Nestled in a corner inside one of the galleries of Gravity Art Space in Quezon City is a seemingly typical bedroom setup. There we encounter an unassuming mattress and pillow lying on the floor, a warmly lit lamp, and a couple of posters pasted on the wall’s sides. But something—immediately, whimsically—sticks out: there is a bedsheet sprawled over the mattress, and printed on it, quite tackily, is an assortment of memes. All kinds of cute and cuddlesome animals fill the frame of the bedsheet, each photograph contrastingly framed by captions that read like slogans against the grinding gears of the capitalist market: “People Over Property,” “Overwork No More,” and “Ayaw ko na ng kompetisyon” (I don’t want competition anymore).
The interactive installation, titled ‘for rest’, which comes with the invitation to lie down and take a breather, is a project by the self-publishing collective Makò Micro-Press whose stated goal, according to their website, is “to create and sustain counter-hegemonic cultures through zines and other DIY (Do-It-Yourself) artworks.” Situated within the sacred space of a bedroom, ‘for rest’ juxtaposes the current sorry state of capitalism alongside the necessity for care and respite. Our need for rest, the interactive installation argues, is trussed up with the active desire to overturn the violent and violating structures that consistently impede upon our humanity. ‘for rest’ creates a space for these conflicting ideas to interface and, in turn, plunges us deeper into the discrepancies of human nature.
Makò Micro-Press’s ‘for rest’ was featured in Gravity Art Space’s recently concluded exhibition In the Realm of Nature. Curated by Gian Carlo Delgado, the show grappled with the idea of nature, exploring the contours and complexities that root our notions about that galvanizing yet concealed force. Nature, as conceived by Delgado and the six artists on display, takes on an expansive resonance. The show looked at a kaleidoscopic range of concepts such as the nature of rest and care, contemplations on time, ruminations on the body, and the synergies and clashes in human-nature interactions. For Delgado, the show became a way to rethink the forces that shape our position as humans situated in both earthly and cosmic spheres of being, “of the self within the world and the world within our self,” as he wrote in the show notes.
The proliferation of themes across the show testifies to Delgado’s unfenced curatorial approach. Delgado’s first venture at a curatorial project, In the Realm of Nature began with him looking into his artist friends’ evolving practices and techniques and seeing where their explorations intersected. It was explorations of nature, Delgado told me, that linked the artists together. Refining the concept further by exploring nature and human’s dialectical relationship, Delgado nuanced the various ways nature refracted in the artists’ works and practices. “In a way, the artists and their works inspired the exhibition concept,” Delgado remarked. “Instead of me presenting a final concept to them, the concept bloomed from the whole curatorial process.”
Across the transient scope of In the Realm of Nature, we find this tentativeness, a curiosity to linger with nature and its complex varieties rather than merely designate or pin down its meaning. As such, the works in the show imbue their capaciousness with material and existential reflections. The thrust of nature can be gleaned, for instance, in Mikael Rabara Gallego’s photographic horizons, which are monochromatic and deeply meditative, gesturing at an interiority glinting with an attunement with the sea and its shores. In Gallego’s photographs, which are accompanied by his poetry, the horizon converses with the self and provides a shelter for enigma and ambiguity in the midst of life’s turbulence and uncertainty.
Pivoting from Gallego’s tonally consistent paintings to more explorative attempts at color, Kat Grow’s contributions draw on the traditional Turkish paper marbling technique known as Ebru. The technique, which applies naturally extracted pigments onto a pan of oily water to create an aqueous, swirling effect, lends an evocative depth to Grow’s abstractions. Maya Leon’s paintings, meanwhile, collage different forms of nature, calling to mind its encompassing beauty. Blooming hibiscus populates Leon’s canvases, as well as rock formations and wide skies; where one begins and the other ends is a mystery. The bespoke layers at play in Grow’s and Leon’s paintings testify to their desire to dwell in multiplicity, forging aesthetics that immerse the self headfirst into nature’s entanglements.
For Delgado, whose day job involves museum work at the UP Vargas Museum, collaborating with the artists in the show has been mostly free-flowing as he has known most of them since college. “In a way, having that familiarity helped the process to be fluid and natural since some of the conversations with some artists about their works happen on casual discussions or being able to see their own projects as we connect online.”
A sense of openness demands a measure of conviction, and this negotiation bleeds into Delgado’s perspective on curation as he collaborated with a breadth of artistic practices that give concrete shape to concept. As someone with a background in museum work, in its administrative and collaborative capacities, Delgado finds curation to be a thrilling process—one that demands trust from both himself and the artists. “Finalizing a concept without seeing the works can be risky since there is a tendency that the works might not be identified with the exhibit concept,” said Delgado. “But I see it as a valuable risk—of being able to have reliance with the curatorial process that still happens until the remaining days of installation and just allow the concept to naturally unfold itself or even unravel something new.”
Risk, it seems, is innate to any curatorial endeavor that seeks to bridge concept, theme, and theory into the material and physical properties of an art piece. In Delgado’s case, he was trained—both directly and indirectly—by his experience working at the UP Vargas Museum. “Working in a museum is an opportunity to learn every day,” said Delgado. “Since the UP Vargas Museum offers spaces for contemporary exhibitions and also has a vast collection of materials, I get to experience working with local and international artists, curators, and other art practitioners while also acquiring knowledge and being familiar with archival materials as sources and as objects of further study.”
More than just proximity to the local and international art scene, Delgado also learns from the curators at the Vargas Museum, namely Dr. Patrick Flores and Tessa Maria Guazon. Reflecting on his mentorship by these stalwart figures, Delgado returns to the importance of knowing one’s exhibition design while also finding ways to have the works “converse with each other within the exhibition.” Delgado tells me that intent, a purposeful understanding of one’s exhibition, is just as crucial as risk. His insight is two-fold: “What I generally remember through my museum work experience is to always think about the purpose of creating the exhibition—why should the exhibition be the mode of presenting your curatorial project? The other one is to always consider the conditions of how viewers can look at or appreciate the works. It is also important to know the space of your exhibition.” Reminding himself not only of the conceptual impetus of the show but also of the possibilities of reception and response, Delgado sees the labor of curation as managing both inward and outward-facing fields.
Seeing all this thought and labor play out in Delgado’s show with such care is its own kind of reward. Exploring In the Realm of Nature, one sees curation as a kind of commitment—towards nature, life, and the art ecology. It is, just like Delgado, in a state of unfolding. “From the manner of negotiations and communication with artists and curators, to how I also write or consider art through writing are substantially informed by museum work and pursuing an MA degree,” said Delgado. “But I’m still constantly pondering upon my own way of curating and writing.”
In the Realm of Nature, curated by Gian Carlo Delgado, ranfrom June 30 to July 29 at Gravity Art Space in Quezon City.
Sean Carballo is an art writer. He recently graduated with a degree in English literature from Ateneo de Manila University. His writing has been published in ArtAsiaPacific, Art+ Magazine, Plural Art Mag, and Cha: An Asian Literary Journal.
Images courtesy of Gian Carlo Delgado.