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Isabel and Alfredo Aquilizan |

Arts and Culture

Isabel and Alfredo Aquilizan

Raymond Ang - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – Four years ago, Brisbane-based Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan acquired a sprawling property in Laguna that used to be a fruit juice factory. “Most of the time,” Isabel explains. “the production happens here.” They call it the Fruitjuice Factory Studio — it even has a Facebook page — and true to form, the prolific Aquilizans have a lot going on here.

There are studio assistants working on big pieces for a show in Taiwan, the Aquilizans themselves finishing preliminary work for Art Fair Philippines, workers assembling structures next door, and dogs restlessly wandering about, perhaps waiting for instructions from their masters. It’s a lot to take and a lot to juggle but the Alfredo and Isabel have had decades of practice.

The Aquilizans are one of Philippine art’s great collaborations, art and life partners whose work is inextricably linked. “In a way, we’ve always been working together,” Alfredo says. “Not necessarily creating work but, I mean, we have five kids,” he laughs. “It needs to work so we have to find a way to make things happen. And I think with the kind of artwork that we do, it’s just kind of a translation of that.”

“For us, it’s the every day,” Isabel adds. “Our art is the every day — it’s organic. We translate every day in a visual way. Art and life — for us, hindi pwede paghiwalayin eh.”

Their five most important “collaborations” are already coming into their own. Their eldest child is “an object-maker,” according to Alfredo, “and also makes jewelry.” Meanwhile, their second is a filmmaker, who assisted Nona Garcia in last year’s “Hallow ” show at Blanc Gallery and also works with them when they do video work. The third is taking up a course in the creative industries. The fourth is a “public art specialist” (read: graffiti artist), while the youngest wants to be a curator and is also thinking about studying art law. “They call themselves our studio slaves,” Isabel says, laughing.

The Aquilizans are making their Art Fair Philippines 2016 debut with an exhibit on something they’ve been been fascinated with for eight years now — Mabini Art. The Mabini  Art Project finds them questioning the very notion of pricing objects, in terms of the status relegated to artists and artwork found in the tourist belt of downtown Manila. In collaboration with Antonio Calma, a Mabini artist, the Aquilizans are taking this opportunity as a means to create a symposium.

“We want to create a discourse,” Alfredo says, “which is I think very important because we need to look beyond what the market is all about. It’s not just about creating work and making benta-benta there. But you look at what’s being peddled — it’s artwork. Artists produce work for that [purpose]… The artist becomes some kind of machine to create a product of value. That’s one of the things we want to question, not necessarily to find an answer, but to throw this question to our audience because our work is all about engagement… We need to create a situation where they engage and start thinking about what we want to show and what we’re trying show.”

“Maybe this is also us as teachers,” Isabel adds. “We used to teach in the Philippine High School for the Arts. And through making the situations and these engagements, [we use] these venues for us to be able to reach out and have that connection with the audience. Being teachers, that’s very important — you’re imparting something even in the very simplest way. You instigate something and empower them.”

“If you go back in your art history,” Alfredo says, “you go all the way back to the 15th century during the time of the Medicis, for example, and see how artists set up ateliers to produce work, get assistants and everything to create this work, for the commissions of institutions… This is not new. Nakakabit talaga yan. Hindi mahihiwalay. But of course, there’s a need — and it’s our responsibility as artists — to reflect on what’s happening and for people to start asking questions.”

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