Art/Style/Travel Diaries

The Happy Birthday Merchicken Show: Inside Lilianna Manahan’s curious mind

Multidisciplinary artist exhibits chicken porcelain— anthropomorphized, art-toy repository of childhood inspiration

Hand painted white and colored porcelain

Colored and white porcelain with gold glaze

The Happy Birthday Merchicken Show is ongoing at the Secret Fresh Gallery, Ronac Art Center, Ortigas Ave., San Juan until May 17, 2024.

In The Happy Birthday Merchicken Show, multidisciplinary artist Lilianna Manahan reflects on years of living with a sense of fun and wonder from observing things surrounding her childhood, making stories and finding lovely possibilities in all things.

She found these in the contours, nooks and crannies of her parents workrooms and in particular, her grandmother’s collection  of  Chinese cloissonne enamel chickens. The chickens became anthropomorphized repositories of childhood secrets and games she and her sister would play with.

The cloisonne chickens were companionable  at the same time mysterious, each piece—a small universe. Lilianna eventually made a chicken out of brass in 2012.

Throughout the years, she incorporated the chicken in her drawings, jewelry, a few times it would make an appearance in her paper works.

For this show at Secret Fresh Gallery at Ronac Art Center, she chose to work with fine clay for making porcelain, embarking on a year’s collaboration with fine craft artisans, using casting and firing techniques.

Porcelain often referred to in artisan circles as the “diva of clay bodies” is typically fired between 2381℉ and 2455℉ (1305℃ and 1346℃).  A high-fire clay body, it matures at a much higher temperature than earthenware, stoneware, or other ceramic materials. It is known for its hardness, extremely tight density and  whiteness.

Lilianna handpaints the casts made from the molds and applies glazes by brushing, dripping, splattering and drawing for a variety of finished effects. She purposely leaves some white spaces for porcelain’s radiance and delicacy to show. The chickens have become vehicles for expression and new storytelling.

“The ceramic process has so many steps that can  backfire on you and cause you to start all over. I had pieces that exploded inside the kiln and I couldn’t figure out what the reason was. That was just something I had to accept, that even if I could prepare for everything I was working with craftsmen, the clay and the elements, collaborating with all three. That’s why the process alone makes each piece already special and with its own story, also because I know how many steps and firings they had to go through.”

The beauty of Lilianna’s Happy Birthday Merchicken Show is that it is about what she is most happy doing: pushing her material. She thrives in the gestation process that involves trials, experimentation, playfulness and persistence. This is evident in all her past shows, whether it be on drawing, goldsmithing, silversmithing, paper sculpting, printmaking, furniture and product designing. They are always results of a terrific imagination and clever curiosity.

A multidisciplinary artist, she can never be put in a box

A multidisciplinary artist, she can never be put in a box. She is constantly scrambling out of it, reframing design, going out of boundaries, and denying expectations.

She’s ordained 12 years as a good milestone for her Merchicken to be celebrated—“celebrating small wins in my everyday life,” she says.

Lilianna puts forth into this heat wave of 2024, 23 porcelain chickens (15 large ones and 8 minis) that offer a window into her imagination while poised for you to create your own story, your own creaturely connection. Each piece intersects the realm of anthropomorphism and art toy, showcasing her multidisciplinary ingenuity and approach to artmaking.

The Happy Birthday Merchicken Show is a liberating artistic experience for all of us.

The Happy Birthday Merchicken Show is ongoing at the Secret Fresh Gallery, Ronac Art Center, Ortigas Ave. San Juan; till May 17, 2024

About author


A former magazine editor, she writes about arts and culture, both as journalist and as friend to many of the country’s foremost artists, designers and the culturati.

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