28 March 2017

Views on Filipinos' Growing Interest in Art from Artists, an Urban Planner, and Gallery Owners


To this day, art is still a difficult concept to define. It comes in so many forms that it’s impossible to box; so many questions are attached to it, that it’s hard to describe in a single attempt. One thing is for sure, though: art has come to a point where it can seep deeper into our personal lives – some people can now say it’s hard to point out the distinction between their lives and art, while some depend on art to get through each day. It has found, if I may say so, a greater purpose that goes beyond an artist’s liberation and expression. Art, today, is an instrument to provoke thought, spread or question ideologies, and revive communities – even places that were once declared barren. Art does not only mean museums, the canvas, and the carved marble now. You can find it among us – in public spaces – in the intricate but beautiful mess of our cities. 

This is one of the messages that the most recent Art Fair tried to spread – that the city is or can be an artwork in itself. Though it is mostly a market-driven event that fits different artists and galleries into one car park to showcase and sell, Art Fair 2017 aimed to draw more attention to and elevate the discussion about art, especially contemporary art. Its mission is to also highlight the galleries and artists that will continue bringing and creating art even after the Fair ends, leaving it to the city that serves as home to all of them. 

We asked two panelists from the Art Fair talks, two local gallery owners, and a curator about their thoughts on art in the city and public spaces. Here’s what they said.

Interview by Queencee Quitalig, Photography by Ivan Grasparin


Marika Constantino
Executive Director, 98B Collaboratory

What can you say about the transformation of the art scene in the country in the recent years?

Actually, we’ve already had the artist-run spaces since the late ‘60s. I think, one of the first few ones was Shop 6 by Roberto Chabet. It’s constantly evolving because the conditions change. Artist-run spaces and initiatives also respond to the particular milieu that they’re in. So, you cannot just also lump up or conclude that. Because at a particular time, these initiatives also answer their own particular, I guess, issues. I think the good thing is that, so far, there is that constancy in the initiative sprout. So maybe that’s also the reason why. Sometimes it’s fitting, sometimes the length of time wherein a space exists may be long or may not be that long. But I think, it’s always dependent on what concern they are addressing. But the fact that these spaces are there; it means that artists are responsive. 

What do you think is the importance of making art more accessible to the public?

It’s important because we need to break that misconception that art can only be appreciated by a select few, by the elite, by those who are educated, or by those who can actually afford art. When, in fact, the moment that you wake up and you fix yourself, that’s something creative already. Even your little dinner or breakfast, that’s something creative. Or how you put certain things together, that’s creative already. So it’s a matter of making more people aware that it’s intrinsic in all of us. And it doesn’t have to be always paintings or sculptures. Art is also about cultural work. It’s also about organizing. It’s also about performances. It’s a very wide spectrum and, I think a lot of people need to be aware that it’s not just this notion that it’s all of these object-based items. 


What do you think is the role of the city in forwarding art?

Maybe, what they can do is also, in terms of education, to make Filipinos more aware of the practice whether it’s indigenous or traditional forms. It can start there. Then from there, tackle our own art history. Ask questions like: Who were the great Filipino artists? Who are the practicing artists? What have they done? What’s the impact? And it’s just not about those who are recognized abroad, or those who are recognized by the art market. Practitioners who have done their fair share in forwarding ideas or maybe even knowledge about art. So, the local government should have that capacity to create that awareness because, otherwise, we won’t be appreciative of our own culture. And it helps in building our own identity as a person and as Filipinos.

How has art affected your lifestyle or life in general?

Main inspiration, its effect, is being more open and flexible or trying to think about other things. So it’s that constant thinking about different ways to join others, to be more appreciative. It’s like it’s all together, it’s all fused. But a lot of it falls on the notion that we just also need to be open to diverse practices, media, and forms.


Julia Nebrija
Urban Planner, MMDA Assistant General Manager for Operations

What do you think is the importance of making art more accessible to the public?

I think, especially when it comes to public art, there is no dearth of interesting places to activate. I’m not an artist but for some artists, I think, that offers a lot of opportunities to learn. Like when I talk to Leeroy New (artist) about it, he says that doing art in the public realm, in the city space versus in your studio preparing work for a gallery, it teaches you a lot as well. Like with Pasig River, we had to talk to seven national agencies including the Presidential Security Guard of Malacanang about floating a sculpture down the river. You have to learn to navigate outside of your comfort zones, you have to learn to compromise with a lot of other people. And it might not be the same thing when you have control over things, like when you’re preparing something in the studio. It doesn’t just belong to you. It belongs to a lot of other people; people will have opinions about it. 

What do you think is the role of the city in forwarding art?

I’m not an artist and I don’t know much about art; but from my perspective, I work with artists as a collaboration. So there’s something like the Pasig River that we wanna bring attention to, or we’ve started conversations with communities around the river. I think art is an amazing catalyst for starting that critical dialogue, especially when it comes to the city because the city is a very complex system. There are a lot of voices, there are a lot of expectations, desires, a lot of dreams, a lot of different perspectives. The creation of the city is one of our greatest collaborative efforts that we have as a society. I think art offers a lot in that process because it’s not just about being a technical expert, you know. And solving problems in the city; to also know what kind of culture the city has. What kind of life the city wants to create. That conversation can be facilitated in a unique way through art.


How has art affected your lifestyle or life in general?

I mean, I love working in collaborations, so for me that’s really special to just get away from the computer, to get away from technical reports, and go on to the ground especially when you’re working with artists. It’s so much fun. And having that type of creative energy around the work, it really brings a different vibe to the entire exercise of trying to revitalize Metro Manila and make it more livable. It’s a very tedious, very complicated journey, and art offers something different – something that can be more positive and hopeful, and also really highlight what’s special about the city. So it’s not just problems, but there’s also a lot of opportunity. I find that creative collaborations have really instilled a lot of inspiration for me as a planner, in appreciating how to see things differently through the art engagements that people have done. As opposed to just drawing maps, drawing plans. We can really get bogged by all the problems of Metro Manila and art is one of the ways to try to engage people more positively as well.

What can you say about Art Fair’s expansion this year?

In the last couple of years, I guess, you can see more people attending. I really appreciate having a lot of the talk series this time. It’s good that there is a mass appreciation for contemporary art, that’s great. But getting people beyond coming just to take a selfie with the works or take that fashion picture themselves strolling through the gallery for their Instagram or for Tinder or whatever it is, and getting them into the talk space to really stay, listen and engage. Beyond normal practitioners, people from different departments and galleries, we hopefully want to have students or people who don’t know anything about art but just want to learn something different. I think that’s really valuable ‘cause we want to use it as a way to start a conversation. It’s not just a market-driven event and about buying works. It’s about talking about art as well. Enriching the knowledge of people, expanding mindsets.


Gabby de la Merced
Gallery Owner, Vinyl on Vinyl

What can you say about the transformation of the arts in the country in the recent years? 

Well, there’s been a big evolution so to speak. It’s not just the change in the vigor or vibrance of how the art community is over here, how the world perceives Philippine art, or how we projected ourselves in Southeast Asia; but also in terms of how much we’ve grown to the new genres. Our gallery, as you could see, catered to a very specific type of art. Some people may consider it a bit experimental, it may be very new forms from street art to pop surrealism, all those other sub-genres that we’ve personally been influenced and been following for the past, more or less, 10 years now. 

What do you think is the importance of making art more accessible to the public?

I think that’s pretty much one of the most important things. Art is meant to be shared with the world. For me, the importance of art is that it maps out a particular period in history. And this is what’s happening now, in terms of contemporary art. We are living it, we are part of history. So, the more that society sees it, the more that they get oriented, the more that they accept it, the more that they are educated by it, the more things change, and that forces another part of evolution.

What do you think is the role of the city in forwarding art?

Obviously, props to Makati because they’ve been holding the Fair in Makati for quite some time, in a sense ushering it. I think, Makati, like other cities, has done a lot to create this atmosphere. Not just in terms of the Art Fair in The Link, but in other spots as well. From performance art, to all these other art installations. And it really does well to the community. It not just brightens up the environment but it also helps with the people that go around, the people that visit. 

Art is broad in a sense – aesthetics, beauty. Architecture (as seen in the city) is a part of art. Everything else is part of art. So if you fuse this particular visual with that landscape, with that aesthetic, it gets more layers to it.


How has art affected your lifestyle or life in general?

Oh, yeah. (laughs) It’s definitely a part of me. I could speak with a lot of gallery owners here and they’d probably say the same thing – that it’s not just either a hobby or a business; it’s a lifestyle. It’s what you think, it enriches you. There’s so much growth, there’s so much learning. Art is basically what I see every day, what I do. I’ve always strongly believed that everything should have purpose. With me, art gives me purpose.

What can you say about Art Fair’s expansion this year?

Well, it’s been wonderful. I mean, it not just caters to a wider audience – for people who want to experience food or drink or party. People have different reasons for going to the art fair. But as I’ve said, art isn’t just about white walls. It’s about other stuff also. And for them to expand and make it more extensive, it just broadens the whole vision of that it is a certain lifestyle, it is a certain experience. More than anything, art is an experience. And they are trying to give that experience to the public.


Issa Lorenzo
Gallery Owner, Silverlens

What can you say about the transformation of the arts in the country in the recent years?

I don’t know if transformation is the right word. It’s just that the audience has gotten bigger. The artists have become more professional. The gallery system has become more structured. I don’t think it’s “transformation”. It’s the awareness that’s become more evident. 

Do you think making art more accessible to the public is important?

Of course. Of course! Yeah, it’s important.



What do you think is the role of the city in forwarding art?

Public art? Actually, there already is a lot of existing public art. All those Tolentino statues on the corners – that’s all public art. But I guess, they want to engage public spaces more with temporary artworks that are more contemporary. I think it’s great. I wish it would become more permanent. Because these would all go down when the Art Fair goes down. It would be nice if there were commissioned pieces by Filipino artists that were more permanent. 

What can you say about Art Fair’s expansion this year?

I think it’s great! Because it extends art into a more experiential thing. And also, art is a living thing, especially contemporary art. Everyone’s practices are on-going. So, yeah, it makes sense. 


Jonathan Olazo
Professor, UP College of Fine Arts / Curator, 1335 Gallery 

What can you say about the transformation of the arts in the country in the recent years?

That’s hard to answer actually. I think it’s improving. From where we stood in college, some time ago, the perspective is more modern, unlike now where the discourse has somehow adjusted, even in terms of teaching. I think that’s okay. Before, it’s more selective or exclusive, maybe. I can still remember our time in the university, in the ‘80s, it was during the height of modern thinking – everyone wanted to do a certain work. I think there are still restraints now, though. But at least, the perspective is more open. Before, the works were more personal, unlike now wherein they talk about social issues more. 

What do you think is the importance of making art more accessible to the public?

For me, I think that’s the purpose. It stands between the audience and the artists. Art is a model of something related to life. Art captures the essence of that time.


What do you think is the role of the city in forwarding art?

I think, Manila is fast becoming an art center in the Philippines and Southeast Asia. Curators from outside are looking here and even think that the Philippine art scene is really rich. Yeah, I think that’s nice. There is this awareness. I got to talk to a curator from Singapore who said that during the 90s, the Philippines is 15 years ahead of other countries, in terms of art making or the mentality. It was good during that time. So, the city is a good platform to showcase these works and the message they are trying to convey.

How has art affected your lifestyle or life in general?

Art-making is salvation for me. When I was growing up, I was a way-ward son. It took a while for me to see. My father was a practicing artist, at the time, and I was like the black sheep among his kids. And since the time that I saw the light, I realized that it’s possible, it’s something that you can do. And art allows you to think about life. It makes you think about philosophical questions while doing the work.

What can you say about Art Fair’s expansion this year?

I think it’s very healthy. 


3 comments:

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I think art is becoming more accesible which invites more people to admire and learn about art. Someone once told me that we're entering an "era" where art is in the spotlight. Technology advancements and how easy it is to share things these days through social media also contributes a lot. So glad that there are more articles being written about art in our country. We have so many skillful artists who are capable of showcasing our culture's beauty using various mediums. I think it would have been better if the interviewees were asked different questions though

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