Arts and Culture

Art in a post-COVID world

ARTMAGEDDON - Igan D’Bayan - The Philippine Star
Art in a post-COVID world

If all the countries were given an ark each if the pandemic were to reach Great Flood-like proportions and the only way to save mankind was to whisk off the most deserving individuals of the human race until the whole shitstorm is over we all know who would demand to board first in the great ole R.P. Who? Well, our politicians, of course, because they are tasked with — as one of their diehards say “leading.” The same ones who have themselves tested for the Coronavirus three times because of how very important they are. Lapdogs and hyenas (we’re referring to animals here) would be next. After all, politicians need their barkers as they talk about how they have heroically withstood — as stated by the Mickey Doyle of virtual press conferences and his cardboard standees — the “invasion” of the body snatchers. After the jackals and vultures (again referring to animals) would be the customs officials, offshore gambling operators, and barangay kagawads. The crème de la crème of Philippine society. You know who would be the last to get on the ship? Right after journalists, of course, would be the artists (in both visual and performance arts) — the ones neglected during times of plenty and during times of famine.

And those who would make sure the artists are safe? No one else but curators and gallery owners.

Floods of questions come our way. Art is essential to those whose lives revolve around it, but do other people see it that way? Has the situation of many of our Filipino artists (not the auction stars or art fair darlings, mind you) been addressed lately by the appropriate government agencies? In a post-pandemic world, what shape and form would artworks and exhibitions take? We’ve already sat down with artists and we’ve learned that, during these long days of doubt and quarantine, they have found the metallic-silver lining in the lamp-black clouds of COVID-19: by doing art, doing what they do best, putting their perspective on all this madness. As for curators and gallery owners also holed up in their respective boxes, it is the same thing.

They are still living and breathing art in a world slowly losing its breath. Looking at the blankness of walls. Planning their next move.

* * *

Part two features the gallery owners.

Patrick Flores

Curator Patrick Flores says the Vargas Museum continues to reach out to the public via the Vargas Virtual Mode program in which they “curate pieces from the collection and our archive of exhibitions and provide educational guides for their appreciation.” 

He explains, “I think the best response to (a post-COVID) situation is not an exhibition, which might signal a false normal. I would rather convene a series of conversations or workshops as sites of discussion on what is happening with the world and our humble place in it and its unfolding. This is tricky, because conceptually, the museum is meant to gather people. But in a time of physical distancing, this kind of social possibility is diminished. So it’s important to think of another form of sociality. That’s the conceptual demand of museums at the moment.”

What would the artworld be like after the pandemic?

“It’s difficult to speculate. But I imagine a great deal of rethinking will take place in the face of some radical and existential force like a pandemic. A different ethical intelligence will have to emerge.”

Patrick plans to convert the land at the back of Vargas and around it into a herb, fruit, and vegetable garden. “I have long been dreaming to make this happen, prompted by the efforts of our security guards to plant vegetables at the back of the museum. After all, culture, in its most generous conception, refers to the range of ways to till, rear, and sustain the earth. It’s a good time to pursue this.”

Ruel Cassi

Ruel Caasi is the moving force behind The Working Animals (TWA) Art Projects and is the director of Ronald Ventura’s studio and has curated shows for him in Tokyo, Milan and New York. Caasi is also an acclaimed abstract and conceptual artist.

He sees galleries and museums utilizing online platforms to experience art more in a post-COVID scenario. “I think art will have an even stronger presence in social media and the internet. This is already happening now, of course, but it will reach even greater heights in the post-pandemic scene.”

How would he revaluate his role as curator in “the new normal”?

“I think this would not be an entirely new thing for me and my collective. The artists I’m working with have already been exploring the integration of traditional artforms such as paintings and sculptures with new media such as mobile applications and online games, among others.” 

Is art still important in a pandemic-stricken world? “Of course, I think art is timeless and essential not just in times of peace and prosperity. Art is all the more needed when humanity is faced with a crisis, because history has proven that art can uplift and inspire, provide solace or comfort in moments of despair, and reinvigorate the spirit to move forward.”

Tessa Maria Guazon

Curator Tessa Maria Guazon doesn’t see dramatic or drastic changes in the Philippine art landscape. She explains, “I think we will live with the COVID virus for a long time. For us to successfully live through the virus, there needs to be a lot of reflection and discussion on the role of art in society. How do we plan to reconfigure the Philippine art world to answer to new urgencies that the pandemic brings? We haven’t gotten past the individualistic bent of so many practices and the lack of infrastructure for culture and the arts. We have a long and arduous path to tread!”

What are her activities, art-wise, during these long days of quarantine?

“It is a paradox when one thinks about time these days as ‘long’: time itself has simultaneously stopped and expanded. This allows us to reflect on activities that filled our time before the pandemic hit.” Tessa says she has current research and exhibition projects, which at some point will continue albeit in a modified format. The curator is involved in the interlocutor program for the 10th Asia Pacific Triennial in Brisbane, Australia. 

“As to exhibition themes, I will continue to explore those that have long interested me but framed by the context of a world halted by the pandemic.”

She concludes, “Art is crucial to our survival through this global health crisis. The arts harness our empathy, compassion and most important, our capacity for hope. It enables us to imagine how the world can be after this crisis, and creatively imagine the many ways of being in that world.”

Boots Herrera

Boots Herrera, director and chief curator of the Ateneo Art Gallery (AAG), has been looking into developing different approaches to virtual exhibitions for future programs.

She says, “In place of the Ateneo Art Award 2020, we are mounting an exhibition of works submitted for the AAG-Marciano Galang Acquisition Prize. This program will enable us to extend some financial assistance to artists within the limits of our budget. For now, the program is focused on or limited to works on paper and the general theme is  ‘Solidarity with the Filipino community during the COVID-19 crisis.’” 

Boots — who, in between AAG work, watches films centered on the lives of Modigliani, Schiele and Vermeer — does not see a change in her role as curator.

“We should continue to bring together artists and art accessible to the public —  physically and virtually, intellectually and emotionally. The conditions set by the pandemic just makes it more challenging. We need to explore new strategies to continue with our programs and at the same time respond to the needs of artists and our community, most especially in this time of crisis.  Given the limitations set, perhaps we should explore more collaborative programs among local museums.”

Is art still important in a pandemic-stricken world and why?

“As many cultural workers and curators have noted in social media in the past weeks, culture and the arts continue to have a relevant voice today and in post-COVID times. Although this may not immediately address physical health concerns, efforts of the art and culture community worldwide — online concerts, art workshops, film screenings, etc. — have shown how we need to address the needs of the soul and the spirit. Moreover, great works of art have been created during critical times because they captured the spirit of the times. Contemporary artists will continue to do so.”

Lisa G. Nakpil

In recent weeks, Lisa Nakpil says she has been dusting off, cataloguing, and reading the art and history books that she has accumulated over these years. Some of them were acquired by Jaime Ponce de Leon and León Gallery from the eminent scholar Ramon N. Villegas.

Life has to go on for the indefatigable curator, writer and art historian.

“Last March, the National Quincentennial Commission approached León Gallery to put together an exhibit on the Pre-Magellan Filipino, telling the story of his sophistication and the richness of his culture. There’s plenty of time to work on it to open in early 2021.” And she is already mulling over the choices of artists for this particular show: Juan Luna, Botong Francisco and Fernando Amorsolo.

“Mainly because they have works on the subject. We (might also feature) the great mapmakers such as Murillo Velarde and Signor Giovanni Ramusio, the man who put ‘Filipinas,’ for the first time literally on a map.”

Lisa says there is an upside in virtual exhibitions. “I understand that León Gallery is working on a curvaceous avatar of me. At last I can look like how I’ve always wanted (laughs).”

Is art still important in a pandemic-stricken world? 

She concludes, “Art (and history for that matter) is a snapshot of the times, a time capsule; not just of one’s personal trajectory but also of the world around us. The pandemic just made all of us heroes and the story of our survival will be writ large in all the arts.”


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