“The baseline thing I want people to feel is happy! You tell me that, I know I did my job well,” Lilianna Manahan says as she sweeps across the gallery floor, radiant disposition matched by her creations. Both a designer and an artist, her practice spans mediums from glass, stone, metal, and ceramic sculptures to whimsy jewelry designs. At Leon Gallery International, she most recently launched her solo exhibit of wall-mounted paper sculptures, in “Snap Shoot”.
From hip-hop to K-pop, Nostalgia, and Meaningful Moments
The exhibition opened last February 22 in a lively opening night. Curated by Lilianna’s sister Juana Yupangco and a surreptitious figure under the alias Johnny Boy Bawang, the pieces were installed in block patterns. “I don’t like straight lines!” she says, “I was thinking of Tetris, especially the formations. I didn’t want to just plunk it all on the wall.” She describes how her sister, an art history graduate, helped enhance the experience by grouping the colors.
Using cut and sculpted paper, Lilianna brightens the forms with strokes of acrylic, oil pastel, and pencil. Glinting under the glass are details of metal leaf or even tint. Her work resounds with musical motifs as pastel and paint blend like sounds or strokes of movement. During the lockdown, Lilianna’s creative practice was in full gear as she absorbed all sorts of musical genres from Opera to K-pop. She points out how hip-hop and K-pop carry the same principles of rhythm and how despite the latter being in a foreign language, the rhythms could deliver more than lines. “I saw how music could get a point across without me having to understand things like lyrics fully… It started to sound like instruments to me.” She says, “That’s basically how I made the connection that music and art can do that without necessarily saying anything.” She links these musical themes to profound moments that struck her in her own life, translating them visually so viewers can experience the same undercurrents of emotion.
The title of the exhibit itself is after the energetic song by the Korean boy band Seventeen. During the opening, a piece many viewers resonated with was “The Kick”, after the video game character Dhalsim from Street Fighter 2. Bright blue pieces of the paper extend in an explosive trajectory, bringing to mind the character’s signature long-thrust kick move. With metal leaf shimmering in gold hues, “Caviar Dreams” and “Champagne Wishes” reference the 1990s TV show “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”, a pursuit of wealth she still finds relevant in our world of media today. Some she describes as documenting certain revelations, giddiness, or a “kilig” factor. Many are made with nostalgia thinking about Middle School, a feeling materialized in pieces like “Gameboy Night” in primary colors. She explains her use of red, yellow, and blue, a less common palette in her work, “I wanted to play around with bolder, vibrant colors. I felt these were the appropriate ones to use for fast moments. Those with Oomph.”
While some of her work tells stories of milestones – like when she turned 31 or the day in 1992 when her parents realized she could draw — she looks at the granular details of life, noticing the sacredness in small moments, and realizing there are no small moments after all. Lilianna underscores the importance of family in her practice, as their stories and personalities unconsciously enter into her pieces. She recollects the thrill of watching K-pop concerts with her niece and the bonus of watching her sister enjoy it too. She thinks of the musical choice of her nephew, a fan of Foo Fighters in a metal sculpture called “Everlong”. Connecting all the dots she says, “Whether it’s a seemingly boring moment or bongga, like a milestone, I want to show people that all of that really matters.” While the meaning is personal, the artist wants viewers to enter their own more general experience, “All of this is about capturing short, impactful moments in our lives that come together to form something beautiful.”
Her “Alphabet” Base
The alphabet has been used since ancient times as a set of letters put together to form language. In the case of Lilianna Manahan, she creates a “visual alphabet” of shapes and forms that combine in her artwork.
You can see her version of the alphabet in two places in the exhibit: At the end of the room, there is a stop-motion video work of individual paper forms. While on a striking red wall her alphabet is exhibited through modular metal sculptures. Some are decorated with bits of silver leaf or blots of paint. Others are roughly triangular, like a bean, variations of circles, or unique curving lines with slits. These elements of shape form her artistic compositions. Drawing parallels between the disappearance of lyrics and how rhythms can translate into sculpted paper, Lilianna reflects on this language and how “You start with a letter then it turns into a word.”
An industrial designer by training, this influence has crept into her choice to assemble and fold through paper models instead of sketching. She recounts how in her first year, she learned from her professor that paper and metal work in the same way, “She said if you can shape something on paper, more or less you can shape it with metal.” And while not an oil painter, she takes from painting techniques like layering, colors, and textures.
An Imagination Across Mediums
On a wall of the gallery Lilianna quotes C.S. Lewis in her design philosophy: “Reason is the natural organ of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning. Imagination, producing new metaphors or revivifying old, is not the cause of truth, but its condition.” Like how C.S. Lewis and Tolkien explain fantastical worlds through animals, Lilianna shares a similar direction by showing a connection to truth about the real world in her art. Over the years we have seen how her imagination spans a spectrum of mediums.
During the shoot, she wears flower-shaped earrings and an eye-catching necklace. It is one of her own creations, the hand-sculpted ‘Amigos Necklace’. Silver plated in 22-carat gold, each component has a face cast onto it and is connected by a twizzler chain so you can carry “your best amigos wherever you go.” Lilianna tells us after a bout with a creative block she took metal smithing lessons in 2018. Later she started to make special collections during the ECQs. Her 2021 collection “Funk in Flux” is described as “the accent to your day. Your everyday heirloom,” a collection that communicates a sense of fun and good grooves.
This sense of funk continues into her experimentation with NFT “Funkanators”. Some of the shapes in her crypto art are also found on the walls in her most recent Leon Gallery exhibit. Available via Polygon Matic on her website marketplace, she tells us, “If ever I was going to continue in that medium – because I see digital art as a separate medium – I would probably execute it differently. More of one-off pieces instead of editions.”
A creator of art objects, we marvel at her variety of work. Her collection “Bright Shadows” features light sculptures in black iron and LED. While in 2019 we explore “The Befores” in burl, kamagong wood, gold-plated silver, and semi-precious stone, as she imagines the world before it was called to creation. She creates a variety of vessels, some in stones, others to hold candles. An especially spectacular project is “Frame Series” in collaboration with Spektacularis and Czech glass blowers to create fantastical, animal-like glass objects.
As our photographer snapped away, Lilanna pulled funny faces between shots. Wearing baby pink gingham pants she gave the camera wide smiles and guileless laughs. While it became clear how her joyful disposition shows in her art, we start to see how beyond having fun, her work stems from a more somber place, taking a tone of “anticipation of a hopeful ending.”
She says, “Even if stuff is really messy in between, it comes together. It’s about looking forward and understanding that things aren’t always nice, but there’s always something solid to look forward to.”
Lilianna Manahan’s solo exhibition ‘Snap Shoot!’ opens from February 22 to March 6, 2023, at Leon Gallery International, G/F Corinthian Plaza 121 Paseo de Roxas, Legazpi Village Makati.
Visit www.liliannamanahan.com and follow her at https://www.instagram.com/liliannamanahan/.