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,

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The Sculptor Speaks

BenCab at Art Fair Philippines 2014

Image via pep.ph

After nearly fifty years in the art world, National Artist Benedicto Cabrera should need no introductions. BenCab received his education from the University of the Philippines Fine Arts program, where he majored in Illustration and was awarded an honorary doctorate in Humanities in 2009. He began his practice as an illustrator for Liwayway magazine in 1963, and would take part in a number of landmark exhibitions, including an invitation from Arturo Luz to participate in Young Artists 1968 – an annual event which showcased young talents at The Luz Gallery in Manila.

This marked the first of many opportunities to further his practice. By 1970, the same year he was recognized as one of CCP’s thirteen artists, BenCab would have his first solo show outside of the Philippines, in London, where he would live for more than a decade. Upon his return to the Philippines in the mid-80s, he would join a group of Baguio-based artists, which included Santiago Bose and Kidlat Tahimik, to establish the Baguio Arts Guild. It was also around this time that BenCab would act upon his long-held fascination with the “rich material culture and traditions of the northern Philippine highlands” by making Baguio his home. Here, he would later build the BenCab Museum, where he houses his private collections of his own works, those of “acknowledged Filipino Masters and rising contemporary artists”, as well as “outstanding examples of the indigenous arts and crafts of the Cordilleras”.

The museum is operated and managed by the BenCab Art Foundation.
For this year’s Art Fair, BenCab has created a collection of free-standing sculptures that have been shaped in clay, before being cast and finished in bronze, and bent metal wall-bound pieces. While he is better known for his works on paper and canvas, BenCab practiced sculpture on and off throughout his career and has taken courses as early as the 70s to hone the craft. The images in this series represent his legacy as a lyrical expressionist, drawing from concepts that have turned his images into icons. Pulsing beneath the surface are echoes of his past renderings of the nude body, as well as clothed figures that recall the graceful draping inspired by legendary dancer, Isadora Duncan, and a new character, “Man Thinking” which treads between expressiveness and quiet contemplation, reminiscent of another iconic “Thinker” cast in bronze.

Using small and careful movements to shape the material, BenCab is able to convey sweeping gestures and a broad range of emotion on an otherwise inert object. A mastery of the practice shines through, illuminating how sculpture is a means of re-animating a subject rather than reducing it to mere statuary. As described by Henry Moore in “The Sculptor Speaks” (1966), sculpture is a means to “think of, and use, form in its full spatial completeness.” A sculptor should be able to see the object from every angle—even if he is only facing one side; thus making the craft a fitting metaphor not only for the scope BenCab covers in this collection, but for his extensive artistic career.


This is from the catalog notes I wrote for Art Fair Philippines 2014, which opens today and will run until Sunday, the 23rd on the 6th and 7th floors of The Link, on the corner of Ayala and Makati Ave (across Greenbelt 4/Ayala Museum and beside Landmark).

Tickets are available at the venue. Entrance is 150, discounted to 50 Php for students (just bring an ID). While you’re there, might as well make the most of the weekend and check out Ai Weiwei’s Baby Formula which should open on February 22 at the Ayala Museum, along with Elmer Borlongan’s solo.

Subjective Iconographies

Ronald Ventura at Art Fair Philippines 2014

“Battle Field” (2010), note that this is not exhibited at the Art Fair, but should give a good idea of what you can expect from Ventura’s installation on the 7th floor
From sharkbiting.blogspot.com

Having grown up in flood-prone Malabon, Ronald Ventura is no stranger to the disaster-susceptible landscape of Metro Manila, which often figures into his creations not as any recognizable setting, but as an overall mood. His belief in Filipino resilience in the face of adversity is translated into the layered, complex visual language of his works.

After graduating from the studio arts and painting program of the University of Sto. Tomas, he then taught for nine years with the Fine Arts faculty. As a student, he went from winning competitions to subsidize his education to the speculative exercise of competing in the booming market for fine art.

He was a finalist in the Taiwan International Biennial Print and Drawing Competition in 1999 and also won first place in the Lithograph Competition of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. Later, Ventura was named among the CCP Thirteen Artists in 2003 and a winner of the Ateneo Art Awards in 2005. He has exhibited at the National University of Singapore Museum, Institute of Contemporary Arts in Singapore, Akili Museum of Art in Indonesia, and the Institut Valencià d Art Modern in Spain, where he participated in the 2011 landmark survey, Surreal vs. Surrealism in Contemporary Art. He has sold out shows at the Primo Marella Gallery in Milan and Tyler Rollins Fine Art in New York, among others, and has also shown work at the Prague and Nanjing biennales.

Through a combination of timing, hard work, and technical virtuosity, Ventura has carved out an impenetrable spot for himself in contemporary Filipino art and is among its greatest commercial success stories. In Ventura’s work and in the reputation it has earned him, we are able to observe the trappings of accelerationism in contemporary art production: wherein his success on the auction block is rarely paralleled, while his techniques and aesthetic remain resolutely traditional.

A Ventura piece often combines conventional brushstrokes, airbrush, and pen and ink into large-scale photorealistic compositions. Drawing directly from his imagination, a Ventura canvas is typically made up of icons from popular culture recontextualized into the experiences of the Filipino everyman. For his sculptural pieces, he often juxtaposes high-gloss surfaces with abrasive ones in a single installation.

Known for appropriating imagery from Philippine history and ethnography, he turns inward for his contribution to this year’s Art Fair Philippines by transplanting the stuff of dreams into the white cube. In the large scale fiberglass installation he has prepared for Art Fair Philippines, Ventura employs his now familiar hyperchromatic sweep over an anachromatic ground.

Using elements that have become something of his trademark, Ventura displays an awareness of the subjectivity of the iconic in a rapidly globalizing environment. Elements from past works—the masked character, the rainbow, and the combination of inky blacks and murky greys, reminiscent of the oil slicks and floodwater that characterize the Metropolis he grew up in—all figure into this space he invites us into, a space in which we learn that even a dream must carry the weight of a cautionary tale.


This is from the catalog notes I wrote for Art Fair Philippines 2014, which opens today and will run until Sunday, the 23rd on the 6th and 7th floors of The Link, on the corner of Ayala and Makati Ave (across Greenbelt 4/Ayala Museum and beside Landmark).

Tickets are available at the venue. Entrance is 150, discounted to 50 Php for students (just bring an ID). While you’re there, might as well make the most of the weekend and check out Ai Weiwei’s Baby Formula which should open on February 22 at the Ayala Museum, along with Elmer Borlongan’s solo.

I Ping, You Pong, We all Pong…on Earth

Louie Cordero’s Pong on Earth at Art Fair Philippines 2014

Cordero 2014 (5)This is from the catalog notes I wrote for Art Fair Philippines 2014, which opens today and will run until Sunday, the 23rd on the 6th and 7th floors of The Link, on the corner of Ayala and Makati Ave (across Greenbelt 4/Ayala Museum and beside Landmark).

Tickets are available at the venue. Entrance is 150, discounted to 50 Php for students (just bring an ID). While you’re there, might as well make the most of the weekend and check out Ai Weiwei’s Baby Formula which should open on February 22 at the Ayala Museum, along with Elmer Borlongan’s solo.


Louie Cordero is a painter, illustrator, sculptor, and the man behind Nardong Tae—a superhero out to save us from ourselves, while cursed with the misfortune of being a literal pile of s***. Cordero graduated in 2001 from the University of the Philippines Studio Arts Program. He was among the artists running Surrounded by Water before co-founding Future Prospects, another artist-run space.

Cordero has participated in both local and international residencies, including the Vermont Studio Center, where he won the grand prize for painting at the 8th International Freeman Foundation Awards in 2003. This set off a streak, with Cordero winning the Ateneo Art Awards in 2004, placing as a finalist in 2005, then being recognized as one of CCP’s Thirteen Artists in 2006. On the international exhibition circuit he is just as prolific, having shown work all over Asia, Australia, France, England, and across the United States.

Cordero draws from folk mythology and pop culture, citing the jeepney, in all its repurposed glory, as a consistent source of inspiration. These elements came together in My We – a multimedia installation based on the “My Way” killings (or death by karaoke) – which was the Philippine entry for Open House, the 2011 Singapore Biennale.

Cordero (8)

For Art Fair Philippines 2014, Cordero has created four fiberglass tables, amorphously shaped and airbrushed in the garish, acid colors that have become his trademark. From reminiscences of having played ping pong with his father at home, he expands these tables’ capacity for narrative by literally breaking their edges and reshaping their borders, effectively eliminating the game’s repetitive and meditative nature. Complementing the display is the prospect of engaging visitors in a sport named for the onomatopoeia conjured by launching a ball back and forth, suggestive of the discourse between the artwork and its spectator.

Using action as material, Cordero’s ping pong tables evade being fetishized as commodities, thus his art practice evolves from one of making objects, to one that sits on the boundary of the participatory. In making space for playtime at the opening, Cordero challenges visitors to go beyond looking, engaging them in both the mechanics and ambiguities of sportsmanship by toying with the overlapping notions of being in it to win, as opposed to just having fun. These concepts are apparent in opportunities for play, but have since become characteristic of art as it is co-opted into the market, where players become brokers and artwork becomes stock.

By closing with an on-site ping pong tournament—complete with scoreboards and trophies—Cordero places the idea of art as a competitive sport at the center of this spectacle. In the presence of this game (or any game), visitors may choose to watch, join, or leave. The choice to leave becomes a choice not only to abandon the action, but to cast off any pretensions borne upon entering hallowed halls dedicated to cultural expression, in a reminder that these are not pedestals, but tables.

After all, why call it a fair if you can’t have fun?
Cordero (7)


Photos provided by Louie Cordero