Movement, impermanence, and memories

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By Nickky F. P. de Guzman, Reporter

ARTISTS and life partners Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan use found objects in their artworks as metaphors for migration and displacement. They are, perhaps, among the most fitting storytellers for this reality of life because, after all, they are migrants who moved to Brisbane, Australia in 2006 together with their five children – Miguel, Diego, Amihan, Leon, and Aniway – in search of a better future.

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VIEWS of Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan’s installation called High Noon which is currently on view Bellas Artes Outpost. — PHOTO BY NICKKY FAUSTINE P. DE GUZMAN

Using found boxes, old clothes, rubber slippers, piled blankets, and whatnots, the Aquilizan family (the couple work together with the help of their children) creates installation artworks that are both extemporaneous and ephemeral.

“Our works are always organic and site specific,” said Mr. Aquilizan, adding that their installations will consistently have “conversations with available spaces” and “interventions with architecture.”

Unlike sculptures or paintings that could last many a lifetime, their works are fleeting. Once the gallery show is done, the installations are removed, so the majority of their works are now only on view thanks to photographs and documentation. But it is not correct to say that their artworks never leave a lasting mark. Their installations are not just a product of their own stories, but they are also results from collaborations, compromise, and communication with the people in the community they have projects with.

“We are just conductors of the symphony,” said Ms. Aquilizan, her arms in the air.

The couple are back in the Philippines, and have worked and orchestrated an artwork with local artisans.

They have just finished their residency at the Bellas Artes Outpost, which has a residential site in Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar in Bagac, Bataan, and there, their exhibition called High Noon was on view from January until June. The installation used found wooden posts from old houses and scrap marble pellets from a nearby church construction. The two worked with the 300 artists in Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar, which specializes in the simulation and restoration of iconic and historical landmarks.

The High Noon installation has references with a Zen garden, which invites people to contemplate on the meaning of migration: how was the material transported to arrive at their current state and location? What are the stories of these items?

From Bataan, High Noon has been transported to the Bellas Artes Outpost gallery in Chino Roces, Makati City, and is on view until Oct. 14.

Bellas Artes Outpost, founded in 2013, is a nonprofit organization that supports the production and exhibition of contemporary arts and offers residencies at Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar. The goal of the Outpost is to create a space for public discussion in Metro Manila.

Before coming back to the Philippines for High Noon, the Aquilizans had been traveling all over: Istanbul, Japan, Indonesia, the Netherlands, South Korea, New Zealand, and Australia, where they had art exhibitions and held artist residencies.

“Narratives are always important as the core of our artworks,” said Mr. Aquilizan.

Whenever they are invited to a new place, they study its architecture, its history and story, and it is there that they will find objects that may be abstract, but always referential. After finding the materials, they work with the people of the community, and together, they install the artwork. In Yogyakarta, Indonesia, for instance, the artists put together wooden handles and sickles to create a bigger sickle to tell the organic story of Yogyakarta as agricultural area. In Japan, they worked with the members of the community to install a life-size panel from scrapped items from abandoned schools and homes. Mr. Aquilizan said schoolchildren in small towns in Japan leave their homes to move to the big cities for further study. The couple found the objects they used from abandoned schools and homes, but they did have a permit they said, smiling.

While people come and go, and the rest of the world is always changing, the artists have always – and will always – find stories of movement and displacement to put in their installations.

“Memories, for me, are more important. They are more permanent than the product,” said Mr. Aquilizan.