Artistic Evolution: On Running Backwards Into The Future

“Running Backwards Into The Future” features early pieces from 10 established Filipino artists, reflecting on the evolution and significant contributions of their work throughout the decades. 

Long before the world began its rapid tumble into globalization, there were Filipino artists who were already shaping the contemporary art scene as we know it today. They developed their practices even in the absence of the digital landscape, international galleries, art fairs, collector influence, and an audience of Western curators. Though they may not have been aware of it at the time, these pieces would later become touchstones of their career, showcasing their storied evolution as influential artists. It’s this idea that lies at the heart of the exhibition Running Backwards Into the Future

The official poster for “Running Backwards Into the Future”
The official poster for “Running Backwards Into the Future”

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The exhibition highlights 10 of the country’s established artists who are still active today. The exhibition features their early works—from the late 1970s to the early 1990s—which have all become critical junctures to their practice. Certain artists exhibit an older work alongside a newer one, showcasing the evolution of their techniques and conceptual directions over the decades. 

Untitled works by Gus Albor
Untitled works by Gus Albor

As the exhibit’s official press statement puts it: “These artists’ practices weave through time, overlapping often with each other, and through a revolving set of exhibition spaces to create a tapestry of the evolving Manila art scene.”

10 Visionaries 

The featured artists of Running Backwards Into the Future include Judy Freya Sibayan, Renato Orora, artist couple Isabel and Alfredo Aquilizan, Nilo Illarde, Bernie Pacquing, Gerry Tan (who represented the Philippines in the 2022 Venice Biennale), Soler Santos, Neal Oshima, Angel Velasco Shaw, and Gus Albor.

The mediums of the works not only vary across artists, but even within their own practices, with some exploring a range of techniques and materials in later years. Though personal in nature, these pieces paint a bigger picture of the challenges or fascinations they had at a specific time and place, serving as telling historical records of, and responses to, a particular milieu.

Past and Present

Shaw’s multimedia exhibit is a striking example of this, detailing her experiences as a first generation Filipino-American who moved to the Philippines in the 1980s, a particularly tumultuous and politically-charged period of the country’s history. Her observations come in the forms of written material, film, and photographs, all of which explore matters of identity and the diaspora both within and outside the Philippines. 

There is also Renato Orora’s captivating “Untitled photograph of an ice cream man and his friend” (1977), depicting its subjects posing purposefully for the shot—an experience that made Orora realize how much his art can influence the actions of others. Beside it are scans of his public art series Library Bookworks (2018), where the artist drew ears in books across various public libraries in Manila, transforming “the gallery into a library, and the library into a gallery.”

Oshima’s use of traditional materials catches the eye through hanging installations and photographs centered on hands. His 2024 untitled work of suspended cotton gloves feature cyanotype prints of objects with autobiographical significance, including tools, negatives, and mementos. Meanwhile, Hands (1990s-2022), a series of photographs featuring various hands that Oshima shot over the course of 30 years hangs across from it, details tactile activities across different groups, from T’Boli [an ethnic group from South Cotabato in Southern Mindanao] weavers to Waldorf School children. 

What It Means To Run Backwards Into The Future 

Running Backwards Into the Future is a contradictory statement, but one that holds a simple truth: it isn’t possible to move forward without looking back. In other words, history is the stepping stone of the future. While the exhibit’s artists embrace new technologies, techniques, and materials in their practices, they’re not representative of their entire body of work. 

“The internet created a communal memory, but in many ways that memory only started with the advent of the internet itself,” explains exhibition curator James Clar. “So we need to know the experience of life pre-internet, and with those whose art practices began before this global shift in order to understand the foundations of the art scene today.”

”Running Backwards Into the Future” can be viewed at the Modeka Art Space until June 8, 2024. The space is located at Warehouse 20A, La Fuerza 1 2241, Don Chino Roces Avenue, Makati.

Photos by Pilar Gonzalez.

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