Young Star

The art of paying attention

QUIET COMPANY - Carina Santos - The Philippine Star

After the Art Fair Philippines egress — during which we took down hundreds of paintings and unscrewed even more L-hooks — and over a Japanese dinner at midnight, I giggled, a little guiltily, over a few photos on social media. People who had been to the five-day-long event had been posting their photographs all week, using appropriate hashtags and posing with the artwork. On the surface, there isn’t really anything wrong with that. You could call it exciting, even, that art has been celebrated so much in recent years. However, the feelings that stayed with me post-AFP, despite the swell of pride for local art and the artists, galleries, curators, and friends that made it possible, are frustration and disappointment.

I was supposed to post a photo of the renowned Martha Atienza piece, obscured by a handful of silhouettes, all waiting to take a photo with her beautiful, imposing work. It was, again, frustrating to be sitting in front of it, a slow-motion video of the open sea, because all you saw were bodies. I decided against sharing the photo, because it felt mean-spirited, like perhaps these just didn’t know any better or something, but the disappointment stayed nestled a little above my navel, and I wondered if this was the type of attention I wished for the local art scene. A single week of half-hearted focus each year, and then nothing.

Art transports you, in whatever way you need to escape, and perhaps these people found something in the work that spoke to them. Although, perhaps not. A lot of people took selfies with the artwork, usually in the vein of hugot (gag) or humor (eye roll), and I’m not one to rain on people’s parades, but how disappointing that this is the extent of one’s conversation with art. A friend mentioned that it just felt like the audience was too young, too new — not in an age way, necessarily, but in how they interacted with art. We don’t know what to do when faced with something like that. Why is it that the automatic response to a work of art is to insert oneself in the picture? A friend manning a booth lamented that no one really asked questions. Another said she wished there wasn’t free WiFi, probably to force engagement with the pieces. Some people go just to buy a big-name work — any work — not looking beyond what they deem as good investments. Then there are those who feel compelled to touch the pieces (a no-no, by the way) or, in their haste to pose with the work, thoughtlessly rub against the canvas, with themselves or their bags.

Does the volume of people annually visiting the Art Fair really indicate a spike of interest in the work, or did it just become another place to be seen at?

Art fairs are, admittedly, not the best way to experience art and this one was probably meant to be just an introduction, a sort of primer on an art scene that even I haven’t exhausted. After the art fairs, there is generally no follow-through, though — no noticeable spike in attendance for art exhibits in general — because there really isn’t much genuine interest to sustain. There isn’t a correct way to consume, absorb, or experience art, but is it too much to ask for people to pause and to try and understand even just one piece beyond thinking that it’s pretty or funny? I don’t think so. This pause, this attempt to connect, feels like the bare minimum of expectations, and I wish people had paid more attention to what the AFP had been trying to show them.

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