Art as a visceral feeling; and other rambling thoughts

This is a belated post for Ortigas Art Festival 2021, digital art and NFTs, and museum visits through the years. It’s a work in progress.

Maybe I should start a podcast where I just read through my blog posts like a script.


Art as a visceral feeling (in a pandemic)

In the middle of dragging my feet on this draft, it suddenly came to mind that I haven’t watched ballet in years. In fact I haven’t seen any live performance art since 2019, not since BLACKPINK IN YOUR AREA Manila and SWEENEY TODD at the Theatre at Solaire. Videos on YouTube don’t count.

(Read: BLACKPINK in your area)

Art is a visceral feeling*. I had that sentence in mind when I thought of this post, conceptualized ages and ages ago in March. But I feel it more keenly now. It’s like little lacerations burying under my skin. I’ve been drowning more and more in pale alternatives: Google Arts & Culture tours, tumblr posts, the online galleries uploaded by world class museums, trawling through the #art #artphilippines #filipinoart #artph and all permutations thereof on Instagram.

*This is no way an educational art blog. Don’t come here and bring the aesthetics of Dewey versus Kant.

It was Heraclitus who said ‘no man ever steps in the same river twice’. I can visit an art piece everyday and find both it and myself different every time; the universe changes. The ‘me’ that first wrote about the National Museum of Fine Arts was blind when she wrote that more works by ‘classical masters’ should find its way to Manila. The ‘me’ of today would be horrified, knowing more about the capitalism and imperialism that concentrates and rarifies art.

(Try not to cringe when reading: Places: MANILAAA and Four Hours in Manila)

The experiential value of art builds layers upon layers. Nothing quite equals the energy of other people, or the unforgiving lighting of a gallery. Nothing compares to hearing audience members shout “brava!“, followed by awkward mingling during the intermission.

And maybe it can still be true for digital art while in lockdown. The person I am today will click different things tomorrow, be a different purveyor the next day… In truth I’ve been thinking of digital art even more. My bank account’s sitting with the money I’ve saved for art commissions on Instagram. But it will never be full enough for NFTs, or non-fungible tokens –a capitalist bubble and ecological nightmare that will end its mention here.

(Read: NFTs Are Shaking Up the Art Worldβ€”But They Could Change So Much More)

Digital art brings us closer to art from across the globe. It also, somehow, brings us even farther apart.

Whether it’s the pandemic or just my budget, I’m left limited. I like breathing the air in front of a canvas, and imagining the feeling of impasto against my fingertips. I like leaving one wing and entering another, feeling the shift in the air as one masterpiece comes into focus. I even like jostling against other people, looking for the perfect spot to take that perfect photo to take home, upload, then forget. I like wondering what pretentious thoughts people express about this piece or that, while all I do is breathe. Ambedo. I even like the trouble of going to shows where I didn’t know anyone else, just for the chance to make a new friend (with the same taste).

Of all the things the pandemic has taken, this is probably both the least and the worst. Life in itself is precious, but only in the context of our enjoyment (it’s the hedonist in me). How to sustain this feeling…?

Growing an art consciousness, a throwback

My birthday gift for my mom the other week was an 8×8″ hardbound travel photobook. It’s for our coffee table, which hasn’t seen any new guests in almost two years. I spent at least an entire shift working on curating the photos and then finalizing the layout; the book covered more than a decade’s worth of family travel.

Going through gigabytes of content was tedious but fun. It was punctuated by memories I thought I had forgotten. And it had art –photos of us when we were younger, next to statues I didn’t know yet the name to. Photos of blurry canvases and installations in the park. There’s a drive in me now to revisit every single place. Now I’ll know what the name is, now I know enough to listen. How to touch from six inches away.

Leonardo da Vinci, Mona Lisa, circa 1503. Photo taken in 2010. I think I just turned 15 in this photo.
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Leonardo da Vinci, Mona Lisa, circa 1503. I remember feeling more interested in the crowd than I in the actual work itself. By this point I had read the Da Vinci Code and all of its related novels more than once (I first read Dan Brown in grade school, when I started experimenting with agnosticism). Louvre was more exciting for that context. And I can feel a similar excitement in the battling audience. It was a miracle we got far enough to get this photo.

It would be years before I’d realize the privilege of seeing the Mona Lisa, more than just the obvious. Not because it’s the most amazing portrait composed in the history of mankind, and not only because of its history and clear provenance. Like many other extant works of da Vinci, no restorer will be brave enough to touch its layers. The Mona Lisa smile, brought to life by the experimental techniques of a genius, will someday fade. We will remember it only by these old photos, and by the studies of da Vinci’s apprentices.

And to have seen it, with a group of people who will never share the same space again–!

The Winged Victory of Samothrace, circa 190 BCE. Photo taken in 2010. One of many blurry shots.
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The Winged Victory of Samothrace, circa 190 BCE. In hindsight, I’m kind of glad we went crazy with the point-and-shoot digicam back in 2010. Back then, I probably only thought that this was just another Greek statue placed strategically in the middle of a busy footpath. Turns out, this is Nike, the winged goddess of victory posed on top of the Daru staircase. And more importantly, this was a backdrop in one of the most iconic scenes of The Carters’ APESHIT.

THE CARTERS, APESHIT, Official video, 2018.
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Pictures weren’t allowed in the Sistine Chapel. The policy used to be part of an old agreement with Nippon TV, a company that sponsored the restoration decades ago. Now it’s just banned to preserve the artwork. But I don’t even need a photo of Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam. There are thousands on the Internet. I wanted to take a photo of the crowd. We were like a porous can of sardines; people kept flowing in and out. Like everyone else we spent ages staring up at the unfolding sky. I wish I knew enough back then to look for the extra penises.

In 2011, I remember seeing Diego VelΓ‘squez’ Las Meninas and Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights and more masterpieces in Museo del Prado. It is my greatest annoyance that photos aren’t allowed in that museum. I do remember writing an essay on one of the major works in that museum for my visual arts elective in high school; I just can’t remember where I put a copy…

Andy Warhol, Campbell’s Soup Cans, 1962. Photo taken in 2016. We had to pay extra for the Andy Warhol/Ai Weiwei exhibit in the NGV.
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Andy Warhol, Campbell’s Soup Cans, 1962. There’s something uncomplicated about admiring Andy Warhol. His life and art have both been fully leveraged and commercialized. If I am criticized for liking him and finding him popular — so what? This is the world we’ve created. I will paint what I like, I will like what I paint. Even criticisms of celebrity and sexism can’t dissuade me. Warhol was a product of his time, wielding an atypical passive power over either sex. At least he wasn’t Picasso.

Phidias, Elgin Marbles (Parthenon Marbles), circa 447-438 BCE. Photo taken in 2017. Honestly, I was a menace with a selfie stick.
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Phidias, Elgin Marbles (Parthenon Marbles), circa 447-438 BCE. The British Museum is one of the best museums I’ve ever been to. It’s vast. It’s a stone’s throw away from the National Gallery. Admission was free that Sunday. It had the Rosette Stone, something I never even thought I wanted to see. It was only after watching the opening museum heist scene in Black Panther (2018) –set in the fictional Museum of Great Britain– that I actually finally wondered.

Ryan Coogler (director) starring Michael B. Jordan, museum heist scene, Black Panther, film, 2018.
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How did the British get all of these pieces of art and history? And the answer was obvious.

Like most everything else white people enjoy today, it was stolen by blood and conquest. They stole it. And millions of descendants and cultural heirs around the world will never see parts of their heritage due to the barriers of distance, time, money, and visa requirements.

Even at the time of its acquisition in the 1800s, the export of the Elgin marbles to foreign soil thousands of miles away from its origin was already criticized as vandalism or looting. And it’s still a debate! The British Museum refuses to return the marbles, or their pieces of the Benin Bronzes, stolen from the old Kingdom of Benin (now Nigeria), or any of the other loot. Nigerians need a visa to travel to the UK. It makes me sick.

Maybe I’ll try to make a similar blog piece about Filipino art consciousness and history. It’ll probably be more difficult; I don’t exactly keep a meticulous log of photos I take in Filipino galleries and museums. A thought for my future self.

In recent memory, I’ve spent more time appreciating contemporary art than older works. The old world is a landmine ripe for heartbreak. The continuous process of learning about art and art history makes it a bit more difficult to sift through what’s tainted by colonialism and misogyny, and what isn’t. I’ve also made a more active effort to look for local artists.

To contemporary art we go.

#OrtigasArtFestival2021

I wonder what goes through the heads of art curators and editors. This iteration of the Ortigas Art Festival, which is held every year in the East Wing of Estancia Mall, Pasig City, hardly differs thematically from its predecessors. Or maybe I haven’t been paying attention. Maybe this year’s theme is ‘pushing through with an art festival despite the pandemic’ and also ‘we added more photographs’.

(See: art fair, a mix and Renaissance: Art Season 2020)

The trip to the temporary exhibition was a nice respite from ruining my eyes and my heart. In an alternate universe, the National Arts Month (aka February) would have gone by without me knowing it.

I also bought a lot of other things in the mall. It was a day for outside errands –only a month or so before ECQ was again announced, imagine that.

(Read: ASMPH MD/MBA: In the Interim)

These are the things I’d line my house with, had I a house.

Froilan Galpo, Red (Life and Beauty I), acrylic on canvas, 2021. To the left is Yellow and to the right is Orange.
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Froilan Galpo, Red (Life and Beauty I), acrylic on canvas, 2021. This is what I mean by art as an experience. This set was displayed near a clear glass window. The afternoon sun was strong; a step forward or to the side would have changed how the light kissed the canvas. In the morning, these three pieces would have been different.

Ma. Luinette Belen, Resilience (left) and Verve (right), acrylic on canvas. Worth some thousands of pesos. If only I had that much disposable income. If only I had income.
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Ma. Luinette Belen, Resilience (left) and Verve (right), acrylic on canvas. I am obsessed with both the line art and the abstract waves. These works are featured also in her YouTube channel. Please check it out.

Cedrick Dela Paz, DC (Disconnected) (middle of last row), watercolor on paper. I don’t necessarily want this in my house, but how can I not share this? This is my heart. Specifically, my I-seriously-dread-zoom-calls heart.
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Cedrick Dela Paz, DC (Disconnected) (middle of last row), watercolor on paper. I was tired. I’m ready to consume.

Who knows when I’ll have the inspiration or energy to write a thousand words on art again? Who knows what tomorrow will bring?

(I know what I’ll be hoping for. Maybe a little bit of blood and bones. At this point, I would accept Lovecraftian overlords in lieu of the current Philippine government.)

Until next time!

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