Personal history and identity in public space

Personal history and identity in public space

Simultaneous exhibitions present the potential of art tourism

“THE MORE recent artists keep making the same things and, despite the growing number of galleries in the Philippines, you rarely find an immersive yet well-curated art exhibition,” declared Prim Paypon, lead curator of experimental art initiative THE ANNEXT, short for The Alternative Nest for the Next Rising and Emerging Artists.

“Last year, I had the privilege of staging the first-ever contemporary art exhibition in two of the most well-kept dungeons in Intramuros. We were not thinking of creating so much impact as an art tourism platform — that was indirect. The direct impact was to tell or retell the forgotten history of Intramuros through contemporary art.”

Over 600 visitors came in, which was a success for Intramuros’ first initiative to revive their local economy through new opportunities. Now, ANNEXT moves forward in partnership with the office of the Department of Tourism (DoT) in staging “Sentiment Debris” by Sid Natividad and “(an)other” by Marc Aran Reyes.

Aside from being an example of the potential of art tourism, it is the first ever contemporary art exhibition at the National Museum of Natural History.

“A lot of people don’t find common threads in Sid and Marc’s works, but I think if we put them in a very contemporary venue like this museum, it will naturally surface. Without any second thought, I asked for this venue,” said Mr. Paypon.

Mr. Natividad is represented by the Ysobel Art Gallery while Mr. Reyes is from Art Underground. Their works, conceptualized and created completely independently of each other, came together for the first time on opening night on Dec. 5, under Mr. Paypon’s curation.

Inspired by the architectural double helix concept of the National Museum of Natural History, Mr. Paypon hopes to define and establish a shared creative DNA as Filipino artists through the simultaneous and blended one-man exhibitions of the two contemporary artists.

According to Mr. Reyes, it is the journey of one’s ego and identity in perceiving oneself that forms the idea behind his exhibition “(an)other.”

“Every time we see a copy of us, from looking in the mirror and seeing better or worse versions of ourselves, to the way we create our image using technology, something is lost in the process. We battle with our ego,” he said.

His work (Con)sumed shows three figures sucking the soul out of a woman’s body, a haunting scene that can be interpreted as three versions of a person eating her whole. In m(e)irrored, the struggle of identity amid the effects of technology is more evident, as a woman faces an image of herself on a screen, both of their visages blurred.

Another take on the battle with ego is Visions, versions surpass us, which shows a girl curled up in front of a book from which a large, seemingly holographic image of herself projects up in the air and looks down at her.

“The idea is the effect of our value in society on how we see ourselves,” said Mr. Reyes.

For Mr. Natividad, his exploration of identity is more personal, drawing from images he remembered from childhood.

“We used to play in a quarry with many old objects, which I saw as maybe important to some and unimportant to others,” he said.

His work Chambered Nautilus is a poignant depiction of a mollusk glistening amid the water, its distinct shape and the fluid textures evoking memories in the viewer. The series Maquette I, Maquette II, Maquette III shows unfinished sculptures seemingly abandoned, again obscured in water.

The other series of objects and vessels reveal more items that Mr. Natividad portrays in a new light, from old articles of clothing to loose pieces of metal. Many find comfort in how he paints with striking, almost photographic detail.

“By placing my paintings of these random objects in a museum, they can gain new meaning,” he added.

Mr. Paypon told BusinessWorld that he had only the two contemporary artists in mind for the rare paired exhibition. Here, they managed to reveal personal histories, through vast spaces and key objects for Mr. Reyes and through bodies of water and memorabilia for Mr. Natividad.

“I felt that their ideas of how to evolve one’s personal story to create a bigger story of people might be relevant in this contemporary art space,” he said.

As part of the art tourism effort, ANNEXT and the DoT will be bringing groups of students to the museum for school tours during the exhibition’s short run.

“Sentiment Debris” by Sid Natividad and “(an)other” by Marc Aran Reyes are on view at the Shell Centennial Courtyard of the National Museum of Natural History, Teodoro F. Valencia Circle, Ermita, Manila, until Dec. 10. — Brontë H. Lacsamana