and dump sites. This puts Bakawan in step with current developments in Art Education, specifically the evolving discourse on the Anthropocene, a curriculum that explores the transformation of the lithosphere due to human activity by merging aesthetics and economics with the terms of geology. Central to the Anthropocene is the question (to quote McKenzie Wark) of “How do we live in a ruin?”….

“I think artists are not only stepping up, but people are realizing how relevant we are,” says the younger Garibay. At that moment, we were both meandering through Junyee’s installation at the Vargas’s West Wing Gallery, part of Ethos, Bathos, Pathos – Planting Rice’s contribution to the festival which takes its title from an essay by Marian Pastor-Roces. Dodging crayons hanging by colourful skeins of yarn from the ceiling, we spoke of the activities being prepared for in the next room (the ground floor lobby), where Radyo Itim (a component of Jong Pairez’s CIV:Lab) were setting up a booth from which to invade the airwaves.

Like a mangrove system, Project Bakawan has extended into both the expected and unexpected sites of the University. With participation from professional curators (such as Planting Rice and Eileen Legaspi and Claro Ramirez of Back to Square 1), academics (Rolando Tolentino and Dayang Yraola), pirate radio broadcasters (WSK. FM and Radyo Itim), and other convenors and collectives (Wire Tuazon and Boyet de Mesa, Sipat Lawin), the festival directed by Antares Bartolome takes diverse methods and a variety of channels to “cultivate a consciousness of sustainability and sharing, crystallize it in expression, and harness it for action.” This is done through a month-long series of exhibits, public art installations, film screenings, workshops, and performances….

So how do we live in a ruin? “Ruin” is after all what comes to mind while trudging through what was once the University Stud Farm, now a Materials Recovery Facility, where BS1 (an independent art platform curated by Eileen and Claro Ramirez) mounted Off Site/Out of Sight. As “an attempt at staging productive interactions between people, spaces, and the contexts bound up with these encounters”, materials recovery not only becomes a space to which the exhibition’s visitors should direct themselves, but a method of art production and exhibition.

Like Junyee’s interpretation of Bathos, Quinto’s walls are visitor-generated, produced through a mix of chaos and control, using materials sourced from the surrounding areas. Viewing the installation at night, one has to tread carefully through a similar mix outside the stables, along a path unevenly lit by tiki torches. A far cry from the climate control and carefully managed collections one typically sees at a museum, Off Site/Out of Sight sums up the objectives of Bakawan, not only in relation to the environment, but of what it is to be human: that art practice is not about what is, but what can as well as what should be. And that is how we are to live in a ruin.