How Max's Jim Fuentebella Went From That Weird Chicken Ad to Art in Neon Lights
“God is a name we give the energy of love we seek to define.”
A single sentence stands out at Artinformal gallery in Makati, lit up in LED neon lights, part of an exhibit called The future of our world as it is known to Caribou. The work, “Cyril” by Jim Fuentebella, is a phrase from a personal manifesto he wrote for himself back in 2018, not long after he looked death in the eye.
The first-time artist is, by day, the chief marketing office and executive director at Max’s Philippines. Yes, he's one of the creatives who worked on that bizarre chicken ad which, love it or hate it, we all distinctly remember.
We caught up with him in an interview.
On working with LED
I've always liked working with light, the science of fire. For this one, I wanted to be part of the process of actually making the light piece. It totally gave me a whole new understanding of working with my hands again, appreciating people who do produce work like this.
It was coming up with this sculptural form, and I wanted to leave it as raw and as pure as possible. So the support structure that holds the lit words was like the antlers of a caribou. I didn't want to keep it clean, I wanted everything that makes it up to be unapologetically there.
On Cyril being his first art piece
Going through that process was already such a blessing, to see something that you believe in to be created, not really for any public appearance, but really just for me to inwardly grow. To manifest that, and to have it out there, and to know that, yes, it will be judged, whether they like it or not, and to put yourself in a vulnerable position. It’s worth putting it out there, standing for what you believe in.
On why he was asked to be part of the exhibit by gallerist Tina Fernandez
I think she went with her gut. She saw a side of me that was more attuned to being creative; not creative in the sense that, “oh I know you can draw or I know you can paint,” not in that way. It was like she could tell I was a creative person, and she thought, “I’ve seen something like that in the artists I’ve dealt with before."
And that's why I think this whole caribou exhibit is interesting because it's Tina’s choice to use actual artists and people who aren't really artists, per se, but are creative. That mix of different points of view is what makes the whole exhibit interesting.
On how he even agreed to be part of the exhibit
Normally I would say, “No way I'm not even an artist." All these self-doubt issues would come to the surface, but for some reason, I was convinced pretty easily. I was ready. You get to the point also where you realize that there's an opportunity, and you're ready to present yourself, and the fact that you did it is already the gift.
On the artist inside
I remember when I was younger, I used to win all the art awards. But then, the artist in me, the light dimmed, because the signal to me was I needed to become a businessman. And that's why even in college I took three years of business because I thought that was the right thing to do. But then I switched to Graphic Design. And I think that's when it felt really comfortable and to a point, easy because I was thirsty to learn.
On finding his creative space at Tala Trunk, launched last month, where he and his wife, Mavis, are co-creative directors
These are the things that we feel are loved pieces. And, and I think Tala Trunk will be a home for that, and it could be as diverse as these insects done by creative people, as well, that we say, “Yes, that's cool.” The point is we don't need to be the ones creating the works, but it’s putting a little spotlight on the things we both love. Mavis and I co-create.
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We are very deliberate when do we things, such as when we did the shoot. A shoot is part of the business model of retailing. But more interesting was when we thought about, "How are going to shoot it, how are we going to present it so it won’t look like everything else out there?" So we said we want the photographer (Artu Nepomuceno) to be a fly on the wall and whatever he sees, he shoots. We won't fix it to make it look good. We just want to show you how we live. And, and take everything. Take everything that you see. So I guess it's you're allowing that space to be there, you're also allowing vulnerability to be part of the decision making. And I think that's when it becomes, truly creative.
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On reading the line from his manifesto at a recent memorial service for his father, Plaridel Fuentebella
I think to many people it was just a line, but if you knew where it was coming from, you would know it was special to me. It was special for me to say it to my Dad at that time. I felt it was the right thing to say.
When Dad died, the only word that would come out of my mouth was “rest.” Because we had seen how tired he had been, and we wanted him to rest, to rest in peace. And now, when I see those words, they mean something so different to me. Rest In Peace. I saw Dad transition with grace, with peace, with love. R.I.P. as R.I.P. sounds like a commodity. It has to be said, Rest in Peace. He gifted me with that, when he passed, to know that while death is tragic and painful, it is also graceful.
As I was saying goodbye, I was also saying hello to this new experience of what death can be like. I want to go that way, to where you're literally fading away from this world and transitioning to the next while holding your loved ones. It was just really quiet. So, that's why I ended up saying that line because I really felt connected, in terms of my spirituality. The life force, that energy moves. Wow, my manifesto was cemented in the time of his passing. I wasn't scared because I believed in my manifesto.
Jim Fuentebella's Manifesto
“I BELIEVE in a life force that connects us all. That God is a name we give the energy of love we struggle to define. That in the quiet of the mind we hear ourselves BE. That energy never dies, it only is transferred. That our gift is what comes most naturally to us.
I WANT the world to wake up to a higher level of consciousness. Practice human kindness. Everyone to genuinely care: self/others/the world.
I SEE A WORLD OF NEW SHOTS, NEW BIRTHS, NEW LIFE. “Like the new leaf in a plant.” That people make conscious decisions coming from love, passion, integrity and care to help one another be their best version.
I KNOW THIS TO BE TRUE. THIS IS DONE.
"The Future of Our World as It Is Known to Caribou" runs through Saturday, January 9, 2021, at Artinformal, Karrivin Alley, Makati. artinformal.com