Tuesday, April 15, 2008

A museum for new design

Philippine Daily Inquirer, 04.14.2008

11 Filipino artists from various design fields participate in the inaugural show of Saint Benilde’s Museum of Contemporary Art and Design

The Budji Layug installation, a homage to bamboo as the breakthrough material for the designer-stylist's renowned furniture creations

A NEW LANDMARK STRUCTURE in Manila is the De la Salle-College of Saint Benilde School of Design and Arts building along P. Ocampo St. (formerly Vito Cruz), Malate.

Inside the 14-story steel-and-glass tower are cavernous, all-white spaces devoid of clutter and flooded by daylight and fresh air--a design aesthetic meant to promote out-of-the-box thinking among the school’s 2,500 students.

On the ground floor of the building is an even more striking feature: a museum.

Perhaps the first of its kind in the country, the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design (MCAD) sits on a huge space inside the school, with 20-ft ceilings, concrete walls and glass windows that allow for maximum use of natural light.

“The huge space gives greater flexibility in the type of shows we want to mount,” says architect Juan Gerardo L.V. Torres, dean of the School of Design and Arts. “You can put a helicopter or even a pond in there.”

Architect Juan Gerardo L.V. Torres, dean of the De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde School of Design and Arts

Inaugural exhibit
Ongoing until September is MCAD’s inaugural exhibit featuring recent works by 11 Filipino artists, all of them with at least three decades of practice in their craft. The show, which seeks to root out “notions of the contemporary,” is curated by Marian Pastor Roces.

The featured artists are Justino Arboleda (agricultural engineer), Juny Binamira (boat designer and builder), Budji Layug (designer/stylist of domestic environments), Clodualdo del Mundo Jr. (scriptwriter and filmmaker), Neal Oshima (photographer), Jim Paredes (songwriter and performer), Tony Perez (playwright, novelist and painter), Judy Freya Sibayan (conceptual artist), Inno Sotto (couturier), Ricardo de Ungria (poet), and Ramon Villegas (jewelry designer and antique dealer).

“We are not a fine arts school, but a design school,” says Torres. “We don’t have painting, sculpture, print-making and the like. What we have are 12 bachelor’s degree programs on the industrial arts--music production, animation, digital filmmaking, photography, fashion design, multimedia arts, etc.

“So the museum, which is embedded in the school, is designed to augment the learning programs of our students. The exhibit aims to show them examples of artists who have developed their craft through the originality of their ideas, and whose works illustrate contemporary touches, and also social impact. It’s a show of ideas, concepts and explorations.”

Agricultural engineer Justino Arboleda's coconet or geotextile, an award-winning anti-soil erosion invention

The most physically imposing of the artists’ installations is easily Layug’s, found at the second level of the museum. As a homage to bamboo, the original material for his breakthrough furniture creations, Layug disassembled a balsa and installed a sprawling canopy of bamboo poles around a concrete column.

Under this canopy are scattered samples of his world-renowned furniture designs. The sofas, tables and chairs now use plastic--but still made to look like bamboo.

Fashion photographer Oshima turns his profession on its head and provides a subtle commentary on politics and mortality with his stark images of the clothes of dead or missing people.

The late Jaime Ongpin’s barong Tagalog is on exhibit, as are snapshots of the missing Jonas Burgos’ wardrobe, as well as the robes of Burmese monks involved in the brutal Burmese crackdown in 1988.

Sotto’s installation of a yellow and black gown with threads spraying out in all directions is a paean to Jackson Pollock, while jewelry designer Villegas displays newly crafted jewelry pieces derived from antique or vintage designs--an illustration of the past informing the present.

Torres with Inno Sotto's black-and-yellow creation--a spidery tribute to Jackson Pollock

Novelist and painter Perez’s corner has paintings of MRT Cubao Station, the milieu of his novels, as well as eerie portraits of 57 characters from his Sitio Catacutan stories lined up in a black-draped tunnel.

De Ungria’s contribution, meanwhile, fully illustrated the versatility of the museum’s physical and technological attributes. His poems, printed on tape, run the length of the floor, are projected on the white walls, and blare out from the speakers, recited by the poet himself.

Active space
“Budji asked for walls painted gray, and the bamboo set up against the columns. We said, go ahead!,” says Torres. “This exhibit is also designed to show what the space can do. It’s all cement, so artists can really do anything here.”

“We don’t want a museum that’s hushed like a cathedral,” he adds. “We want action, collaboration, exploration, a space that prods our students to think out of the box. Of our 150 faculty members, 90 percent are active industry practitioners. So there’s that dynamic straight from their projects to the classrooms. What’s unique about this museum is that it’s a partnership between it and the school of design and art. We intend to keep that dynamic between them.”

Torres says plans for MCAD after the inaugural exhibit closes in September include multimedia shows and exhibits that can be shown online or concurrently in other countries using available technology.

“We want to create shows that respond and help develop our student artists. We want to produce not just draftsmen, or Photoshop experts, but a school of thinkers, like the artists we’re featuring in the exhibit.”

Portraits by playwright and painter Tony Perez depicting dead characters from his stories, lined up inside a black makeshift tunnel

Whether they’re inspired by poetry, music, fashion or the design of boats, what’s important is that the students learn to go beyond the surface and dive deeper, says Torres.

“They have to ask questions, debate, think. Only then can they design original works that respond to contemporary times, that become part of society while also pushing the profession forward.”

The Museum of Contemporary Art and Design is open 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesdays to Saturdays, and is open to events like product launchings and music concerts. Entrance is free. True to the museum’s laissez-faire atmosphere, “visitors can sketch, take photos, do anything inside as long as nothing is destroyed,” says Torres.

[Photos: Jess Yuson/Philippine Daily Inquirer]


erasmusa said...

it's an eye-catching building. good to know that i can step inside. a contemporary art and design museum would be good for manila. :)

Marcus: Bading Down Under said...

I love the bamboo sofa combo! So nice... although not quite safe as you can imagine. :-)

beektur said...

the inno sotto gown is a tribute jackson pollock? it looks more like a clyfford still. at any rate, this museum is a great news. it seems like universities and private businesses can operate better museums than those managed by the government. the 2004 book Museums of Southeast Asia list 12 museums in the philippines (not including this, the other de la salle museum of living history(?)), and the yuchengco museum -- all very recent). i just hope that layug -- who has been very successful in marketing his designs abroad, acknowledges that he appropriated the bamboo furnitures from the folk traders so common in the small towns -- including the many saudan in bicol.

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