International artist David Medalla graced us with his presence during a welcome reception at the BDO Corporate Center in Ortigas last Saturday, August 31, 2019. He talked about his art installation “Cloud Canyons No. 31” that is now permanently situated in the building’s lobby.
Cloud Canyons, Medalla’s signature work, and a historically important piece was first displayed in 2016 when Medalla was shortlisted for the inaugural Hepworth Wakefield Prize for Sculpture. It’s made from plexiglass tubes, wood, fiberglass, soap, water, and oxygenators and is part of a series commonly known as “bubble machines.”
The first one was produced in 1961 and inspired by Medalla’s memories of a dying Japanese soldiers’ frothing mouth, clouds during tropical sunsets in Manila, the bubbling ginataan (coconut milk) of his mother’s cooking, a brewery in Edinburgh, Scotland, and the Skyline of New York.
It was initially exhibited in 1964 at the Signals Gallery in London. Now, other Cloud Canyons can be found in the collections of Tate Modern and National Gallery Singapore.
This was my first time being invited to an exclusive art exhibit. As someone who wishes to tap into her artistic side, I made sure to savor everything the event had for me, from the captivating artwork of a world-renowned Filipino artist to the delectable and beautifully presented hors d’oeuvres attendees were constantly served.
Upon his arrival, I immediately got a glimpse of Medalla’s youthful disposition. He was wearing traditional Filipino clothing (with an adorable hat might I add) and just from that, you could tell how proud he is of his heritage.
As Medalla entered the lobby, he was set beside his work and photographers started snapping away as he posed with his bubbly masterpiece and played with the fluffy, soapy substance the machines were very slowly producing.
We’re often told we can’t touch artworks on display for fear of accidentally ruining it. Medalla’s work completely ignores that rule as we were actually encouraged to “feel” the bubbles for ourselves.
We took pictures with him and I also got to interview Medalla, himself. Unfortunately, his voice was a little broken, so I just asked him one question — one that would let me pick his brain.
It’s the one question any aspiring artist would ask an art genius such as Medalla, and that is how he came to find his unique way of expressing his creativity.
Medalla told me that a lot of his inspiration was drawn from the religions he was influenced by — such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and to some extent, even Islam. He said that these faiths inspire us to see the transformation that always takes place in reality.
“They inspire you to see reality is always (this) transformation — It never ends, it transforms itself, and that’s what inspires me even in the dark moments of one’s life,” Medalla described.
And this was all it took to give me a peek inside his mind and get a partial understanding of the wonder behind his works.
I was able to interview Medalla’s long-time partner Adam Nankervis as well. I asked him about how life abroad influenced Medalla’s style, as well as how Cloud Canyons was brought to life.
Nankervis said that when Manila was still in the process of being restored in the 1950s, Medalla who was 12 at that time, was flown to New York due to his genius. The industrial city made an impression on him in such a way that he has taken the elements of where he came from and joined it with the elements of places he has visited.
“David grew up in the rubble of Manila, Philippines and suddenly he’s in this industrial city and so that’s where I think you find that nature collides with technology and I think David married the two so successfully and so beautifully.”
Nankervis said that Cloud Canyons was brought forth by Medalla’s idea to create something ever-changing and formless.
“The collision of different impressions gave him the idea (and asked himself) ‘How do I make a formless sculpture? How can that be created?’ and he was thinking of harnessing nature — like the nature of his first impression of life going to death, clouds forever ethereal — you can’t hold on to a cloud.”
Nankervis explained that this was a challenge Medalla proactively took when he observed what 20th-century sculptors were trying to do.
“David got challenged and he thought ‘Well I can actually create something that never takes form, (or) will always change form,’ and that’s how he came up with the idea of just using simple soap bubbles to start to create a forever changing sculpture.”
Nankervis also said that Medalla experimented with other mediums prior to using bubble machines such as mud machines, electricity machines, lightning machines, heat machines, and different flying sculptures.
David Medalla is a Filipino artist who has practiced abroad for most of his life. His work ranges from sculpture to kinetic art to painting, installation and performance art. He currently lives in Manila.
Medalla is an important figure in contemporary art and the development of installation, kinetic, and participatory art and meeting him in person was amazing. Adam Nankervis’ elaborated Medalla’s creative process beautifully and I surely learned a lot from it. Being part of the event gave me an extended perspective of what it means to be creative and I will forever muse on it.