Beyond show-and-tell: making art sustainable

March 28, 2022

“Meat Shop” and “Sari Sari Store”, as part of “Playtime Paradiso” by Tyang Karyel

Education and raising awareness is important for addressing climate change and environmental issues. Given the scientific nature of these problems, elements of creativity and innovation have become more emphasized in the initiatives of numerous sectors to communicate these messages more effectively to their target audiences.

One of the emerging forms of green education is through art. It can convey the beauty and power of nature, our connection to it, the gravity of issues that plague them, or the impact of solutions to address them in a different way than news articles and research findings. Works featuring compelling visuals, evoking emotions, and portraying the right tones of hope or loss (depending on the aim of the artist) can cross language and cultural barriers and move more people into taking action. 

However, critics have questioned whether the benefits of art fairs and museums, in general, outweigh the consequences for making them happen. Similar to zoos, marine-themed parks, and even the annual Earth Hour, these venues for educating the public on key green issues have been criticized for either their existence being against environmental principles or the lack of sustainability in the conduct of their operations. 

For instance, the impacts and costs of installing the whole exhibition, including transporting the artworks and the use of packaging and marketing materials, incur a high environmental footprint. Sponsors and presenters of art events have also not been known to commonly prioritize sustainability in the agendas of their businesses and properties; some of them fund the operations of industries profiting by burning fossil fuels, which is the cause of the climate crisis and a key contributor to the global plastic pollution.

With the urgent need for all sectors to play their role in addressing these issues, the art industry has to show its contribution to these causes can go beyond simply showcasing artworks with environmental undertones.

“The Destruction”, as part of “Aftermath” by Wyndelle Remonde

Sustainable is possible

Elements of environmentalism and sustainability are prominent in the exhibits of the 2022 Art Fair Philippines event in Makati. This features 46 exhibitors from within and outside the country, including paintings, sculptures, and film viewings.

What is notable compared to previous editions is that this year’s Art Fair is a hybrid event. While visitors can personally visit the installations at the primary venue in the Ayala Triangle Gardens, they also have the option to view exhibits and gallery walkthroughs online through the event website. 

The 2022 edition also decentralized the exhibits by letting participating galleries showcase their featured works at their own locations. Galleries can be found in other cities in Metro Manila, as well as in other Philippine cities such as Bacolod, Baguio, Cebu, and Davao, and other nations like Australia, France, Indonesia, Japan, Australia, Singapore, and Spain.

While this setup is likely a response to the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, this hybrid setup can also be looked at as an example of sustainability that the art industry needs to embody moving forward. It also allows the artworks to reach a wider audience, especially those who do not live near any of the exhibits, while still communicating their intended messages.

The Art Fair is co-presented by the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI), which currently aims to cut by half its coal financing in 2026 and end said practice as early as 2033. While translating these plans to concrete results needs to be monitored and there are other sustainability-related issues related to its portfolio, this specific case is a relatively good example that needs to be emulated or improved upon by other presenters or sponsors of art events in the country.

Among the exhibits with strong elements of the environment and climate awareness is that of Cebu-based artist Wyndelle Remonde. Named “Aftermath”, his works are inspired by recent tragedies, including the pandemic and the devastation by typhoon Odette last December. His use of different artistic expressions and vivid imageries brings the attention of the viewer to the familiar themes of an introspective journey, a sense of loss, and societal inequalities.

Another featured exhibit is “Playtime Paradiso” by Tyang Karyel, a take on the typical Filipino neighborhood. Featuring colorful displays and eccentric designs resembling a set from a sitcom, this installation highlights handcrafted versions of consumer products like fried chicken and beer. Intended to symbolize a microcosm of Filipino society with aspects of resourcefulness and Bayanihan, it also provides a commentary on consumerism by highlighting how the presentation is as important than the product itself. However, it focuses more on recognizing the convenience that the “tingi-tingi” culture brings to many Filipinos over outright critiquing consumerism. 

A picture is worth a thousand words, but actions will still make a bigger impact. As we pursue new ways to motivate visitors to do more than just using artworks as backdrops for their latest Instagram posts, the 2022 Art Fair Philippines event is proof that the art world can take the right steps towards sustainability.

John Leo is the Deputy Executive Director for Programs and Campaigns of Living Laudato Si’ Philippines. He has been representing Philippine civil society in regional and global UN conferences on climate and the environment since 2017. He is a climate and environment journalist since 2016. 

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