Walking barefoot and blindfolded over a myriad of surfaces and textures was never something I imagined myself doing until a few days ago and of all places in Ateneo University: The staging ground of the latest artistic marvel that sculptor Impy Pilapil has chosen to share with us.
Her ongoing show Interactive: The 12 Senses currently set up on the grounds in front of Ateneo University’s Art Gallery is one of many ‘firsts’ in the history of Philippine Art. Aside from being Ateneo Art Gallery’s first outdoor exhibition it is also the first show where ages 8 and 80 will share the same sentiment and wonder.
As an interactive show it is the first of its kind. Many would argue that in essence, this is installation art and therefore can be classified as such but they need only go and experience it for themselves in order to see that it is far from anything that has ever been exhibited before.
Pilapil’s Interactive Installations aren’t saturated by over-thought pieces meant to symbolize or canonize the artist’s thoughts and ideals. Instead we are treated to an array of experiences and a deep-reaching inwardness that leaves us vulnerable to the whispers of our inner child. Touching on a sense of innocence we have not been privy to as adults in the third world.
Standing 30 feet high, The Mangrove: Nature’s Embrace, the show’s centerpiece can be only be seen in full view from a certain distance away from it but its true magnificence is felt rather than seen. Beneath its branches and ‘roots’ is where you will feel the blessing of sanctuary it gives and a sense of sheltering warmth. Mangrove trees in nature form hubs of life wherever they can be found. The underwater halves are nurseries for young fish and other marine life; the branches and trunks above water are made into shelter from predators by small mammals, primates and birds.
Adjacent to this giant marvel are several other smaller pieces but only in physical stature, as they all ‘move’ with their own specialized strengths.
There is the Chime Halo: Made up of a hundred bamboo chimes that create an earthy tone as you walk through to its center. Time seems to stand still as you stand motionless between the swinging chimes.
The Nautilus, another large piece further down the path stands near 30 feet tall and is a spiraling bamboo structure built by the artist to rest under the branches of a shady tree forms a space at its center where one can lose himself as he stares upwards into the sky. Sitting within the bamboo walls and looking up to the heavens through the leaves of the tree gives more than just a feeling of peaceful solitude it also exudes a need for an introspective repose.
The aforementioned Barefoot Trail is a path made from various materials, designed to stimulate awareness and trust. Walking through blindfolded or with your eyes shut is the best way to experience it. On your own it sparks an exhilaration of emotion as your body compensates for the lack of vision. With a guide it strengthens trust and friendship. I recommend going twice and in both ways: Solo and Guided.
Across the trail are the Rainbow Rings. As the Barefoot Trail addresses the body’s compensation for the lack of sight this one rewards it with an almost childlike desire to touch and spin the color wheels built into the frame. Like a giant child’s colorful toy it is what its name suggests.
Higher up the path and towards the Gallery are a couple of stone pedestals providing support to a pair of metal basins: The Water Vessels. These have brass/copper handles that when rubbed will compel the water within to churn and bubble. At times and depending on the person using the bowls, a frequency of notes will ensue from the vibrations. Almost like a beacon as it does attract small crowds of people looking in amazement and all queuing excitedly to try it.
Nearby is the enigmatic Humming Stone: A large stone piece with a hollowed out center where you are encouraged to place your head within and ‘hum’. The vibrations that emanate from the stone as you perform a low frequency hum send a tingling sensation down to your toes.
Diagonally across this piece is the popular Wish Stone where one can write down one’s wishes and desires with a brush laden with water… as the writing evaporates into the air, your wishes and prayers are then said to be carried with it into the cosmos.
A Sungka table, carved out of a single piece of solid marble and flanked by two marble seats is never vacant. The most often seen pair at the table would be an elder or experienced Sungka Player teaching a younger one the rules and mechanics of the game: bridging the gap between age and time.
Finally there is the Music Chamber found not far from the Nautilus and Chime Halo. Numerous bamboo musical instruments toned in various keys and encased in color, like the Rainbow Rings, inspire a playfulness that one might say has escaped him for a time. Playing one note at a time is a great experience but even greater is the one where all the instruments are being played in unison.
This show is for everyone, young and old, of all shapes and sizes. To describe the enthusiasm and joy seen on people’s faces with mere words would not be enough to give it justice. Experience it: Know, See and Feel for yourselves the wonder and marvel of Impy Pilapil’s Playground of the Senses.
The 12 Senses
Impy Pilapil’s show tackles (or rather tickles) our overlooked, oftentimes ignored senses. Sharing with us a truly enjoyable experience with her interactive works we become aware of certain things that we may have brushed aside as nothing more than sensations. In a nutshell here are the 12 Human Senses by Austrian Philosopher and founder of Anthroposophy Rudolph Steiner (February 25, 1861 – March 30, 1925).
Completely Internal Senses – Related to Physical / Will
Sense of touch – the sense that defines the bodily boundary of skin
Sense of life – this sense is about the internal feeling of well-being, of being alive
Sense of balance – this sense orients us to the world with respect to up, down, right, and left
Sense of movement – this sense relates to being inwardly aware of the way body parts move in relation to each other
External- Internal Senses – Related to Feeling / Soul
Sense of sight – the sense that takes in the exterior images of the outside world
Sense of taste – the sense that allows deeper connection with the outside world through flavors
Sense of smell – the sense that comes in contact with the outside world via odors carried by the air
Sense of temperature – the sense that conveys direct awareness of bodily warmth and how to consciously participate in the world
Completely External Senses – Related to Spiritual / Social
Sense of “I” – this is the sense of ego or I which enables us to turn our thinking towards the being of another and to behold their I as another unique individuality
Sense of Thought – deeper sense of entering the silent world of ideas and the ability to picture what is said
Sense of word – the sense of speech or word or tone allows awareness of meaningful words
Sense of Hearing – the sense that allows us to enter into a kind of ‘inwardness’ of what is around us. This sense can tell us more about the inner structure of things, living or not, from the sound we hear.
The Playground of the Body, Mind and Soul
Experience fields and the uncanny effects of their influence; reaching deep within our psyche, penetrating the barriers of inhibition and pretense was first seen or experienced by an international audience in the 1967 World Expo in Montreal, Canada.
Presented then by Hugo Kükelhaus (March 24, 1900 – October 5, 1984) a German carpenter, toy-maker and artist, it was called his “Experience field for the development of the senses.”
Often composed of permanent fixtures to either landscape or indoor installations, these ‘pieces’ are mostly interactive in nature and designed to appeal to more than just the visual aspect of human interaction: Based entirely on Kükelhaus’ observation and conclusion that modern man has denied himself the fundamental experience needed for the progression of the body and the senses due to the nature of his technological civilization and society.
Cerebral Gardens as they may seem, Sensory Museums (Experience Fields) invoke emotions and sensations that cannot just be accredited to thought alone. As thought is believed to be a sense on its own:
“Thinking… is no more and no less an organ of perception than the eye or ear. Just as the eye perceives colors and the ear sounds, so thinking perceives ideas.”
Rudolph Steiner, Goethean Science (1883)
Self-development and promotion of ethical individualism have been platforms of alternative and holistic advocacies. These methods and ideas are, for the most part, almost a century old and have been embraced by many in the west.
But not so long ago, these ideas have come to our shores bringing with them a promise for positive change. Biodynamic Agriculture has been introduced to various parts of the country mainly in the rice patties of Central Luzon. The process involves a form of treatment or ‘healing’ of the earth before actual farming can begin. The produce is nutrient rich and in many ways more beneficial than traditional crop. A small example of a holistic approach: Heal the Earth and Heal ourselves.
Having an actual “Experience Field” here in the Philippines cements the existence and relevance of holistic and alternative methods in this region and era. As we are saturated by the stench of industry and afflicted by the seduction of technology we lose touch with our basic human selves thus blurring the line between progress and morality. The main purpose of Kükelhaus’ vision was to elevate our consciousness to a level higher than we know by bringing us down to earth.
Impy Pilapil’s Interactive: The 12 Senses opened Feb 22, 2008 at the Ateneo University’s Art Gallery Grounds and will run through till June 2008. This Experience Field for the Senses is the first of its kind in Asia and is the first of many that we can expect from the artist.