Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Padma's Article on the Making of the Mosaic

The Mosaic

By Solana Perez

I looked at the mosaic,
It created a beautiful, colorful lake,
It was made from tiles,
Smashed and put into piles.

I saw flowers and ships,
And all people looked at it, hands on hips.

Their World is at Your Feet

If you’re taking a walk on Session Road, whether hurried or slow, please look where you’re going.

Do watch your step.

Look out, there’s a crocodile! A goose. A horse’s head. An over-sized foot with pedicured nails. Ying and yang. Waves. Spirals. Flowers. Giant lizards. Eyes staring up at you from the ground. New and surprising splashes of color, light, and seeming disarray in a sea of concrete pavement and red brick tiles that have been there ever since I can remember. What’s this? You’re walking on public art!

For two weeks in February 2005, Baguio artists and friends bent their backs and cut their hands, laying their visions like offerings at the feet of the city we all call home. It all began some months ago, with one droplet of a watercolor idea dripped on an empty, absorbent page. Whilst sipping coffee and people-watching at a downtown café, Kawayan de Guia mused, “I want to fill in all the cracks on the sidewalk with mosaics of broken tiles, maybe work with the street kids to do it. Ganda sana… Put in different things, like fishes, elephants…” That’s how it started: with that quietly spoken idea and the loud, affirmative exclamations of a tight circle of Baguio-mad friends. We were to forget the idea and return to it, time and time again. The mosaics seeped into our brains, and later spread like watercolor wash into the heads at city hall too.

Kawayan’s idea grew slowly and crawled towards fruition when, on February 4, 2005, it was suddenly catapulted into action. Artists who knew of the mosaic plans went into panic when they saw workers of the Department of Public Works and Highways filling in some of the sidewalk cracks with cement. The artists approached the workers and asked them to please stop! Some rushed off to city hall to get the mayor’s stamp of approval.

More at the comment


Blogger frank cimatu said...

The following week, a core group of artists and friends replaced the DPWH crew, and laid the first Session Road mosaics. For fourteen days, Kawayan, Kabunyan de Guia, Alan Manalastas, Carlo Garcia, Shant Verdun, Guiller Lagac, Sonny Balanga, Kigao Rossimo, Jun Ritomalta, and Macoy Obra worked under the hot sun and through chilly nights. They smashed tiles, mixed cement, and laid out images, puzzle-like, on the wet concrete. Everyday they were joined and helped by friends, teachers, elementary and high school kids, university students, street children, and even a senator, the mayor, and an octogenarian. Passersby who stopped to watch asked, after a moment’s hesitation, “Pwedeng sumali?” Caught up in the spirit of bayanihan, anonymous people and Session Road’s business establishments offered food, drinks, and more tiles for the artists to work with. New friendships were concretely sealed between people squatting on their haunches or lying prone on the ground, laughing and high-fiving their soiled and cut-up hands over a glistening mass of wet cement and multi-colored tiles.

Now the mosaics are dry and daily blessed by people’s looks of admiration and wonder, by footsteps of all ages and sizes, and sometimes, by chewed betel nut too. People walking on Session Road are now blessed as well, not only with toxic cocktails of carbon monoxide, but also with small moments of tiled surprises and delight.

To look on this labor of love is to gaze upon an old, yet often ignored, and sometimes stormy relationship between artists, community, and public space. There have been unfortunate times in Baguio’s history when artists’ works were labelled “Satanic”, or artists’ appeals for support were deemed weird, untrustworthy, or even selfish. The Session Road mosaics signal a positive change. The mosaics concretely show how Baguio’s artists are willing and capable of re-inventing and re-creating our city’s character, without losing sight of our Cordilleran cultural heritage. With the mosaics, artists have made a lasting contribution to public urban space. This deserves recognition, not only as a special form of artistic production, but also as the creative work of competent teams and individuals who are fully aware of the value of their own work, as professionals should be.

Don’t, let’s not be patronizing about this. Instead, let our political leaders see that artistic work is just about as irrelevant as their favorite words, “beautification” and “re-greening”. As one poet, Charles Simic has said, “Of course poetry [or art] is irrelevant to the ‘real’ world of power and politics, but so is philosophy, painting, music, and any other human activity where something genuine can be found.”

In the United Kingdom, consultancy firms and city councils hire artists in planning and implementing designs for public space because of – in their words – “artists’ ability to think, see, and do things differently”. Artistic contributions to built environments and public space are valued as a practice, called public art. Public art can’t be bought by a collector, or owned by a commissioner. It is created for everyone to interact with in an urban space. This is art that invites contact, collaboration, and cooperation. This is work that deserves due compensation and recognition. The Gloucestershire County Council in England has even developed a policy package on mechanisms for commissioning and producing public art, downloadable on the worldwide web. Happily, the mosaics on the ground here seem to say, “The time is ripe for Baguio to follow suit!”

Will City Hall take the cue?

Let’s leave behind a sad era of cement pine trees, welcome arches, and plastic sunflowers. Let’s sprout wings and fly with the artists. Look, they have laid their world at your feet.
Padmapani L. Perez

8:32 PM  
Anonymous volume-addict said...

It's only now that I've lived out in Seattle for a while that I've realized we have it good out here when it comes to public art. Just a few weeks ago, my agency had to meet up with the Capitol Hill community to discuss the art pieces that were going to be installed at the Capitol Hill Sound Transit Light Rail station. You'll never hear that kind of public discussion in Baguio, sadly enough.

5:21 AM  

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