To end last weekend, The Hub, The One with the Toilet Humor, The Manipulator, and I spent a couple of hours at an art fair, aptly dubbedArt Fair Philippines 2014. It was The Hub’s and my attempt to get the kids to grow up with an appreciation of culture running through their veins.
It was ingenious how the organizers did it–they converted the top two floors of a parking lot in Makati’s business district into an air-conditioned gallery. Twenty-eight art galleries–many from the Philippines but also some from other parts of Southeast Asia–participated in this four-day fair, bringing in loads of contemporary art pieces created by Filipino artists.
In the elevator going up, I had a little talk with the kids: “We don’t touch any of the art. Anything that’s not the floor or a moving person, we don’t touch, okay?”
My rule fell on deaf ears, however. The first thing The Manipulator did when we got to the entrance was to poke one of the canvas bags that was part of a wall installation. In the process of doing this, he and The One with the Toilet Humor discovered that there were rocks inside the bags. I caught The One with the Toilet Humor, who has a fascination with rocks, sneaking out one of the rocks to add to her collection. (But otherwise, they’re really good kids. Except they have the attention span of a fingernail.)
The second thing that caught their attention was a group of brightly-painted ping-pong tables by artist Louie Cordero. Some people were playing table tennis on the tables, which were cordoned off, for some reason. When The One with the Toilet Humor and The Manipulator realized they were too short to play ping-pong, they moved on to the next exhibit.
Looking at the art in some of the spaces, I zoomed back to my first job. It was at an art gallery. I remember walking through the gallery during slow afternoons, looking at the pieces, wondering desperately if I was stupid or if the paintings really did nothing for anyone. I would stare at a modern sculpture for 20 minutes, trying to figure out what it meant. More often than not, I’d walk away without a clue.
I found myself doing the same thing at the art fair. There was this striking piece–it was a black wooden armchair with the seat and the back taken out. In their place were plastic utensils in bright red, stuck together. What did it all mean? I had no idea.
This pink bird was part of a menagerie that included a stuffed human with a horse’s head, and what looked like Death in a green robe with visible orange mending. This space was one of the most colorful, which made it one of the kids’ favorite spots. But I had to ask again, what did it all mean? Why were they created?
I found my favorite spot in a quiet corner. It featured intricate sculptures of scenes from Alice in Wonderland, by sculptor Daniel dela Cruz. The pieces were so meticulously crafted that you could almost hear the white rabbit say, “I’m late, I’m late, I’m late for a very important date!”
A few steps away were the fluid glass sculptures of famed glass sculptor Ramon Orlina. In emerald green and aqua blue, Orlina’s pieces didn’t grab you. Instead, they caressed your hands and held them so that you could feel waves of cold saltwater dancing around your fingers.
Another turn, and there was a neat pile of books, spines facing the wall, holding up one end of a shelf. On it were framed pages–the last pages of about 50 classic books. It didn’t matter what they said, as long as they ended with the same two words: The End. This installation was so weird but, somehow, also strangely comforting to me.
The piece de resistance for The Manipulator and The One with the Toilet Humor was, unfortunately, an installation that included real orange macarons. (“Come back at closing time and they’ll give away the macarons,” someone whispered to me.) The kids didn’t think this octopus-like thing was included in my Golden Rule of Not Touching because it was made partly of food.
I was standing a few feet away, distracted by some other art piece, when I spied The Manipulator and The One with the Toilet Humor slowly trying to squeeze two macarons away from the rest of the octopus tentacles. At that moment, I felt like I was in a dream, moving in slow-mo, arms extended, face contorted, screaming, “Noooooooooo,” but knowing that I would be too late.
But I did manage to stop them from shaming our family eternally in the eyes of the art community.
And just like that, it was time to go.
I asked the kids, “How did the art make you feel?”
“It made me feel bored,” The One with the Toilet Humor said.
“It made me feel hungry and sleepy,” The Manipulator said.
I realized I was doing it wrong back then at my art gallery. Art doesn’t have to mean something absolute to everyone. All it has to do is make you feel something–even boredom and hunger. And it would have earned that spot on the wall, that space on the pedestal.