Wednesday, February 21, 2024

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The art of time travel


During the 1870s, the artist Juan Luna from the Philippines journeyed to Europe and immersed himself in the world of painting. He not only attended exhibitions, where his own pieces were displayed, but also found enjoyment in watching theater and ballet. This environment allowed him to fully embrace his creative expression.

When Randalf Dilla, a painter from the Philippines living in the 21st century, relocated from his hometown Batanes to Metro Manila to pursue art studies, he experienced a similar sensation. He explored numerous museums and drew inspiration from the pieces created by renowned Filipino artists of the past, such as Luna.

In his most recent display at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila (The M), titled “Time Tunnel,” Mr. Dilla honors three influential artworks: Fabian Dela Rosa’s 1932 piece “Kundiman,” Fernando Amorsolo’s 1924 work “Planting Rice,” and Juan Luna’s 1884 painting “En El Palco.”

His debut work was the 2021 production of Theater Show, which drew inspiration from Luna’s painting.

Paulino Que, a passionate collector of art, commissioned three pieces from me. After I finished the tribute to Luna, he requested works featuring Amorsolo and Dela Rosa. During the exhibit launch, I informed reporters that we never anticipated it would turn into an exhibition.

The Theater Show is a grand production that encompasses both size and theme. It transports viewers on a fast-paced trip through history as it showcases Luna in the forefront, holding his painting and standing next to a speeding steel train. The piece is full of movement, with the eye naturally following along. From the birds flying in the opposite direction of the train to the man releasing papers out the window, and the brightly dressed dancers and singers in an energetic frenzy, the painting captures the essence of an epic journey. In the background, an audience observes the spectacle from a spacious indoor theater.

The exhibition, titled “Time Tunnel” by Filipino historian Ambeth Ocampo, draws inspiration from the 1960s TV show of the same name. In the show, scientists travel through time, and Ocampo curated the exhibition.

Mr. Ocampo states in the introduction of a special catalog available for purchase at the Met Museum that Mr. Dilla’s conceptualized narratives portray the past masters, their creations, and the physical locations they resided in as “visions created within his imagination.”

Mr. Dilla has always been fascinated by this subject. After completing college, he took part in an exhibit dedicated to Amorsolo. However, it was only during the pandemic that he had the opportunity to delve deeper into his tribute.

In 2022, the book “Reminiscences” was finished, detailing the author’s examination and interpretation of the symbolism in Amorsolo’s painting, “Planting Rice.” The author believed it was important for contemporary Filipinos to have a personal connection with the artwork.

Mr. Dilla mentioned that there are strong vibes of nostalgia as you witness farmers adapting to the modern setting.

The artwork features a rural setting with farmers in the foreground, portrayed in Planting Rice on the left, blending into a collection of other Amorsolo paintings. This transition is bridged by a carabao pulling a cart, which transforms into a modern steel vehicle.

At The M, visitors can view both original paintings by renowned artists and new pieces by Mr. Dilla in the same exhibition hall. With Reminiscences displayed near its source of inspiration, one can truly take a journey through time.

According to Mr. Dilla, the painting “Old Culture” from 2023, which was inspired by Fabian Dela Rosa’s “Kundiman” from 1932, is a prime example of the significance of research in the creative process.

This piece evokes the custom of admirers singing to their love interests, a popular practice in the past. It depicts a traditional Filipino household where a group of men serenade and reach out to women who seem to be ascending towards the open ceiling, symbolizing the heavens.

Mr. Dilla visited the residence of Dr. Luis Santos, the individual responsible for commissioning and possessing Kundiman, as part of his research.

He stated in colloquial language that the house he portrayed in the painting was dilapidated like the others on the street, which were gradually being torn down. This was his reasoning for depicting the house with an open view of the sky.

Similar to the Manila homes before the war, his intention was to demonstrate the decline of courtship customs such as the harana and the diminishing popularity of kundiman.

One intriguing aspect to mention is that Mr. Dilla’s spouse served as the inspiration for the woman being pursued, while he acted as the model for the men serenading her.

In his introduction, Mr. Ocampo highlights the collision and dissolution of past, present, and future, the surreal and the hyperreal, the physical and the metaphysical in this exhibition.

To discover the essence of the past and its connection to the present, visit “Time Tunnel” at The M in Bonifacio Global City. This display is open until Oct. 28. Prior registration through bit.ly/MVisit is necessary at least one day prior to visiting the museum. – Brontë H. Lacsamana