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Lifestyle Asia: July 2004: Arts—Impy Pilapil Sculptures

By Celine Novenario


Moved by Benevolence

In the midst of the bustling metropolis, ephemeral sculptures transformed urban parks into an artistic respite for the soul.


Day in and day out, city dwellers rush through the concrete jungle that is Makati. Their footsteps go as fast as the thoughts racing through their minds. Fully absorbed in hectic lives and unmindful of the impersonal surroundings that characterize the city, they walk through their environs in an oblivious state.

A few months ago however, rushed urbanites found themselves stopping to take a moment while passing the Greenbelt 3 and Glorietta 4 parks. Large sculptures carved and molded from rigid materials yet having an ephemeral quality transformed the parks into sculpture gardens that gave the malls a soothing, meditative atmosphere. This was the exhibit entitled “Benevolent Forces”—mounted through a collaborative effort between Ayala Corporation and Galleria Duemila, and made possible by the unique style and soul of celebrated artist Impy Pilapil.


Entering Public Consciousness

Pilapil’s name is not at all unfamiliar, having been a strong presence in the art world for the past three decades. Commissions from powerful companies both here and abroad have placed her artwork in offices and galleries as far away as Johannesburg, Tel Aviv and Berlin, to name a few. Here in the Philippines, the most powerful and illustrious edifices are home to Pilapil’s art—for instance the Stock Exchange Center done bySkidmore,Owings and Merrill Architects and the I.M. Pei designed Essensa Twin Towers. But it was her most recent exhibit that has firmly implanted her work in the consciousness of Filipinos—regardless of age or social class.

Unlike conventional art that is put up on a pedestal, cordoned off and viewed only from a distance, Pilapil’s work was exhibited in an open-air setting, where people were invited to touch and experience each piece up close. For weeks on end, people from all walks of life walked up to the enormous sculptures to run their fingers and feel the finely carved grooves and look at their reflections on the shiny steel spheres. Many came armed with cameras and ready to strike a pose with their favorite piece. Children had a ball running around, under and through the sculptures—with more than a few kids enjoying the tactile experience a bit too much. Pilapil recalls that on the first day, Silvana Diaz, her longtime friend and Galleria Duemila’s curator, asked if they should put up a “Do Not Touch” sign, to which Pilapil immediately responded, “No! I want the people to touch the sculptures.” Pilapil narrates the rest of the story with an incredulous smile, “then we saw these male teenagers literally pounding the stainless steel balls with their fists! I was stunned.” After that, they decided to place a sign to remind viewers to touch the pieces with care. But regardless of such incidents, Pilapil looks back at the exhibit with fondness—most especially the reaction children had to it, “It was such a thrill to watch the children going in and out of the sculptures. On a scale of one to ten, it was an eleven.”

Pilapil has always felt strongly about the need to make art accessible to the public. She explains that public art affords people—no matter what class they belong to—a chance to encounter art without having to go specifically to a gallery. This is particularly important since these days, the main goal of most is purely survival, because of economic difficulties. Public art gives people the opportunity to be exposed to art, and to Pilapil, that’s all they need. She says, “ During the exhibit , people from all walks of life got attracted to my work and it was evident how the spontaneous exposure to art affected them . They stopped to look and most of them came back to mingle and be with the artworks. This kind of unprompted interaction naturally develops the sensitivity of every viewer. To me, that was a very important point: The fact that we can educate even without them realizing they’re being educated. It’s fantastic.”


Movement in Stillness

Pilapil has a wonderful ability to transform the most severe materials into sculptures with an transient quality and a soothing flow. Blocks of black, gray and white marble are carved smoothly into a unified piece. Stainless steel spheres seemingly float in amongst stone frames and metal sinews. In that unique style that can only be called Pilapil’s, she creates constant waves of movement in the stillness of each sculpture.

Pilapil derives the flowing movement of her sculptures from water, a life-giving element and her constant subject. But when asked what she aims to communicate through her creations, the artist replies by saying that she creates with the intention of imparting a feeling, rather than a concrete message. “When I create, I want to give a soothing feeling,” says Pilapil, “beginning with myself, because I believe that what the work will make me feel will be imparted to the viewers. My works are about good things and good feelings—benevolent forces. Those are the images that came about, having those thoughts about my soul’s journey and how each person should nurture his soul.”


Divine Providence

A sense of gratitude and fulfillment is very evident on Pilapil’s face as she talks about the “Benevolent Forces” exhibit. The pieces that were displayed had not been made specifically for those locations nor for that purpose, but somehow it all serendipitously came together. Pilapil had accumulated a collection of large works from working religiously , as she does everyday, during the pastfive years thus culminating into Pilapil’s sculpture gardens. Pilapil recalls, “When we were installing the pieces, I readily felt it was providential. These pieces were not created for any specific place, but in that area they just looked perfect. I thought, ‘My God, my work’s found a place.’”

As an artist, she feels God’s hand guiding her in her craft. She says, “Sometimes I look at my works and you know what I feel? That I could not have created them alone. There’s this benevolent force up there helping me. Who else could it be but God? It’s not something that I could have created just by myself. There’s a force there somewhere leading me to these forms. And I want to share this.”


Moving On

Sadly, the exhibit ended early in May. For days following the dismantling, people walked up to the exhibit area with puzzled looks, some still with a camera in hand and children in tow, wondering where the art had gone. But just because this particular exhibit is over, it does not mean that Pilapil and her art will quietly fade into the background.

Her unique style and determination to move forward keeps her in the public’s consciousness. Diaz says, “People have seen her commissioned work in establishments, so her name is not unknown. She has a specific style, her own form and feeling. The search for the soul, movement, and flowing form are great components of her work all the time. And people see that she is constantly creating new things. She moves forward and she’s never stagnant.”

Pilapil’s continuous evolution can be attributed to two things. The first is ever-present inspiration. She says, “I’m inspired everyday. The fact that I wake up and I’m healthy, that I’m surrounded by good friends—that’s already an inspiration to me. I feel very blessed. I don’t have to go to the mountains to seek inspiration; it just comes.” The second factor is firm dedication to what she deems her mission as an artist. “It’s an artist’s mission to constantly create,” says Pilapil, “and the process of creation makes you evolve naturally. When you’re constantly working on something, there is constant discovery of the material and of your form. Something evolves.”

“I truly believe that when a person is born an artist , that is a gift. And it is the responsibility of every artist to explore that gift, everyday.” Her generosity and determination to continuously explore and share her art makes Pilapil a benevolent force in the art world, and we are the fortunate ones who have been gifted with the opportunity to be inspired by her sheer talent day after day.

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