ATENEO ART AWARDS
Undulating the Nexts to New
The next phase after five years of the Ateneo Art Awards is awaited as a wave of new developments; a most fitting predilection given the quick turnover of young artists that the award has propelled within and beyond the Manila art scene. It is an inevitable anticipation. The last half of the decade has been dominated by a younger breed of artists whose initiatives received equal success as they did in international auction blocks, a good number of which are in AAA’s A-list of winners and finalists. These are names that spell the groundbreaking influence of young Philippine art in global arenas.
We are equally watchful of a downward turn. The closing of this decade invites speculation whether this economic success would be able to survive the tremors of a recurring economic recession. Yet AAA’s next wave is staunchly optimistic; it suggests an impending surge, a progress that promises to only go upward. Even so, the nature of waves dictates an equally constant movement in the opposite direction. The downsides are still apparent in our fractured governance of the means for education and the distribution of opportunities for cultural growth in communities across the regions. It also remains to be seen whether art can be freed from political machinations, as demonstrated by the results of this year’s Order of National Artists.
There is no question that a vital upsurge of art activity is going on, and a mechanism such as AAA fuels this movement, albeit it is still centered in Metro Manila venues. We await the contractions that could result into bridging more gaps.
It is worthy to note that the AAA has defined for itself a developmental role further than the veneer of prestige it projects. At the wellspring of its inception is its dedication to the memory of the late Fernando Zobel, foremost patron and benefactor of the Ateneo Art Gallery. Echoing the support of Zobel to the up-and-coming modernists of his time, the museum has turned its attention towards innovations in contemporary artmaking, as evidenced by its offering of overseas residencies to its top winners. Beyond its walls, it also reaches a wider array of publics mainly through two convergences: the exhibit of finalists in the accessible, yet logistically challenging settings of shopping malls, and the forums at the Ateneo University. We also see signs that edgy and experimental projects are no longer limited to institutional and alternative spaces; evidently, commercial galleries clearly realise that there are increased incentives to provide more support and facilities for such explorations. AAA becomes instrumental as re-readings and further readings of exhibits for the benefit of both art practitioners and audiences. The next wave should also target the leveling of grounds.
Encountering the contenders for the 2009 Ateneo Art Awards with my fellow jurors was an interesting journey through sites of unfurled translations. Within the bounds of current visual practice is a universe of languages – mottled codings and nuances of media, material, and memory. But more pointedly, it is a conscious exercise of making and unmaking within the specificities of location. The jury embarked on lively debates on levels of difficulty and definitions of impact and ‘newness’, but what intrigued us collectively were works that individually utilised a range of processes on meanings and took on articulation as stance. This was apparent even with works that remained faithful to the conventional techniques of painting and printmaking.
Reflecting on the oft-stated contention that Philippine art is ‘so hard to define,’ this 2009 harvest of finalists is a clue that we continue to contend with identity as a hybrid cultural discourse, and that we are more occupied with the tasks and tools of translation, exactly because we are wary of the traps of definition. These are jotted joints from which we are directed to the next critical provocations.
Karen Ocampo Flores
OIC, Museum and Visual Arts Division
Cultural Center of the Philippines