Surrounded by art at Surrounded by Water Gallery

Surrounded by Art 
By Walter Ang
December 6, 2000
Philippine Daily Inquirer

I was stuck in traffic along EDSA. The bus had been slowly inching along and I found myself staring outside the window in desperation. I was trying to figure out how many stars had been born and zapped out of existence while I was stuck in traffic. Then, amidst the swirling dust, car fumes and throng of commuters, a house painted yellow right in front of my window caught my eye. It had a sign outside that said, "FREE ADMISSION."

That was good enough for me. I jumped out of the bus and decided I might as well get a little culture rather than staying in the bus all day. Door chimes rang as I entered the gallery. In the middle of the main area was a huge installation with a TV set and pipes and blowing wind. The walls had several mixed media paintings. Definitely not the usual stuff you'd see in galleries residing in the malls.

This gallery is called "Surrounded by Water", the same name of an installation piece previously done by its founder Wire Tuazon. "It was a doll submerged in water," describes Tuazon. Having started out in a one room deal in Angono, Rizal back in 1998, the gallery has since moved to its present location across the street from Robinson's Galleria, beside the POEA building. Tuazon adds, "Surrounded by water also describes the state of Angono?you'd have to travel across water to get to it."

The point
A twentysomething artist, Tuazon eschews the normalcy of a Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 job. "I wouldn't last in an environment like that," he claims. Instead, he initiated an "artist run space" to provide a venue for contemporary visual art. Up and coming young new artists usually need a foot in the door of the industry. Having a venue for their work that's managed by the artists themselves seems to partly solve the dilemma.

The whole point of it all is expressively stated in the blue brochures by the entrance, made to look like the instruction sheet of a make-your-own-model-plane-kit: the space is "geared towards exploratory endeavors of the struggling and under-exhibited artists ?
(and) plays a fundamental role in supporting young and less established artists to produce innovative work outside commercial and institutional restriction."

The present location of the gallery was donated for the artists' use by Dalton and Cecille King, a couple who has been supportive of Tuazon's works. When Tuazon got the go signal, he got all his artist friends to ride a bus with him without telling them where their destination would be. They got to the place, he turned the key to open the door and presented the new location of the gallery. His friends were all game. They fixed up the place by pooling their money and since October of 1999 the gallery has had group and solo shows, exhibitions, and artist talks filling it up. In fact, there are events lined up until June of next year.

Three different exhibits are usually mounted at the same time to utilize the way the gallery is split up: a Main Gallery, a smaller Kitchen, and an even smaller Stockroom. With no funding and sponsors, all of the artist use what Tuazon refers to as the "DIY or do-it-yourself esthetic." From conceptualization to execution of an exhibit, artists are given free reign to use the space.

SBW attracts passersby of all sorts, usually walk-ins from the daily grind of commuters. Reactions usually begin with surprise at the fact that one does not have to pay to view art. "Many people are intimidated by art. They think you need money to appreciate it," observes Tuazon. Some of the artists who run this space, more or less twenty in all, laments the fact that most commercial galleries give off snob appeal; limiting the possible audience that could become available for art. Hence the free admission sign, to inform and remind people that art is always accessible.

Digesting the artwork is another matter. One incident that Tuazon narrated involved an old grandmother getting quite upset over an image of Ronald McDonald done a la Christ with a sacred hamburger in his chest instead of a sacred heart. But that's what the art in this gallery is for you. With such an environment providing startup support for the artists, it makes for some, as Tuazon puts it, "progressive, no restriction" artworks to reckon with.

The best part of having such a space enthuses Tuazon, "is the interaction, which is the main difference with most galleries." People are encouraged to ask the artist any questions they may have about the artwork. What it means, what were you feeling when you did it, is it art? The artists relish the chance to explain and share their artworks with more people.

Apart from the commuting public, a quick glance at their guestbook reveals that most of the other visitors to this gallery are art students from the different universities. Fittingly enough, SBW used to give outreach art programs to the youth when it was still in Rizal. Nowadays, as announced by the banner outside the gallery, they have scheduled workshops for various art disciplines. Students shouldn't have to be the only ones to experience "modern" art though, whether it be paintings, video, sculptures, installations, comic art, and what-have-you. People who work in that area should try to pass by the place perhaps en route home, or maybe before catching the latest teen movie in the nearby malls. Something new for those of us who always complain about how bored we are.

Surrounded By Water is open Mondays to Saturdays 10 am to 7 pm. Call 724-2027 for details.