In the middle of a sprawling park in Taipei, an art installation that is part-hut, part-trellis stands out yet complements the picturesque border of trees nearby. This is the work of Filipino artist Roger Rishab Tibon of Baguio City, his modest contribution to the 2011 Guandu International Outdoor Sculpture festival.
As the tenth anniversary of the Guandu Nature Park was being celebrated by the festival then, Tibon sought to make a piece that would embody the park’s history. Using bamboo, dried saplings, flowering vines and rattan strips, he created Nurturing Memories.
With the celebration of Earth Day on April 22, Nurturing Memories has continued to flourish, with flowering vines climbing up the trellises and blooming profusely for park-goers to see and appreciate. This is just one of Tibon’s several nature installations that can be found abroad which he conceptualized, then painstakingly put together with the help of local people, and that, over time, may thrive or deteriorate upon the whim of the elements.
For Tibon, this transient quality of nature art is what attracts him into doing it. “I like the idea of ephemerality,” he admits. “The artwork is only a vehicle for a deeper understanding of things. Everything changes; night and day, there is growth and decay, life and death. Many of my artworks, even though conforming to a specific theme, I make it so that I can contemplate, learn from it and open my mind for a more thorough understanding of things.”
The original idea of nature art, he adds, is to rebel against over-commercialization of traditional art like painting or sculpture. “Nature art cannot be bought or collected. It should stay in nature for as long as it can and change through time and with the intervention of natural elements like wind, rain, other plants and animals, until it goes back to nature.”
He points out, though, that nowadays, some aspects of nature art utilize synthetic materials that last for a very long time. Sometimes, the artwork can be taken down in a matter of days or a few months. Some stay longer and are replaced with another artwork. One installation that Tibon did in a forest in Korea in 2006 is still there, with vines already crawling on it.
Also called nature installations, environmental art, site-specific installations, outdoor sculpture and eco-art, this kind of contemporary art has become a global movement.
Tibon notes, “More and more, it’s not only artists, but environmentalists, scientists, educators, communities, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and schools that are utilizing nature art for specific reasons—for example, to create awareness about the perils and issues about the environment, to rehabilitate, restore, and maintain the damaged environment, and sometimes, simply just as an artist’s expression.”
Tibon made his very first nature installation in his native Baguio in 1994. Though he describes putting it together as more like playing, the concept behind his creation then was quite serious. “I did a spider web connected to two adjacent trees, and instead of a spider, I put a wall clock on it. For me, it’s about our existence and how we are, consciously or unconsciously, trapped in the web of time.”
Baguio proved to be a conducive place for him to continue making nature art. The mountainous terrain with its natural rock formations, the scent of pine trees lingering in the air and the parks, fields and rivers that were his playgrounds in his younger years all served as his inspiration.
“There is also an abundance of natural materials like bamboo, giant reeds, grasses, rocks and stones, soil and so on. There are also many artists who are knowledgeable about nature art and occasionally do it aside from doing other traditional art. Oftentimes, the installations that they do are about the Cordilleras, and it is a way of promoting, preserving and unifying the cultural traditions.”
Because of the extensive work he has done over the years, Tibon has been invited to various nature art expositions in other countries. He has been a frequent visitor to Korea where he made two projects for the 2010 Geumgang Nature Art Biennale. One project called Peace Boat hangs under the Gonju bridge. Combining bamboo, coconut rope, steel, cable and galvanized wire, he fashioned three people riding on a boat-like structure to symbolize the many journeys that people undertake within and beyond this lifetime.
As Tibon explains, “It can be a physical journey that takes us from one point of destination to another, a journey into realizing our dreams or aim in life, a journey of communication between two persons, parties or nations to achieve peaceful agreement. Birth and death is a journey. Beyond birth and death is a spiritual journey.”
‘Peace Boat,’ he says, is also a call for nature and peace to exist simultaneously, citing the need for man to work harmoniously with his environment “to get to our destination safely and successfully.”
His other work in Korea in 2010, called ‘Bridging Peace,’ was installed at the Dorasan Peace Park in Paju near the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), a strip of land separating North and South Korea. In this installation, using wood, round metal bars, galvanized wire and steel cable, he created two figures in the act of making a bridge from both ends. The two figures represent divided Korea and the bridge is a symbol of an act to fill the gap between the two nations.
For Tibon, working on this project was significant as it not only concerned nature art, but also touched on a sensitive issue. “The decision and effort to bridge peace has to come from both sides. Genuine unification has to be agreed upon, every difference must be addressed and resolved for an actual peace to be felt by both.”
Last year, in Taipei, Tibon had the chance to collaborate with two other artists (Jane Ingram Allen of the US and Lo Yi-Chun of Taiwan) and the local community of Ping-Ling for the piece called ‘Budding Dreams.’ Together, they made eight bamboo structures of varying heights to represent budding flowers slowly blossoming into its fullness, nurtured by the rain and sun, as if reaching for the sky. Rice straw, rope and twine were also used.
Usually, the materials, tools and equipment are provided by the organizers to the participating artists. “But, sometimes, if you just need natural materials, you can just find them in the area and you get it yourself or they help you in gathering,” says Tibon.
He enjoys interacting and collaborating with local artists and folk in this manner. For ‘Nurturing Memories’ in Taipei, a team of volunteers assisted him to complete his design. They included students, professionals and other people from the community.
“This is one difference between nature art and painting or traditional sculpture wherein you mostly work alone. With this kind of artmaking, you are not the sole author of your work. It’s a community effort and a way of expanding and sharing the act of artmaking to the people involved. Everyone is happy and proud about it,” he enthuses.
Earlier this year, Tibon was invited to another art event, this time to showcase his paintings. At the 2012 Art Revolution Taipei, which is being touted as one of the biggest international art fairs in the world, he was sponsored by a local group that paid for his booth’s rental. There, artists were front and center, and they themselves got to talk directly to art patrons and enthusiasts about their artistic process and the elements and themes in their works.
Tibon’s paintings are actually connected to his nature art in terms of themes and concepts. While they may appear to be different in appearance, he claims that the underlying emotions, feelings and philosophy are the same. “I like the subject of time in my paintings, and time is also a major component in my nature art works, for its ephemeral nature.”
Nature art can never be far behind where Tibon is concerned. While in Taiwan for the art fair, he was also invited by an environmental art curator to visit Hsinchu, a city and aboriginal area, where he met with a tribal leader. “They want to revive the Tong Cao paper craft that has disappeared because of the advent of plastic. They extract the inner fiber of the Tong Cao plant, slicing it thinly with a special cutting tool, and turn it into flowers.
“Ngayon, may project kami, experimental, kung ano ang possibilities ng material na ito para sa art,” Tibon discloses. “Ipapadala ko lang ‘yung artwork ko sa May and they will exhibit it in a museum in Hsinchu. Balak nila itong gawing traveling exhibition.”
Tibon’s slate is full this year as in June, he has been invited to attend another art fair, this time in Korea, and in July, to join the International Forest Art Exhibition in Germany.
For sure, Tibon will once again be creating his own brand of nature art where indigenous materials are uniquely transformed into thoughtful pieces that speak about the environment, people, society and the fragile world that mankind lives in.