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Fly me to the moon – or the next ArtFair

By LISA GUERRERO NAKPIL, The Philippine STAR Published May 03, 2021 5:00 am

As if things weren’t difficult enough recovering from a bad case of “vaccine envy,” there are several new questions that crowd each other in one’s head apart from “Why hasn’t my name been called up for an appointment yet?”

There’s the burning matter of “Can I take the Moderna after having the full couple of doses of SinoVac?” – or even “Is it safe to ‘mix and match’ vaccines in case they run out of second doses?” — followed by “Should I hold out for the Sputnik or the one-dose J&J?” – and finally, most heartfelt and not only by OFWs, “Will my vaccine be accepted for foreign travel?”

Here’s the answer to every single one of those questions: live happy and worry-free by setting your sights on the moon. A new company is beginning to make this more possible than the prospect of a pandemic-free Planet Earth. Called Astrobotic, it is in the business of “affordable robotic technology and planetary missions.”  Its vision statement includes, “We will empower a thriving human space presence that explores the world beyond Earth orbit.”

For the moment, its website offers options for cargo only and for such things as “art, social and educational” purposes – but one has to start somewhere, perhaps by sending one’s wardrobe ahead?

The cost of “payloads” is also pricey with, say, a half a kilo aimed for lunar orbit at around $350,000, landing on the lunar surface hitting something like $800,000 to several million dollars if it were “to be hosted by the lunar rover” – but who hasn’t daydreamed about getting away at any cost? When you come to think of it, our Moon may just be the last COVID-free territory – well, for now, anyway.

  This Malang, titled “Coming Storm,” will make the trip to the moon in digitized form.

A Filipino physicist is jumping feet-first into this interplanetary adventure by joining Astrobotic’s Peregrine Mission One, billed as “the first commercial interstellar launch in history.”

Yes, you read that right, the Peregrine will zoom to the moon “on a United Launch Alliance rocket” and arrive as a “lunar lander” on the surface — more specifically, the area called the Lacus Mortis — as part of NASA’s Commercial Lunar Payload Program. It’s been set for next month or June 2021, launching from the famous Cape Canaveral.

Dr. Samuel Peralta, writer and sci-fi short story curator, is bringing the world of fantasy to a place of zero-gravity. And because his mother is an artist (Rosario Bitanga, in fact), he’s organizing the works of 1,500 painters and writers to make the trip to the moon and, one presumes, eternity. Dubbed the “Lunar Codex” by Dr. Peralta, the art will be digitized using nano-fiche technology and put in Moonboxes provided by Astrobotic in partnership with DHL Logistics.

  An untitled work by Nena Saguil could be a vista seen from the Peregrine.

In the Peregrine’s manifest will therefore be the works of Filipino artists in a special section called the ARGO and named after collector Romana Go. The ARGO includes works by BenCab, Ramon Orlina, Michael Cacnio and, in time for his death anniversary this June, Mauro Malang Santos. Gromyko Semper, who calls himself “a provencal artist,” is on the list and can’t stop pinching himself to check if he’s dreaming at this prospect. 

It’s that time of the year for ArtFair Philippines, which this year has pulled up the drawbridge and thrown its lot into the world of the virtual. This year’s vernissage will still go on as planned on Wednesday, May 5, but strictly by the light of one’s laptop computer or mobile phone. The fair itself opens a day later on May 6 and runs till May 15.

Meanwhile, among us earthlings, it’s that time of the year for ArtFair Philippines, which this year has pulled up the drawbridge and thrown its lot into the world of the virtual.

This year’s vernissage will still go on as planned on Wednesday, May 5, but strictly by the light of one’s laptop computer or mobile phone. The fair itself opens a day later on May 6, just as if it were in the real world, and runs till May 15. (Globe is more than its big brother and is producing all kinds of digital wonders for this 2021 edition.)

  This untitled work by Nena Saguil explores unseen universes.

Allow me to share some of the news from León Gallery since I have spent the better part of last month making the transition from the up-close-and-personal to the curtness of online previews on the ArtFair website. (No canapés, no gossipy banter nor whispered intrigues — what is a curator to do these days?)

Titled “Elemental: Geometric Abstract Art,” this year’s exhibition at the gallery’s portal aims to present a pioneering pantheon of artists from the United States and Europe as well as our own Filipino greats. Listed in alphabetical order, these are Josef Albers, Lee Aguinaldo, Norberto Carating, Florencio B. Concepcion, Carlos Cruz-Diez, José Joya, Lao Lianben, Romulo Olazo, Bernardo Pacquing, Nena Saguil, Jesús Rafael Soto, Victor Vasarely and Fernando Zóbel.

  Dr. Samuel Peralta, the Filipino physicist who is sending the Lunar Codex of Filipino art to the moon.

The works themselves line up neatly on one side with the cool intellectualism of the New Yorkers and Parisians. On view is one of Josef Albers’ beloved “Homage to the Square” paintings, as superb today as when the series first appeared more than half a century ago.

Included as well in this roster is Fernando Zóbel who had his epiphany in art while at a Rhode Island exhibit of Mark Rothko; alongside Lee Aguinaldo, a Zóbel protégé, whose acclaimed hard-edged glassy-surfaced art easily holds its own.

  This untitled work by Nena Saguil explores unseen universes.

On the other side of the aisle are the other Filipino pieces that are all wildly exuberant with that special kind of happy, emotional energy that is also found among our frontliners and our community pantries.

A couple of works, however, would be on course for the otherworldly theme and you can imagine seeing them from the porthole of the Peregrine’s Moonraker. These would be works by Nena Saguil and José Joya that mimic unseen universes.

  “Untitled” by Lee Aguinaldo is all cool intellectual chic, a León Gallery highlight at ArtFair Philippines.

A blue landscape by Joya, the National Artist, belongs to what art critic Leonidas Benesa has termed “the stylistic period described as the exploding galaxies with forms and shapes flying outward as from a nuclear center.” Painted the year after Joya’s momentous participation at the Venice Biennale, the first for the Philippines, it strikes a blow for life-changing travel.

There is also a newly discovered trove of Saguils from the collection of another National Artist and the founder of the Solidaridad bookstore and galleries, F. Sionil Jose.

  “Homage to the Square” by Josef Albers is a highlight of the León Gallery show “Elemental” at ArtFair Philippines 2021.

Intergalactic tourism as well as art fairs have now become irresistible invitations for escape: a time to hit the pause button and catapult oneself into an entirely new world. The lines form to the right, vaccines not necessary for admission.

Private viewings of the exhibition “Elemental: Geometric Abstract Art” at León Gallery International, G/F Corinthian Plaza, 121 Paseo de Roxas, Makati, Metro Manila may be arranged by emailing [email protected] or texting 0998-5172010.