Things worth pondering and other thoughts on #ArtFairPH

The last time I wrote about Art Fair Philippines, I ended it with a hopeful “Until next year!” Then the pandemic happened, and my soul shriveled a tiny bit at the thought of enjoying art only through a screen.

But now #ArtFairPH is back. Ish. It’s the year of the hybrid.

(Read here: Art Fair Philippines 2020, an oasis in the city)

Art Fair Philippines 2022: Live, scattered, optimistic

Founded in 2013, Art Fair Philippines is the premier platform for exhibiting and selling the best in modern and contemporary Philippine visual art.

About Art Fair

To me, Art Fair Philippines has always been about bringing together the different styles and flavors that make up the local contemporary art scene. Ever since we started attending way back when, my family and I have enjoyed several hours looking through the different paintings and installations, speculating on social commentary, and eating whatever snacks are nearby. And, if the exhibits were particularly interesting that year, I’d come back for a round two with a fresh set of eyes and a different art buddy.

(Read here: Snapshots: #ArtFairPH)

Its biggest draws were accessibility and diversity; we weren’t blessed with the kinds of career that lent itself to regular gallery-hopping. Art Fair Philippines represented a unique opportunity to sate our pent-up visual thirsts.

The pandemic put a spanner in the works, and it’s still making waves for better or for worse. In order to adapt, this year’s Art Fair PH invited galleries across the Metro, the country and the world to be part of a “Gallery Hop”, with simultaneous exhibits happening alongside digital talks/workshops, while people enjoy an Augmented Reality (AR) trail and limited live shows at the Ayala Triangle Gardens.

ArtFairPH/Projects presented by BPI, as opposed to ArtFairPH/Residencies (a nearby display of works by artists in residency), /Talks or /Tours or /Film or or or. They’re all parts of one gordian whole.

It’s the year of the hybrid.

Unsurprisingly, I only had one day to make the most out of this yearly event, so that crossed out the possibility of me going on a gallery tour across the city. So we found ourselves in Ayala Triangle Gardens one Saturday afternoon. Or maybe it was a Sunday.

It was two months ago, okay. Yes this is a late post.

Selections, the pieces I pondered on

Not particularly liked, or enjoyed, or was possessed by. The pickings were slim. Maybe a little satisfyingly distinct from each other. There was a photography exhibit (but as I wrote about somewhere else, I have yet to experience a photo-related art high. Still not a fan) and an interesting, if tedious, collection of interactive QR code installations. The experience was woefully short.

But still: art. And thoughts.

Doctor Karayom’s Sariling Sulok

Several personal altar-like pieces comprise the first collection that meets the eye upon entering ArtFairPH/Projects. The religious imagery –in this particular one, the fiery suggestion of hell, the burning of candles, and the central arrangement echoing a rosary– caught my eye.

Doctor Karayom. Apoy ng Pagtataka, in Sariling Sulok, 2022. Wood, resin, epoxy clay, and acrylic paint.

With the pandemic disrupting our ability and eagerness to socialize, us Filipinos have been left to our own corners (sariling sulok), reflecting a crisis of introspection, anxiety, and religious faith.
Doctor Karayom. Apoy ng Pagtataka, in Sariling Sulok, 2022. Detail

The reasons for my preoccupation have less to do with the art on its own, and more to do with my context as a viewer. Just days before I went to the exhibit, I watched an hour-long art crit video essay on Hieronymus Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights (1490-1510) made by one of my favorite pandemic-era YouTube content creators.

Doctor Karayom’s panels, woodwork, and religious imagery call back to that controversial triptych oil painting.

Watch the video here:

Great Art Explained. Hieronymus Bosch, The Garden of Earthly Delights (Full Length): Great Art Explained, 2021. Like and subscribe! Most videos are only 15-30 minutes long.

I was invested enough to last the entire hour. I once had the privilege of being mesmerized by Bosch’s The Garden of Earthly Delights during our 2011 visit to the Museo del Prado. I remember thinking, “what the—?”. Curse the fact that the museum doesn’t allow for any photos or videos.

Devoid of my context, the art on its own aims to discuss faith and introspection of Filipinos amidst the COVID-19 crisis. Timely, if depressing.

Aze Ong’s Transcendence

At around 40 x 12 feet, this piece cannot be ignored. Made using the traditionally feminine craft of crocheting, this centerpiece highlights weaving as an art form (and as an obstacle course?).

Fiber is my weapon.

Aze Ong
Aze Ong. Transcendence, 2022. Silk blend yarns, stainless steel framing, and stainless wires.

According to various writeups, the artist learned from observing weavers from the Talaandig indigenous group in Bukidnon.

Large and complex, Transcendence evokes the web-like connections between things. The scale begs a few moments of introspection and commentary, not least the questions on the best perspective or how to navigate its bulk.

But also, it reminded me of my mom’s own crochet pursuits. (She’s awesome at it).

Melvin Guirhem’s Entablado

All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. Our social and economic conditions define the roles we play in public or in private.

Melvin Guirhem. Sakdag, 2021. Fabric and thread.

And me, with the obligatory “looking at a painting” candid shot. My reversible linen top is from bymeadow on Instagram.
Melvin Guirhem. Sakdag, 2021. Detail.

At that time, I looked at the collection name —Entablado, or stage– and thought, “huh”. It seemed fairly straightforward: here are artworks depicting scenes of a particular play or tradition. And Sakdag, among all of them, felt the most visually balanced and therefore arresting.

I was too distracted by the colorful interplay of cut fabrics and threads to consider the work’s meaning. In hindsight, though, the texture of the piece reflects the patchwork complexity of the lives we live, and the efforts we make to create meaningful narratives. My rumination on color and texture aligned itself with the artist’s intention in the end.

Bjorn Calleja’s Unknown Unknowns

These large-scale paintings screamed out with a more modern, almost global? popular? sensibility. They felt impulsive, overcrowded, and overly saturated. It’s the 21st century. It’s digital media.

Bjorn Calleja. Son of A God, 2021. Oil, acrylic and aerosol on canvas.

Here’s some version of Jesus Christ. Or maybe multiple? I’m not entirely that interested in figuring this one out.

The amusement was less about trying to delve into some deeper meaning, and more about the uncanny googly-eyed subjects. Oh, and the tiny people that live in the details.

Bjorn Calleja. Son of A God, 2021. Detail. Oh, and obligatory “looking at a painting” not-candid shot.


Tyang Karyel’s Playtime Paradiso

Emerging forms of art are always a point of reflection, though whether or not they inspire anything is a different question entirely. The pop art woodwork installations in this collection scream vibrant and loud, though its commentary on consumerism –and its complement and antithesis, the bayanihan spirit– is almost overshadowed by the color.

Tyang Karyel, Lotto Store, in Playtime Paradiso, 2022. Detail.

And maybe I spent more time on this one than the rest because I was gambling on a specific kind of social future.

The rest, eh. It’s a party.

On to the next

The hybrid art experience may not have filled the visual arts-shaped hole in my heart quite as well as it could have, but the experience has taught me to take the time to appreciate individual works over quantity. Though access to more works really wouldn’t hurt…

My favorite art buddies! Other highlights of that day included: eating good pasta (my treat, if I remember correctly), having some milk tea, and doing some shopping.

Until next time! ❤️

View my other posts on Art Fair PH here

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