At ALT Philippines, The alternative is relative
“Pure Impermanence” (2020) by Derek Tumala
Ernie Peñaredondo

At ALT Philippines, The alternative is relative

PLATFORMS - M.C. Reodica (The Philippine Star) - February 24, 2020 - 12:00am

The inaugural ALT Philippines opened to the public at SMX Convention Center Aura, running from Feb. 14 to 16, featuring a collective of 10 established Philippine contemporary art galleries: Artinformal, Blanc, The Drawing Room, Finale Art File, Galleria Duemila, MO_Space, Underground, Vinyl on Vinyl, West Gallery, and 1335 Mabini. In a honeycomb-shaped array of rooms in a spacious hall, every gallery had its own section. Each gallery also contributed 10 works to ALT for Taal, which raised funds for evacuees displaced by the recent volcano eruption.

At the center of the venue is Derek Tumala’s “Pure Impermanence,” a 10-channel video installation positioned at a wide angle to envelop the viewer. Tumala draws from a format that is nearly ubiquitous, but rarely the subject of critical inquiry: the vertical video. The images transform frenetically, from a sequential series of images in chronological order, into a simultaneous exposure of found footage videos and abstract digitally-rendered forms. This aspect ratio, often consigned to social media ephemera, is freed of its 24-hour sentence. Tumala explores the vertical cinema as a frontier in itself.

While lately more collectors have been purchasing video — though the commodification of video art merits its own debate — highlighting a video work in a fair is a statement. Galleries are in a position to shape conversations about taste and history by introducing fresh ideas to collectors and audiences. To be forward-thinking is a matter of daring.

ALT Philippines itself states that it’s “the art show reframed.” What is reframed is in the eye of the beholder. For the participating galleries, it’s an avenue to exercise their own autonomy. For collectors, it’s more art to purchase. For the artist, it’s another opportunity to be exhibited and make a living. These stem from the establishment of another commercial and curatorial platform.

While comparisons to other art fairs are expected, ALT differentiates itself by the label alternative. Yet the prevailing idea of what is alternative are independent artist initiatives powered by sheer grit. The pursuit of a project proceeds even if it defies commercial expectations, which in turn can yield some of the most innovative and thrilling ideas of our time. This definition is still subject to transform as lines amongst factions shift and blur.

It would be a false binary, to pose the art market and alternative spaces as opposite sides of the spectrum when artists operate within both settings. What, then, is ALT Philippines an alternative to?

If anything, the debut of ALT Philippines signals a dispersal of power within the Philippine art market. Every year, the increasing number of happenings during National Arts Month alone is too much for one person to keep up with, frankly. People are flocking to art fairs across the Philippines, eager to view art even without the intention of buying. New platforms are naturally what comes next.

Galleria Duemila points viewers in a direction beyond the capital city. “Carpe Diem: Beyond Seizing the Day,” curated by Angel Shaw, encourages viewers to take a second look at what is considered to be part of daily life.

Leonard Aguinaldo’s vibrant carvings playfully traverse Igorot indigeneity and robotics. Meanwhile, a lone television stands in one of Rocky Cajigan’s painting assemblages, stubbornly entrenched in a Bontoc landscape, marked by a zip code in the work’s title. The steel dress sculpture of Bacolod-based artist Moreen Austria exposes the industrial rigidity of gendered clothing. When notions of the mundane are shaped by one’s immediate surroundings, curating works from different locales lends a wider purview to the exhibit.

What is alternative is relative to one’s vantage point, in terms of form, content, and origin. Even vertical cinema could very well become more natural to younger digital natives than the movie theater. There are art communities across the Philippines who may not interact with Manila on a daily basis, but are nevertheless thriving in their own centers. ALT Philippines is asserting the collective’s stand of what the art show is, but within the specific scope of Manila’s circles.

The alternative of today may very well be co-opted by the mainstream tomorrow, but the mainstream will always be challenged and reinvented by the alternative. Critical inquiries of this dynamic put back into context this feedback loop, which persists even after the track lights are switched off and the boxes are sealed.


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M.C. Reodica is the winner in the 2019 Purita Kalaw-Ledesma Prize in Art Criticism.

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