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.

Line By Line

Marc Gaba goes beyond the visual


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.

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.

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.” […]