A new quest to democratize art

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Art of Doing's "Hubad na Katotohan" showcased around 200 nude sketches by five artists, which seek to challenge traditional art conventions. Each piece is for sale at ₱2,500 regardless of attribution or size. Photo by Paolo Crodua

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — For want of a better term, there is a new art movement in town. Not quite an –ism, though, it’s called Art of Doing (AOD).

Last month AOD set up a nude portrait sketching marathon, which lasted 10 hours. Five artists made some 200 drawings of 15 amateur models. Headless Polaroid documentation of the session revealed a motley crew, among them a woman breastfeeding her son, a curly-haired man playing the bongos, and a gay couple seemingly having sex.

All the drawings were mounted last Aug. 12 at Warehouse Eight, in a one-night exhibition called “Hubad Na Katotohanan (The Naked Truth).” According to the organizers, none of the drawings were signed nor labeled so that sales won’t be driven by name-favorites. Each was for sale at a cost of ₱2,500 regardless of attribution or size. For the burgeoning patron who is unabashed about art shopping not for love at first sight, however, let it be known: the vibrant smudged pastels are Alfred Marasigan’s, the zoom details in charcoal are Jem Magbanua’s, the black and red Sharpie figures are Anjo Bolarda’s, the wispy Matisse-like scribbles are Claudine Delfin’s, and the yellow figures of marbled flesh are Jacob Lindo’s. 

Art-of-Doing-CNNph.jpg Polaroid documentation of the nude sketching session revealed the kinds of subjects the artists had drawn, among them a woman breastfeeding her son, a curly-haired man playing the bongos, and a gay couple seemingly having sex. Photo by PAOLO CRODUA

Photo-6.jpg All the drawings displayed were neither signed nor labeled so that sales would not to be drive by name-favorites. Photo by PAOLO CRODUA

The idea for the event was Kayla Dionisio and Czyka Tumaliuan’s, the AOD’s founders, though they prefer to be called just two of its “co-conspirators.” Dionisio is co-owner of the co-working and event space Warehouse Eight and Tumaliuan is an art journalist, the marketing head of the new media art collective WSK, and has had experience working with artists (such as Rock Drilon) and exhibitions. Both also profess to have dabbled in art-making in the past. They see themselves as relative art-outsiders starting an ambitious movement. Art movement is this writer’s decidedly ambiguous tag for a venture so young and raw that its pioneers won’t go as far or on record to actually call it that, a catchall for other such insufficiently descriptive things it will inevitably be called (and calls itself): project, initiative, platform, collective, experiment, all of the above, none of the above quite exactly.  

AOD obviously chooses to skirt definition; it’s at the crux of its raison d’etre. According to the show notes, “Art of Doing is the practice of following your gut despite fear, to thrive in moments of pure passion.” It’s a moving cause, one that might make the cynic cringe, but nonetheless draws a crowd. They reported post-event that 300 people came. In hindsight, Warehouse Eight was impressively packed for a startup. Surprisingly, the 300 seem strangers, too; there were no odd cliquey clumps or the awkward Red Sea divide. It was a youngish crowd; absent are the grand dames of museum shows, or their more agile Gen X counterparts and their Lucite jewelry. In that regard, AOD was successful in getting the word out that it’s some kind of a democratic stronghold, a hole for a night for well-behaved art hoppers on the party side of Chino Roces. The nudes were meant to be metaphors for honesty and vulnerability. Surely, the pay-what-you-want beers were metaphors, too?

ArtofDoing-CNNph Participating artists for the Art of Doing’s one-night exhibition are Alfred Marasigan, Anjo Bolarda, Claudine Delfin, Jacob Lindo, and Jem Magbanua. Photo by PAOLO CRODUA  

ArtofDoing.jpg The art event was not graced by the grand dames of museum shows, but rather, a young crowd eager to be part of a 'movement.' Photo by PAOLO CRODUA

The night of the twelfth was also particularly significant for AOD because it was when it introduced its manifesto. It reads thus:

“Art isn’t about what you see in a museum or a gallery. It’s not a painting to be sold or bought. Art is the quest for authenticity. It’s a process of self-discovery, a genuine moment of pursuit — rough and raw. It’s not sleight of hand, a gift, or a privilege. It’s your shaking hands fleshing out the universe. It’s following an endless ocean of rabbit holes, blindfolded. It’s your half-truths completing mine in a wonderful labyrinth of chaos.  Art doesn’t have to be beautiful or cool. Art is your __________.”

For now let us not debate its content. After all, it is not so much a proclamation of ideology about the making and consuming of art, as it is some kind of confessional poetry masquerading as a string of truisms. For what is meant to declare intent, it favors to be steadfastly egalitarian, with a fill-in-the-blank option. Understandably, there is always something attractive about a proposition where anything goes. However riskily heedless, it’s not difficult to imagine how such situations can be reassuring, even enjoyable, for anyone, artist or not, who does not aim to synthesize a given situation on the outset.

Take into account the “uncensored art dialogues” on the program. The organizers invited the crowd to huddle and talk freely about art. “Let’s keep it casual, we don’t have to use the mic,” an organizer said at one point. At this juncture in the night, the crowd has dissipated. Only an enthusiastic core group of about 20 decided to participate, while some newcomers continued to admire the nudes.

Artofdoing-cnnph.jpg "Huban na Katotohanan" represents the birth of a Utopian world filled with a non-elitist, art-driven community. Photo by PAOLO CRODUA

ArtOfDoingCNNPH.jpg Art of Doing's manifesto summarizes the organization's vision to make art as a quest for self-discovery and authenticity, one that is devoid of privilege. Photo by PAOLO CRODUA

The ensuing discussion ranged from longstanding grievances and frustrations.—about lack of funding and support for artists, the quality of art education, to perennial art world conundrums, the invisible hand of art valuing, the seemingly Manichean drama of creativity and commerce. If there were brilliant ideas put forth by the small group, alas, they remain but seeds in the air. That they take root is now the AOD’s challenge. Or is it? Is the uncensored dialogue, and more casual huddles to come, meant to be prescriptive? Or is it enough that it is cathartic? Perhaps they should’ve left the mic on?

While “Hubad na Katotohanan” beckons the birth of an ambitious project, one that’s part of a Utopian vision for a non-elitist, art-driven community, much of what AOD stands for is undeniably still in gestation. If it is to be judged as an art movement with the sneak peek that it has so far allowed, its most salient style — ironically, a style that has nothing to do with its visual arts output — was one that was displayed by its charismatic band of poets. A bulk of the night was devoted to spoken word performances, by guest artists including Mark Dimaisip and Karl Santos.

It’s unclear whether AOD hopes to flourish with the unlikely amalgam of visual artists and spoken word artists at its core, or if the latter were just choice entertainers for the night. Notwithstanding, it gives the gallery-goer reliable data on what the poet deems adequate fuel for art: the personification of sperm, Marcos, Ninoy, booze, Cubao, heartbreak.

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For updates on Art of Doing, visit their Facebook page. Art and prints can be purchased through e-mail inquiries.

Update: An earlier version of this article failed to mention the Art of Doing co-founder Czyka Tumaliuan’s additional background in working in the arts. CNN Philippines Life has revised the article to correct this error.