Tenderness as necessity

Lea Marie Diño

Fr. Jason Dy, Towards a Sustainable Ecosystem (installation view), 2019. (Image courtesy of the Vargas Museum)

In 2019, Jason Dy, SJ held his solo exhibition in the Vargas Museum, Studio Studies; it reflects on the life and dynamics of spaces of art production. In this show, Fr. Jason brings his studios to the galleries. He gathers all kinds of material possible and necessary to further his ideas of the studio, especially those that come from his own workspaces as well as travels: framed illustrations, journals, shipment labels, exhibition publicity materials, and works from Visayan artists, to name a few. All these are neatly arranged on walls, tables, and panels, all modest.

He has two takes on his interpretation of curating spaces: Care/Control, a two-channel video installation of his aquariums, and Towards a Sustainable Ecosystem, a series of small terrariums. Both works show contrasting conditions. The latter consists of humble jars which once contained sauces and jams; they now hold tiny ecosystems, minute worlds made of soil, plants, fungus, and other organisms both visible and invisible to the naked eye.

As an employee of the museum, I helped build this exhibition: beginning with an initial meeting with Fr. Jason to check the gallery spaces, discussion about logistics in emails, and after it was opened, I oversaw how my co-staff followed Fr. Jason’s instructions on how to take care of the terrarium — checking the light source and transferring them to a secure place after viewing hours, among others.

Engaging in the curatorial means bearing the heavy burden of playing medium between artist and object and viewer, and consequently creating linkages and shaping discourse, which spring from the usual expectations of selecting and organizing collections and other applicable objects. My own apprehension towards curatorial work springs from this pivotal responsibility. What is funny though, is that it is curatorial activity that occupies my every workday as a museum staff.

Fr. Jason Dy, Towards a Sustainable Ecosystem (detail), 2019. (Image courtesy of the Vargas Museum)

But every now and then a work comes in our auspices and reminds me how to approach the challenge brought about by curatorial work. What draws me to Towards a Sustainable Ecosystem is how it quietly reminds that museum/curatorial work is an exercise in caring. By themselves, the terrariums will, in one way or another, live. But in the gallery, it will and should receive care from us, the curatorial staff, for it to live and be able to communicate the artist’s ideas. Our involvement with the work is subtle in conveying that core of curatorial work is wardship: not just of objects, but of the meanings they carry.

Fr. Jason Dy, Towards a Sustainable Ecosystem (installation view), 2019. (Image courtesy of the Vargas Museum)

As with the rest of the exhibit, there is no ostentation in the display of these glass containers. It is the simplicity that drives one to look closer to the green of the flora and the brown of the soil enclosed in glass and join Fr. Jason in mulling over how art comes to life and how it is presented. The seven terrariums have varied conditions, and he dutifully describes the organisms present in each in his annotations. In one jar, a thick growth of grass has gotten quite tall that it has started to buckle under the lid. In another, tiny weeds congregate in the middle of the thick bed of dirt and miniscule clumps of moss cling on the sides. But there are a couple that look seemingly barren, with nothing but soil and condensation inside. Sometimes, the most effective reminders of the curatorial dwells in the quietest of objects, unassuming yet full of value, with conspicuousness set aside.

To care is to also pay attention, and through this, intentions form and discourse begins. In curatorial work, there is care in every step of the way, from conception to construction to the show’s run and its eventual dismantling. The tenderness is a necessity, and must be implemented in all that enter and exit the galleries. The idea is basic, uncomplicated; but becomes ripe by actual practice.

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