ALL ACCESS - TRILOGY Create Preserve Restore

I have always been fascinated with visual art. Not because I am not as creative enough to be able to make my own piece but because of the fact that each piece is unique and a genuine interpretation of an artist's emotion or feeling.

 You see, an emotion can easily be conveyed by a singer by doing his own interpretation of a cover. But the words of that song are not his. It's just that whatever he's feeling coincides with what the song is trying to say. But visual art is different. Another artist could draw or paint, let's say, Starry Night, but whatever feeling he wishes to convey with Starry Night can't mean the same thing as what Vincent Van Gogh was feeling when he was doing his masterpiece. I believe visual art is more than just looking if a painting or a sculpture is pretty but what feeling it exudes when you look at it.

A few nights ago, I had the privilege to attend the opening of Trilogy Create Preserve Restore Exhibit at the LRI Design Plaza in Makati, and I just had an amazing time seeing wonderful art pieces that are truly Filipino

PR - TRILOGY Create Preserve Restore

What makes art or design distinctly Filipino? This question has always been asked, posing a challenge to visual arts and national identity. A few decades ago, this was not much of an issue but through the years, historical buildings, churches, monuments, homes, iconic structures, architectural designs have been devastated by earth quakes and other natural calamities or intentionally torn down.

TRILOGY is an exhibition that brings the audience into the world of heritage: how it is created, how it is nurtured, and how it is brought back to life. Is heritage the building? Is it the city? Is it the memory of what  was then? Or is it the person who is the keeper of knowledge passed on from one generation to the next? Perhaps it is all of these, for heritage defines identity. It is who we are - when we learn to accept it. Through the objects, buildings, and environments that were created throughout our people's history, we are made to experience how it is to be Filipino.

TRILOGY is composes of three stories: the world of craftsmen of Betis, Pampanga, another that illustrates how Vigan celebrates an entire city's heritage and the last one that tells us that what had been lost in Intramuros during the war is worth definitely recuperating. In all three, countrymen and government work hand-in-hand to keep the knowledge, memory and the manifestations of our identity intact

TRILOGY invites us all to participate in the work of creating, preserving and restoring our heritage, so we may be able to transmit thee to future generations of Filipinos, as our identity is on our hands.

Everything has a beginning, and to every beginning is a story of creation - a narrative that speaks about origins. The TRILOGY exhibition will immerse you in an environment of objects, each of which has its own particular history. But many of these individual stories are linked to each other in a variety of ways, whether through their characteristics - material or color, among others - or through other factors external to its creation - a certain period or style, provenance, or even of these would be acquired by the same person or organization.

In times, these objects take on significance and value, and some will outrank others in importance based on these. They are slowly transformed and become artifacts from different periods that are silent witnesses and repositories of great information with which histories are \pieced together. They are part of our collective memory as a people and as a culture: objects, buildings, and cities that stand as testaments to our creative genius.These are the  stories that each one of us holds inside, and the history with which we communicate ourselves to others.

BETIS: The Craftsman Creates Tradition

Juan Flores left Manila and returned to Betis in 1919, taking the art of sculpture that he had perfected while working in the city's ateliers and sharing it with his kabalens in Santa Ursula. In doing so, Apung Juan not only transformed Betis into one of the centers for fine wood carving but ensured the survival of an art form that gradually faded from Manila's urban setting. It is a legacy borne out of the selfless dedication of one man who thought that ornament should continue to give joy, inspire and bear fruit for many generations to come.

Eight years shy of the centenary of Apung Juan's return, it is difficult to imagine Betis without the pounding of mallets and the smell of wood shavings. In almost every street in Santa Ursula there are workshops for furniture and objects carved in wood. Betis celebrates the crafstman - his talent, his creativity and his generosity to allow others o share the beauty that comes from his talents.

The Torchbearers

Myrna Bituin heads Betis Craft, Inc., furniture exporter and a staunch defender of her industry, and Wilfredo "Willy" Layug is a sculptor, retablista and multi-awarded artist and entrepreneur. They represent many in Betis who have anchored themselves in Apung Juan's legacy in different ways.

Wilfredo "Willy" Layug has long been associated with ecclesiastical sculpture, his first major work being the iconic relieve of Santiago Matamoros in Intramuros' restored Fort Santiago gate, which he carved as a student in UST's Fine Arts program. Ever-hungry for new knowledge, Willy Layug frequents the ateliers in Seville and Cordoba in search of techniques applicable to his craft, while he also looks to Filipino design traditions in the construction of retablos, such as the one he made for the Colegio Filipino in Rome.

The Bituin family has been in the furniture business for two generations. While they themselves are not carvers, they believe in keeping the tradition alive as it benefits an increasing number of craftsmen from their community and beyond. And given that their clients constantly demand the highest quality of workmanship, it improves the standards of carving and production in Betis. The global scale of their business also affords them access to a vast library of designs and techniques that they have integrated into their own setup.

Research, Innovation and Development
“There was a time when we had to go to the encarnador in Malabon to have the carved pieces finished” says Layug. But what happens when the only encarnador is no longer there? Or in the case of the Bituin family, progressing from one product to a whole range requires much study, not only of techniques but also of markets. Theirs is a life of constant study and innovation.
The hyper-realism that characterizes much of Willy Layug's carved images is borne out of careful research into traditional Spanish techniques. He has fused together the once-separated arts of the sculptor and encarnador, and literally breathes life into his wooden creations through the careful application of coats of finishes that can make a sculpture cry with the most natural-looking of tears, or bleed and perspire through open pores in skin that much resembles yours or mine.
Today, the carving industry is a changed landscape and isn't without constraints. Myrna Bituin and her family know that to continue giving employment to their craftsmen, they have to constantly adjust and innovate. The importance of research is evident in their vast company library, and can be glimpsed through one of the pieces exhibited here: a frame in carved bamboo. As supplies of raw materials become increasingly scarce, they had been pointed back to an art form that had harks back to carved bamboo objects taken to the Spanish Expositions in Madrid (1887) and Barcelona (1888).

VIGAN: A People’s Heritage

From ghost town to the only World Heritage City in the Philippines…The long history of Vigan, capital of Ilocos Sur, and once the center of an Ilocos that stretched from Pangasinan to Pagudpud, is captured vividly in its architecture and townscape. It has long been considered the most intact urban ensamble from the colonial period that survived wars, natural calamities, and adverse human intervention. Vigan is idyllic. It is how the Philippines was, and in it are encapsulated all the stories of how a city was built prior to industrialization.

A product of a mostly agriculture-based trade in the 19th and early 20th centuries, Vigan was slowly abandoned in the 1960s and 70s, partly due to widespread violence and Manila's polarizing effect on the country's population. Its importance to the preservation of Filipino cultural identity was recognized in 1975 when Presidential Decree 756 was promulgated, but it wasn't until after its inscription into the World Heritage List of UNESCO in 1999 that the city started to look within it – even beyond the iconic streets and buildings. It mapped out its cultural assets and traditional industries as it saw that the next step after preserving the buildings is to preserve its traditional knowledge and skills – the lifeblood running through its veins.
Today, Vigan not only is an emblematic destination for those who want to see what colonial Philippines was like at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. It has turned heritage into a tool for development and put culture in the center of its programs as a city.

The University of Santo Tomas Collaborates with Vigan

In 2004, “Cultural Mapping” was little-known and unexplored, and the City Government of Vigan embarked on this program to be carried out with the Center for the Conservation of Cultural Property and Environments in the Tropics of the University of Santo Tomas. It was a gamble on a new system that paid off, on the most part due to the commitment that the city itself has given to the exercise. It has since rescued many traditional crafts from decline and created an awareness in local culture among its citizens that is unprecedented in the way Local Governments are managed in the Philippines. Today, Vigan is one of the most visited destinations in the country and its traditional crafts are patronized by an enlightened citizenry who, in turn, become the ambassadors of its cultural heritage.

The stories are on these walls

 It is a common misconception that Vigan houses are all white. It is as if the proverbial frugality of the Ilocano has kept him from being expressive. The Lazo house is one of the few homes in the heritage city that disproves this, as its pastel blue exterior gives way to an explosion of ornament in the different rooms of the house, the most important of which is the living room with its murals representing the two seasons – rainy and dry – and its associated meanings: abundance and lack, love and loss, joy and sadness. These were supposed to have been painted by a Frenchman who courted the owner's daughter but who, in the end, did not succeed in getting her hand in marriage. It a story that willcontinue to be told as long the murals in the Lazo house remain to tell it.

INTRAMUROS: Manila’s Phoenix

Since its founding in 1571, Manila, particularly the walled stronghold of Intramuros, is no stranger to calamities. As one of the most coveted ports in Asia, Manila had been attacked by Chinese pirates and the Dutch, captured by the British, and eventually became an American enclave in the 20th century. Numerous typhoons, fires, and earthquakes had partially or totally destroyed the city in the course of its history of over 400 years, and yet Intramuros persists – even after being totally flattened in World War II, with the exception of San Agustin Church and a sprinkling of American-era structures.

Intramuros eludes oblivion as those who knew it well had written about it and kept its memory alive in the decades after the war. Its latest renaissance was sparked by admiration for the vestiges had been left, and by a nation's yearning to progress without sacrificing identity. In this context, the Intramuros Administration was created in 1979, and it had not only restored damaged sections of the historic walls, but also continuously brought back the streetscape through its reconstruction of period-style structures and regulating those constructed by private entities.

Intramuros having once been the grand stage for the pageantry of Manila's festivities had also recuperated some of its glitter through traditional processions and presentations, and with its important collection of art from the Spanish and American colonial periods, it has sought to bring back its image of being the center of artistic patronage in the Philippines.

Escuela Taller de Filipinas Foundation, Inc.

The Intramuros Administration also recognized that to physically reconstruct the walled city, it needs a pool of individuals who are adept at the old building crafts from the Spanish period. This is why the Escuela Taller – or “school-workshop” - is housed in the Revellin de Recoletos, to train the underprivileged in the traditional building arts, and giving them employment in the restoration of buildings not only in Intramuros, but also in the rest of the archipelago.

Its story began in Spain in the mid-1980s and it has since grown to include schools across Latin America and North Africa. These were established through grants from the Spanish Cooperation for International Cooperation and Development (AECID), whose local partners for the Philippine school-workshops also include the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA), and the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD).

This year marks the establishment of the Escuela Taller de Filipinas Foundation, Inc. which aims to continue the work that was begun when the school opened its doors to the first 75 scholars in 2009. It has just inaugurated its first satellite program in Dauis, Bohol – its contribution to the efforts to restore damaged cultural properties in the wake of the devastating earthquake in Bohol in October of 2013. Its first Chairman of the Board is Jaime C. Laya, PhD, who was also the first Administrator of Intramuros.

Philippine art is as diverse and rich as our heritage. The stories of Betis, Vigan and Intramuros are just anecdotes to a whole novel that the Philippine art history is. But it is with these anecdotes that make the heritage more exciting, more interesting, more alive.

As I was walking along the halls, I could not help but think why do I not know of these things. These things should be taught in school and made more public for everyone to appreciate it. Why is it that despite the conscious efforts of our government and various organizations to promote and showcase Philippine art, there is still a feeling of lack of appreciation of these masterpieces? Is sculpture/carving such an high form of art that the mainstream Filipino would not even care to look at.

Even I felt guilty of this. Is it just because I was so much into mainstream that the I was not aware of such beautiful things. Who is to blame? Me because I was not aware of rich heritage that surround me or the society that I was living in that dictates who or what should be appreciated?

Regardless, the best thing one could do is to share and spread it to others. And the various persons and/or organizations behind Trilogy should be lauded for their intense efforts to promote and showcase what the Filipino heritage is through art.

I took some photos of the exhibit and here are some of my favorite pieces:

I consider myself very fortunate that I was given the chance to appreciate these pieces. Not just because they are beautifully done and handcrafted, but because, there is a story behind these amazing work of art.

The exhibit will run from October 15-28, 2014, at the Art Pavillion, 2F LRI Design Plaza, Nicanor Garcia St. Bel-Air II, Makati City.