(SPOT.ph) If you could go back in time and change something about your life, what would it be? Would it be that day you chose your course or your university, or both? Would it be that moment you said "no" to the love of your life? Would it be that morning you slept in instead of going to class? We've seen it in movies, we've read about it in books, and—most of all—we've learned it in real life: Our decisions, no matter how small, have a huge effect on what we eventually become.
"When I think about what's happening now, whatever it is, I constantly think 'How did we get here? Bakit tayo ganito?' You have to go back to history to be able to answer your questions. Or sometimes, you have more questions, so you look back," says Liv Vinluan about her interest in creating works of art that are inspired by past events. As one of the featured artists for Art Fair Philippines 2019 from February 22 to 24 at The Link in Makati City, she intends to display a 10-meter roll of vellum paper that’s joined at the edges, then held up by stilts and suspended by strings to make it appear like it’s floating.
Putting together a never-ending story
It may be a bit hard to imagine right now, but that’s because Vinluan plans to make the work more about the experience—encouraging you to really go there and see for yourself what it’s all about.
"It's a long, long, long endless kind of work. I was thinking about an unraveling. And I find it poetic that when you wound up something, it unravels in the end."
"It all started with the form, actually. It's a long, long, long endless kind of work. I was thinking about an unraveling. And I find it poetic that when you wound up something, it unravels in the end," she explains about the inspiration behind her work in an interview with SPOT.ph. As in her previous works, "Swan Song Part One" (2016, West Gallery) and "Tenebrae" (2016, Finale Art File), she plays around with the capacity of paper to be folded, pleated, or rolled to create a three-dimensional effect. But her work for the fair, titled "Nung Gambalain 'Yung Sayawan," is a completely different story.
For one thing, it will be five times the size of her past projects. Besides that, it revolves around a theme that’s more abstract than narrative-driven. "Cariño Brutal" (2015, Finale Art File), for example, was a long roll of paper with vignettes that you could follow from left to right—depicting a cause-and-effect chain of events, but also a simultaneous story. "For that, it was a specific narrative," the artist recalls. There's a woman free-falling into a marsh filled with crocodiles. There's a couple about to bathe in a pond as a friar looks out from behind the trees. There's an Archangel waging a war against Lucifer.
"The thing about those works was there was always a beginning, there was always an end. You know where it started, you know where it ends. For ["Nung Gambalain 'Yung Sayawan"], I wanted something that is endless, then [I'd] let it join together as one whole. It's very [aligned] with history because it repeats itself. The way it's installed is [an allusion] to how history repeats itself; we make the same mistakes over and over again," Vinluan explains.
The elements are drawn in different orientations, allowing the audience to stand at any point and look at the installation from any angle. One side has an image depicting a genesis, which was only natural for a piece that highlights our beginning as humans and as Filipinos. "Eventually, I realized that you cannot talk about our history and our culture and our identity, you can't explore it fully without having to explore our idea of family. Filipino culture is very much central to family," the artist adds.
The title "Nung Gambalain 'Yung Sayawan" complements this theme of endlessness in a very ironic and poetic way. Wanting to reference the act of cutting rather than a sense of permanence, she asks: "How do you cut a cycle? Sumasayaw ka and you can end up in that dance for a really long time, paano mo 'yon gugupitin? Paano mo 'yon titigalan? One of the hardest things to do for us humans is to end the cycle. It's so easy to get stuck in a cycle or a loop."
"Eventually, I realized that you cannot talk about our history and our culture and our identity, you can't explore it fully without having to explore our idea of family. Filipino culture is very much central to family."
Throwing out these hard questions are, for Vinluan, the essence of being an artist. According to her, art has a very simple purpose: "To make people think, to make people ponder." There’s no right or wrong answer when you look at art; and if a viewer blurts out “Napaisip ako do’n,” that’s good enough a response for her creation.
Becoming a better artist
Aside from the size and tone, Vinluan’s piece for Art Fair Philippines is also different in terms of its medium. It’s mostly sketches rather than her usual fully-rendered oil or watercolor paintings. "I want to do something different this time around. I’d like to think of it as more of a drawing than a painting," she elaborates.
For the past two years, she’s been trying to carry a sketchbook wherever she goes so she can draw anytime, anywhere. "I remember drawing a chair once, like a random chair. You would appreciate every single curve, the legs—that sort of thing. That's why in school they encourage you to draw because you get to see details you've never seen before. It forces you to look at things at a different angle," she says. Vinluan also sees the exercise as an opportunity to "become a better illustrator, become a better artist."
This drive to push the limits has always been an inherent part of Vinluan as an artist. As the daughter of Nestor Vinluan, a renowned abstractionist and dean of the University of the Philippines – College of Fine Arts in the '90s, there was some pressure to do well—especially since she went to the same school.
"There wasn't pressure from my dad, " she clarifies. The older Vinluan wasn’t on campus any longer once it came time for her to study fine arts at the state university. The pressure came from her classmates and teachers, but in retrospect, she realized that most of it was probably self-imposed. “At least, na-push mo 'yong sarili mo, wala namang masamang nangyari,” she chuckles.
Turns out, it wasn’t for nothing. Vinluan graduated cum laude, and her undergraduate thesis triptych, "Sin Vergüenzas," won her the Dominador Castañeda Award for Best Thesis in 2009. “Cariño Brutal” was nominated for the 2016 Ateneo Art Awards-Fernando Zobel Prize for Visual Art. In 2017, her piece “Ang Cabilogan ng Isang Cuadranggulo” was nominated for the fourth edition of the prestigious Asia Pacific Breweries - Signature Art Prize.
Things falling into place
“It wasn’t easy but things fell into place,” Vinluan recalls. She was supposed to apply for a course in advertising, but ended up checking the box for Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting right before she was about to submit the application forms. It was very “last minute,” according to her.
This hesitation to go into the arts came from seeing how hard being a full-time artist was for her father. Despite whiling away the time by drawing as a child and seeing her older brother Paulo become an artist himself, she never thought of following the same path. "It's not exactly an easy life. There has to be some kind of luck involved so that you can do it until you grow old. 'Yon 'yong goal e. I didn't really think I had enough guts and courage to do this kind of life,” she says.
A decade after she graduated, Vinluan is now one of the select few who have the chance to show her art in what has become known as Metro Manila’s biggest contemporary art fair. "I was so shocked," she says upon hearing the invitation. "You can't say no so even if it's such as short time, you say yes. I'm very honored that the other artists I'm with is a really good batch. It's very nice to be in good company." She is also the recipient of the Karen H. Montinola Selection—a grant awarded to an artist to financially aid them in producing their Art Fair Philippines project.
"It's not exactly an easy life. There has to be some kind of luck involved so that you can do it until you grow old."
True enough, Vinluan seems to be right where she’s supposed to be, and that last-minute change on her college applications has turned out to be exactly what was supposed to happen—a reminder that history is like a shadow that’s constantly looming over us. We can either learn from it, or repeat the same mistakes, but we always have the option to cut ourselves loose from a dangerous cycle.
Art Fair Philippines 2019 runs from February 22 to 24 at The Link, Parkway Drive, Ayala Center, Makati City. For more information, visit Art Fair Philippines' website.