Refrigerate After Opening
text and video interviews by Jojo Soria de Veyra
still photos and videography by Simkin de Pio
In this, our first starred art show, we're reading—with inspirer Alwin Reamillo—contexts and histories, for the present as well as the future. This scan of the Tin-Aw Art Gallery-instigated Manufacturer’s Advice: Content May Vary exhibition that opened on 21 February also comes with five videos.
BY OUR assessment and prejudice, there are shows that just need to be documented as significant occurrences in current Philippine art history. No matter that all we can offer from our end is a digital documentation. We, at least, made an effort.
So, now to the show.
“MANUFACTURER’S advice: content may vary” is a familiar phrase to those of us attracted to trivial copy on some wholesale or retail bottles, cans, boxes and other similar packaging. Well, it ought now to be a familiar phrase to art historians should they presently list it down as the title of probably one of the best show concepts to happen on an artists’ group in Manila in the present decade, worthy of being archived—indexed and refrigerated—in visual history (as against oral history), for some future reference and possible paean.
As an appropriated phrase, it’s interesting to note that the ongoing show that that title references is really a remake of a 1996 show by a now-older group; it was held with the title Ang De-Latang Pinoy: Yes, The Filipino Can!, a title in its turn appropriated from a “buy-Filipino” campaign propaganda essay. It’s only apt that the titles of these two parody shows do not veer away too much from their parodied subjects.
The first show—beginnings. The artists’ group in 1996 that launched De-Latang Pinoy involved the fellas who used to hang around Manila’s Hiraya Gallery under the tutelage of left-leaning inspirer Bobi Valenzuela, Alwin Reamillo and now-familiar name Mark Justiniani among them. Valenzuela also had a café with a rather alienated name, The Little Prince. . . . But Valenzuela was not a leftist dictator but an inspirer, as we said, and it was with that rare character that he was able to squeeze out of the brain juices of a then-young art school graduate, Reamillo, ideas for artistic social engagement through art. Reamillo was then about four or five years out of the University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts (the college he attended after four years in the Philippine High School for the Arts), and one of those Valenzuela-inspired Reamillo ideas that came out of the young artist was a parody on the supermarket, ignited by what Reamillo read in 1994 in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, an article with the very title that the group would use at the implementation of the concept. And even as Reamillo had to leave for Australia in 1995 to more ably support a new family, Valenzuela—as a Manila pioneer in the serious art of curatorship—never threw Reamillo’s germ of an idea into a self-centered trash bin and continued to communicate with the young artist on how to refine the latter’s bean sprout of a concept for the group’s farming and realization. A year later, they were able to turn the germ into a crop, with Reamillo happy in absentia.
The 1990s. It was a period of high hopes in Philippine culture, with Imelda Marcos’ Cultural Center of the Philippines supposedly wrested away from the clutches of her husband's past dictatorship (and the royalist glamour it wallowed in) into the well-meaning potentials of “decentralization,” “outreach,” and “socialization” helmed by new cultural officers in charge. At the same time, the Baguio Arts Festival, also curated by Valenzuela and where Reamillo read the Inquirer article, was practically putting the Philippines on the map, as Reamillo claims. “Creative bayanihan art processes” and “social sculptures” (as in Joseph Beuys social sculptures) became norms.
But, in 1996, the sweet dreams of hope soon turned sour after an accumulation of realities harvested for the people another round of political disillusionment toward a plutocracy's emergence/reemergence from beneath the rubble of Marcos’ temporarily exiled crony capitalism. So that when the national art centers announced or launched their centennial year events celebrating the 100th year anniversary of the Philippine Revolution, artists from the periphery of privilege grabbed the opportunity to concoct their alternatives. De-Latang Pinoy was one of these.
De-Latang Pinoy was not a self-congratulatory sort of show, for its elegiac tone was sincere, real. Like Jose Rizal whose family’s modest farms were affected by the heavy taxation and land-grabbing the Spanish empire indulged in in late-19th century, Reamillo himself witnessed his family’s piano manufacturing business drastically faltering under the shadow of WTO globalization. Others had their own stories to tell. And so parody during this time was instant to the emotions qua tool for expressing frustration, and parody itself was to the general public quite easy to understand. Vaguer ironies or sublime mockery would have to show up later in art supposedly produced by social awareness, via more “thought-out” aesthetics-centered processes, after the period of anger subsided. . . .
Now, fast-forward to the present. Reamillo has come home to the Philippines, has called Las Piñas his base since 2013 although he often leaves town for visits to Australia or Singapore.
And, today, what does he preach?
Well, does he find artists engaged/engaging in social tensions today? By these expectations, if they are expectations, we are tempted to ask if that engagement would be his challenge to art and its practitioners, or, if he could try to realize that social awareness, is but a natural product of individual artists’ respective nature or background or impending state. For, honestly, haven’t so-called l’art-pour-l’art disciples every so often engaged themselves in clear political parodies, too, at least on issues that have affected their daily circulation?
Reamillo during his talk, with a projected slide photo of his late mentor, Bobi Valenzuela, behind him
The remake. Dawn Atienza, sister of Justiniani and owner of Tin-Aw Art Gallery (along Makati Avenue in Makati City, on the upper ground floor of that building right beside the Manila Peninsula Hotel), had been in constant communion with Reamillo over this nagging idea of reawakening the spirit of De-Latang Pinoy. The product of that developing effort on the part of Atienza, Reamillo, show designer Leo Abaya, and the artists who were to get involved in the remaking project, . . . a new show, which would be titled Manufacturer’s Advice: Content May Vary.
Tin-aw Art Gallery owner Dawn Justiniani Atienza
And in his talk at the show launch, Reamillo did lament the poverty of political engagement in ongoing artistic efforts, doubly sad given the dire need for committed souls in the present’s political and politico-economic demand. We know of course that he is referring to a social consciousness upon form, not merely that within art subjects or themes. He cited the tradition of criticality in Europe, a tradition we sorely lack but could use in our art today, he said.
But, today, Reamillo is not vouching for the lynching of the pure aesthete by the politically committed; rather, as a fine aesthete himself wary of iffy political art, he challenged his talk’s audience to imagine the possibility of a middle ground. He used phrases like “not resistance, but the engagement of judo” (read: engagement from within rather than without) and a culture of “polymorphism.” A more common internal wariness would articulate it as "beating your adversaries at their own game," or presenting alternatives instead of walking away or subverting by force.
And now, courtesy of the gallery, may we serve you a random selection from among the consigned entries to the show's racks? Below these photos would be the videos of our interview with Reamillo and the gallery's video documentation of his talk.
Enjoy! Take your time! No expiry date! [ d ]
Left: Reynold de la Cruz | Eatallyoucan (series) | oil on canvas, can | 7.75 x 6.25 x 6.25 inches | 2015.
Right: Randy Solon | Cows (series) | acrylic paint on canvas, tin can | 7.7 x 6.1 x 6.1 | 2015.
Left: Amiel Roldan | Ebs Bo Cans (series) | acrylic on canvas wrapped around tin cans | 8 x 6 x 6 inches | 9.25 x 6.25 x 6.25 (1 pc) | 2015.
Right: Arvi Fetalvero | Reality Showcase (series) | burnt wooden block in glass jars | various sizes | 2015.
HERE'S DISKURSO.COM'S VIDEO INTERVIEW WITH ALWIN REAMILLO:
THEN HERE ARE THE THREE VIDEOS ON REAMILLO'S TALK IN FULL
(COURTESY OF TIN-AW ART GALLERY DOCUMENTATION):
(video currently for transfer to a new diskurso YouTube channel)
Jojo Soria de Veyra is the editor of diskurso and diskurso YouTube art channel. Simkin de Pio is the managing editor of the magazine and principal photographer for the channel.
All text © copyright 2015 Vicente Ignacio S. de Veyra III. All rights reserved.
All photos © copyright 2015 Simkin de Pio. All rights reserved.
All videos carry the Standard YouTube License,
© 2014-2016 diskurso art magazine online. all rights reserved.
diskurso is an independent, Philippines-based online magazine on art aiming to veer away from a present mental landscape replete with the customary peacock and weasel words that continue to service the art industry.