Childhood Home

I decided after I graduated from university that I’d move to London and travel around Europe again. Before packing my traveller’s backpack, I remember taking a black permanent marker, and I hesitated for a split second before writing directly on the inside of my backpack my home address and phone number. I figured that will never change, right?

Fast forward to now, 11 years later, and my parents have decided to move and sell this home. I’m currently here in my room, sorting through my childhood, and I feel like I’m on an episode of Storage Hoarders, trying to figure out what’s worth keeping, trashing, selling or giving away.

And I have a lot of stuff. I mean, A LOT. I even went through my stuff 10 years ago and got rid of a lot back then but clearly I seem to have added more stuff to my life.

But unlike the first round, going through my things this time wasn’t overwhelming and a chore but it was actually fun and quite therapeutic. I found concert tickets (kept), my collection Goosebumps books (donated), photos of exes (shredded). I also discovered floppy disks (remember those?), and catalogues from dELiA*s (was sad about the bankruptcy but glad there’s been a relaunch!) and American Girl (Kirsten was officially archived *sniff). I looked through my sporadic academic life – books and notes on psychology and neuroscience to art history and languages. I found all my study abroad stuff such as brochures and notebooks. I remember that’s all I wanted to do in college was to study abroad and even planned out my academic life around it. That moment in my life was just as important as my degrees.

I found my personal statements for both college and graduate school. I went from “I was running away from life…” to “I was reborn…” Hah, so melodramatic!

I found some really out of date things – remember checkbooks and balancing them? My first check I wrote out was to The Sweet Factory. My parents never let me buy candy there so that’s probably the reason it was my first purchase. This proceeded by a payment to my college’s bookstore.

Holy shit I have a lot of stuff.

I also found an enormous amount of letters from my BFF. From 5th to 10th grade we wrote to each other pretty much every day. And during the summer when we didn’t see each other, we continued to write, then gave each other a bag full of letters on our first day back to school (I must admit, there were some summers I procrastinated and wrote a bunch within the week or so before school started). I even found the very last one written to me – we decided not to write to each other anymore because of “summer school, work, and just being too old”. We were 17 years old. I felt like I was holding proof of the end of our innocence. But I also found this fun one:

Letter 3

I found more letters from other people in high school – the days before text messaging, AIM (which is long gone as well), Facebook and other various forms of social media. In the letters to my BFF during elementary school we kept talking about the Contaminators – a term we came up with for a group of boys who always made fun of us. And boy, did we come up with the craziest stories about them! When I came across letters from one of these boys in high school I felt as if I betrayed my 10 year old self, hah. I was also amazed how beautiful everyone’s writing was. After sifting through all these letters, I decided to shred them all. When I was finished, I thought, I could’ve written a story based on all these letters, dammit! But this is about letting go (ugh, did I actually quote that Frozen film?) and moving forward.

With all this stuff I looked at the progression and changes of my interests, my crushes, even my eyeglasses and own handwriting. I found the poem I first recited in front of people – To A Butterfly by William Wordsworth. It was my first taste in spoken word even if it was an assignment for my English class. All I remember was that my performance was utterly horrendous. I still shiver thinking about it.

Yes, I’m a hoarder. But I think it’s good to keep things like these so that I can one day look through them, sort them out, and remind myself how much I’ve progressed which is something that I needed right now. In fact, I’m looking forward to another decade or so of clearing shit out – hopefully at that point there won’t be nearly as much stuff!

I thought the one thing I can rely on was my home. And now that it’s no longer going to be my home, I’m feeling a bit imbalanced. It was the one constant in my ever-changing life. But life’s unpredictable, and I’m going to miss this home. I was really sad when my parents decided to move. I was even sad when they changed their home number so imagine how this is a huge deal for me. But I’m learning to accept it and now that I’ve been to the new house, I’m even excited for them. I can’t be selfish, and I need to let them go on their own adventure and enjoy the next phase of their lives.

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Autumn Leaves

On my way to work this week I noticed the gorgeous colours of the leaves in my local square. I must admit I do miss witnessing the leaves change colour in New York. Autumn always reminds me of two things: New York and my grandmother.

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So, my grandmother passed away earlier this year.

The ceremony was epic to Western society standards but the norm to Filipinos. Even before the funeral, her body was on display in a coffin at her house for three weeks. (According to my mother, that’s a short period of time. Others choose to the viewing period for months). Visitors came every evening for a praying and singing session. On the day of the funeral, we were led by a marching band, as we walked behind the hearse from the house to the church. The whole town came by to show their respect. Apparently she was quite popular – for example, she’d go to the local market and wouldn’t come back for hours as she’d speak to every single person there.

And although I was surrounded by my family, it was all so foreign to me. I was born and raised in the US and my parents never taught me Tagalog (or their respective dialects. Did you know there are over 100 different dialects spoken in The Philippines and not one are related to one another?) The few times I did see Lola, cuddles from her was just enough. But as I got older, I must admit, I was envious of my cousins who shared their memories with her and the stories she told them as they were able to converse and understand with her. I didn’t even know she was called Lola Tang – my mother confirmed that “Tang” was her nickname. She was always just Lola to me.**

But something like that made me feel so far removed from them. Language and cultural barriers are quite the roadblock.

But the one thing I will treasure is the song, Autumn Leaves. When I was little, my mother was listening to the song, and she told me that it was Lola’s favourite song. I always wondered if it reminded her of Lolo. My grandfather passed away in his early 40’s. My mother was around 14 at the time. And Lola didn’t marry again. But I did (and still do) imagine them dancing to this song. Or her singing along to the song throughout the day while while cooking or weaving baskets with her children.

Even though I don’t really believe in Heaven, I’d like to think that Lolo and Lola are dancing to Autumn Leaves once again. It’s a lovely reminder every time the leaves change.

 

* Lola means grandma in Tagalog. That’s why I always find it a bit funny whenever I meet someone named Lola (who clearly isn’t a grandmother).

** Great aunts and great uncles are referred to my grandmothers and grandfathers as well. So my other lolas are Lola Inday, Lola Pining, etc. I’ve a huge family back in the Motherland.

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Happy Father’s Day…Two Weeks Later

I’ve never said “I love you” to my dad. And I can’t recall if he’s said it to me. Stating nor showing affection isn’t really our thang in our family. We recently attended my grandmother’s funeral, and as we walked behind the hearse to the church, I saw my parents holding hands. I can’t recall whether or not I’ve seen them do this before. It was adorable.

My dad and I only started awkwardly hugging but only when saying hello and goodbye – I now live on the opposite side of the world from him, and the last time I saw him was two years ago. So although it’s awkward, it’s genuine.

When I was a child I adored my dad – I always tried to make him proud. But probably not so much when I smeared peanut butter all over his guitar or when I scribbled all over his textbooks when he was studying for his 2nd Bachelor’s degree. I wanted him to wake me up every day at sunrise so that I can say goodbye to him as he drove to work.

Then the terrible teens hit and we were at war. And they were epic battles.

Funny thing is, my mother always said that we were so much alike. At the time, I loathed that statement, but recalling those times, it’s completely true. Unlike my mom (and brother), who would walk away from confrontation, my dad and I were there at the front lines, ready to attack and defend ourselves. And our temperamental mood swings, oh dear. Stay clear from us when the wrath awakens from its slumber.

And when I rebelled against my parents and ran away from home, I learned he did the exact same thing. Our lives were in parallel, and it must’ve been difficult for my dad to see life repeat itself. We clashed and repelled like negative ions but eventually it was an eye-opener for us.

My dad was 26 when he had me, and now that I’m in my 30s, I’ve grown to appreciate his hard work and the struggles he went through (as well as my mom’s). I found a picture of him with his friends and family on the day he immigrated to the US. Was he anticipating his first job washing dishes even though he had a college degree? Or joining the US Air Force? Or experiencing snowy winter for the first time? Or having an obnoxious daughter? Life indeed throws curves balls but I think after nearly 30 years as an engineer, 34 years of marriage, and raising two awesome children, it’s been a successful life so far.

And our lives are in parallel once again now that I myself immigrated to the UK, still trying to carve my way into this hard world.

I understand now that everything my parents did for my brother and me came from a good place. I may not agree with some of the decisions made but I respect them. Most recently, my parents and I were in the Philippines, and on our last stop in Manila, I wanted to explore the city as I was getting bored of taking taxis to shopping malls. However, my dad refused to let me wander on my own. (As my mom reiterated numerous times, people will drug and kidnap you. Eye roll.) Believing it was irrational paranoia, I felt my rebellious 16 year old self trying its damnedest to burst its way out into the open, but I suppressed it, remained calm then chuckled to myself. (But not without revealing that as a proud world traveller, I’ve been to pretty dangerous places around the world, much to my terrified mother’s surprise. So nyah!) Even though my dad’s mood was on high alert status, as a compromise, he came along with me. And as he was showing me around the city, I thought, “we’ve come a long way”. I don’t need him to say those three words – his actions prove it.

Happy Father’s Day, Daddy.

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Fakes and Forgeries

UPDATE – Although my approach was pretty good, my pick was wrong! It’s Young Woman by Jean-Honoré Fragonard.

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When going through work’s general info email, I was often surprised to receive emails from various places offering to replicate any famous painting at a reasonable price. Curious, I’d clicked on the link and their websites (which happen to originate from China) were blatantly screaming “buy a forgery!”

A few weeks ago I went to a lecture about fakes and forgeries at The Wallace Collection.

Fakes and ForgeriesI love that the lecture room was adorned by antique frames

After defining “fake” and “forgery” (which happen to be quite vague in both formal and unofficial terms), the lecturer discussed historic cases such as the Piltdown Man (which I didn’t know about) and Elmyr de Hory who forged famous paintings by Picasso, Modigliani, Renoir, and Matisse. There’s even an Orsen Welles film F for Fake that features de Hory, and after he committed suicide, his works were sought after and even became valuable.

Then the lecturer posed a very good question – if a work is made after the artist dies, is it still a work by him? For example, years after Auguste Rodin‘s death, French law limits the number of times a Rodin sculpture can be made from the original mould casts. I also immediately thought of Sol Lewitt. I went to see an exhibition somewhere in New York a few years ago, and I noticed a work by Lewitt that wasn’t part of the exhibition. The work was painted directly on the wall and next to it were vague instructions by Lewitt on how to paint the work. And if someone to acquire or have the work loaned, the work would simply be painted over, and painted again at the next location with the directions placed next to it. But not just anyone can paint it – it would have to be someone from the Lewitt’s studio. I was absolutely blown away by this concept – it focuses on not only the work itself but the process of the work. And I love that this painting is forever permutable.

I thought the lecture was quite relevant especially since lately there’s been a number of articles on the authenticity of works ranging from misattributing a Caravaggio painting and denying the authentication of a da Vinci work to more intentional forgeries such as a few of Spanish forgery rings busted recently including an Old Masters forgery and others in Zaragoza and Tarragona and Valencia.

Which brings me to an exhibition currently on view at the Dulwich Picture Gallery called Made in China: A Doug Fishbone Project. I ventured into South London and visited the gallery for the first time. A work from their permanent collection was chosen to be duplicated (perhaps they too received the same emails as me?) then it was swapped with the original and is now currently hanging on one of their walls amongst the rest of their works. The visitors’ task – figuring out which work is the fake and making it official by submitting it at one of their iPad stations.

Dulwich Picture Gallery 4Dulwich Picture Gallery 5Dulwich Picture Gallery 2Photo 03-03-2015 13 08 05
I initially came to see the exhibition just as an observer, but the longer I was the there, the more curious I was. I started looking more closely at the works and decided how I’d deduce to the culprit:

1. I assume that the forgery wouldn’t be placed near the top of the ceiling as I didn’t think it would be fair to us viewers not being able to look up close at them.

2. I didn’t think the forgery was one of the large paintings. Why? Costs, I think?

3. But at the same time, I didn’t think the forgery was one the of the small paintings. Why? Simply because a medium size painting seemed juuuuust right.

4. From my limited knowledge of conservation, I know that through time oil paintings develop cracks on the surface. Based on this, I looked at paintings to see if any had rather smooth surfaces with virtually no cracks.

That said, I thought that Tilly Kettle‘s Eliza and Mary Davidson (1784) was the forged painting:

Tilly Kettle Eliza and Mary Davidson 1784

I initially thought that the forgery would be amongst the paintings in one of the three rooms of the main hall but I kept going back to this painting which is located in the corner of one side of the gallery, and in fact next to the entrance of another exhibition, From the Forest to the Sea: Emily Carr in British Columbia. I even made it official by submitting this as my pick. Big deal, I know.

In any case, I’ll find out on 28 April. Fingers crossed!

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David Shrigley at Sketch Restaurant

David Shrigley Kunsthaus Zurich 2003
David Shrigley. I first heard of him when I visited Kunsthaus Zürich in 2003. Unfortunately I can’t remember much of his works on view and no photos I’m afraid (again this was before my rebelliousness in museums). I do remember not just standing in front of his works but having to get down on my knees and looking up close at his humorous drawings and sculptures. After spending a couple months in Italy amazed by the traditional sculptures and paintings, Shrigley’s exhibition was a refreshing experience. I’ve been a fan since. (And this was before I moved to London. I guess I was destined to live amongst the Brits and embrace their culture and especially understand their humour.) I thought he’d win the Turner Prize in 2013 for his solo exhibition at the Hayward Gallery (I still play with his Light Switch app on my iPhone), and I’m looking forward to seeing his Really Good sculpture to be installed as Trafalgar Square’s Fourth Plinth in 2016.

Most recently, I dined at Sketch, a French restaurant in Mayfair. But not knowing much about their food, I immediately booked a table once I found out David Shrigley was commissioned to design one of the main dining rooms as well as the dinnerware. (Actually, I found out about their £50 discount. Have you seen their prices? It ain’t cheap!). It was the 2nd design by an artist as Martin Creed was the first to do so. The restaurant also has a curated exhibition programme, and in fact the entire restaurant is covered with art.

The Glade at Sketch
After a drink in The Glade (No, I didn’t get someone’s number. That’s part of the napkin’s design), we entered the Gallery for dinner and one word screams to mind, PINK. And the walls are of course adorned with original works available by Shrigley:

The Gallery at Sketch

Even staff had uniforms – loose pink dresses for the hostesses, brown suits for some of the gentlemen (managers? connoisseurs?), and grey jumpsuits for the waiting staff. I thought the entire room and ambience had a contemporary art deco feel to it.

And I didn’t know if I was more excited about the food or seeing Shrigley’s humour featured on the dinnerware. At times I was at odds with myself – should I savour my meal as long as I can, rush through it to get to the joke (if there was one), or move the food around to reveal it (but that would be cheating!)

David Shrigley An Empty Dish It's OK

Needless to say it was a strange experience, and I enjoyed myself. Now I need to one up with a Dizzy Dali dinner (I totally want to throw surreal party!):

I just wish I could acquire one of Shrigley’s original drawings on display in the Gallery. That’s OK, my Cruet Set will do for now:

David Shrigley Cruet Set

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These Eyes are Windows at 87 Hackford Road

Yes, these eyes are windows, and this body of mine is the house – Herman Melville, Moby Dick.

The first time I saw a Vincent van Gogh painting was Irises when I visited The Getty Center in 2004.  I thought it was so serene, almost calm in contrast to his other works, for example, Sunflowers. I was in awe over his ability to capture the movement of the irises with his expertise in twisting his lines (another great example, The Starry Night). Apparently he painted Irises within the first week at an asylum in Saint-Rémy, France.

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I saw van Gogh’s works again the following year in 2005 when I travelled to Amsterdam and visited the Van Gogh Museum. (And I’m freaking out right now because I was looking for my photos from that trip, and they are apparently missing). I remember lots of flowers (obviously). Inside the building itself was a colourful and bright atmosphere. I think the walls in particular were bright yellow. (Call off the search and rescue team! The photos have been found! I repeat, the photos have been found! But to my disappointment, I didn’t take any photos inside the museum. I guess I wanted to obey the rules at that particular time.) I like this shot though:

DSC01850 van Gogh museum

Which brings us to last year. Last summer, I ventured south of the Thames, and enclosed in a little neighborhood in South London, I visited 87 Hackford Road. One of many houses and flats along the road but what distinguishes this house amongst the rest is a blue plaque indicating a house that reads, “Vincent van Gogh, Painter, lived here 1873-1874”.

Reversing roles, a group of us five waited outside the front door until we heard the doorbell ring.

This house was the setting for the exhibition, Yes These Eyes are Windows, by Dutch artist Saskia Olde Wolbers in conjunction with Artangel. Opened to the public for the first time, the audience was given the opportunity to experience the “history” of the house. It was unknown that van Gogh lived in the house until a postman from the 1970s discovered this fact. Occupied by various tenants until 2012, this blue plaque has protected the house and its surrounding area from demolition.

Once inside, we walked around this empty house. The artist intertwined fictional narratives based on oral histories, press archives and literary works. And in contrast to the bright atmosphere of the museum, the house was left alone – barren, stripped of flooring, wallpaper. Only a few bits survived, such as a ceramic vase, part of a linoleum brick wallpaper, and a modern bathroom door with a red handle.

As a viewer, we were guided by these voices (and lights) starting in the front room and leading us up the two levels and finally inside van Gogh’s room. Wolbers gave the house a life and a story to tell even if it’s a fictional account based on facts.

Since 2012 it has been unoccupied, but this isn’t the end of the story. The property has now been bought by a Chinese violinist and will use the space as a music school.

I felt Saskia Olde Wolbers’ exhibition was an opportunity to experience something beyond van Gogh’s works. Yes, it’s absolutely amazing to see his works in person, but this exhibition, it felt more personal. It was like a behind-the-scenes experience. I stepped back in time to experience his daily life, and as his story was one of many (factual and fictional) stories of this house, it almost made him approachable and relatable. Dare I say ordinary? He was one of many tenants at this house. And for a time, he was a Londoner, just like me.

van Gogh flat 1Feb2015

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J.M.W. Turner & Olafur Eliasson at Tate Britain

Sea waves are green and wet,

But up from where they die,

Rise others vaster yet,

And those are brown and dry

– Robert Frost

 
I went to Tate Britain’s The EY Exhibition: Late Turner – Painting Set Free, an exhibition featuring J.M.W. Turner’s works made after he turned sixty. I didn’t really learn about Turner when studying art history so this exhibition was quite novel to me. For those also not familiar with Turner, he was an innovator in art. I know this word gets thrown around quite often, but he truly was always trying new ways of approaching his works whether it was in his technique, materials, or subject matter. He was known as the “Painter of Light”, and his abstract technique is often seen as a precursor to Impressionism. Yet during his time, he was considered a controversial figure.

As Turner was an avid traveller, I thought I’d prefer his paintings and sketches done while he was travelling, however I was actually drawn to a specific painting featured in a room titled “Squaring the Circle: New Formats from 1840”. Even in his later years he continued to change it up, and in these paintings in particular, he used a relatively small square support. Then I realised the painting I kept staring at for ages (the one on the right in the below photo) is actually part of a pair:

JMW Turner Jan 2015_4Left: Shade and Darkness – the Evening of the Deluge
Exhibited in 1843
Oil on canvas
Right: Light and Colour (Goethe’s Theory)
– the Morning after the Deluge –
Moses Writing the Book of Genesis
Exhibited in 1843
Oil on canvas

Turner was influenced by Goethe’s Theory of Colours (quite obviously when it’s part of the title of the painting). These weren’t just a pair of landscape paintings – the technique used for this great biblical flood and its aftermath was a response to Goethe’s Theory – that colour comes from the interaction of light and shade (as oppose to a product of light alone which Isaac Newton believed). Also, “Moses” was not just the biblical character but also a reference to Moses Harris, another dude who studied colours. You know that ubiquitous colour wheel that shows what colours can come from red, yellow, and blue? That was all Moses’:

While I was sitting in one of the rooms browsing through the exhibition pamphlet (and waiting for the right moment to take a photo of the pair of paintings – I still get nervous about taking photos when they’re not allowed!), I learned about Olafur Eliasson’s new series of paintings made in response to this exhibition. Part of an ongoing series which began in 2009 called Colour experiment paintings, he analysed seven of Turner’s works for his series of seven paintings, dematerialising the content altogether, and leaving a spectrum of hues. Shaped as a circle in order to decentralise the colours, I thought they were reminiscent of, you guessed it, Moses’ colour wheel.

There were postcards of Eliasson’s paintings available in the gift shop, and I stood in front of them for ages, carefully comparing them to the pair of Turner’s paintings that I liked. I thought these two were relatively close to the paintings (more so the one on right; Eliasson didn’t specifically identify which of his paintings corresponded to that of Turner’s):

JMW Turner Jan 2015_5Left: Colour experiment no. 61
Oil on canvas
Right: Colour experiment no. 58
Oil on canvas

The Colour Theory was a strong attribute to this exhibition, and I like that it brought together Turner, the “Painter of Light”, to present day Eliasson, who is known for his sculptures and large-scale art installations featuring materials such as light. Whereas Turner incorporates the use of light and shadow in his landscape paintings, Eliasson takes it a step further and removes the content altogether, focusing purely on the hues. But his works are also reminiscent of Moses’ colour wheel which make the connections not just linear but also cyclical.

The EY Exhibition: Late Turner – Painting Set Free as well as Olafur Eliasson: Turner Colour Experiments are both on view until 25 January 2015.

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