IN 1911, two years after Baguio was chartered into a city, the American colonial government decided to build a railroad leading to this hill station.
The project was then known as the Aringay-Baguio Line. It was supposed to complement the Benguet Road which would later be known as Kennon Road. That road was then turning into a colossal headache and the Americans then thought that a railroad would be cheaper and faster.
It was however the apex of hubris, similar to bringing a steamboat in the Amazonian jungle ala Fitzcarraldo.
Landslides, frequent rains, and the alcoholism problem of the European consultants were the new hindrances of the railroad dream. When the Americans abandoned the idea of making Baguio the summer capital, the railroad project was also shelved.
Instead, the Benguet Auto Line was established to ferry American and Filipino tourists from the railroad station in Damortis up to the resort wonderland.
More than 100 years later, Baguio artist Leonard Aguinaldo revived the Aringay-Baguio Line. The idea came to him during the COVID-19 lockdown when the Baguio government seemed to be ‘railroading’ the takeover of the Baguio City Market by a huge mall complex.
The stone market was also one of the “civilizing” projects of the Americans.
Every weekend, the market would be open but the Igorots were required to wear their ritual costumes. The Ilocanos would have to wear their whitest sharkskin trousers even if they were there to sell dogs, salt, and tobacco.
The landscape in Aguinaldo’s huge tapestry was also turned into a huge, eternal chessboard and the players included the mayor and the Igorots in their “americanas.”
The Ibalois were also placed in the middle of the railroad track, akin to the silent movies at that time where “people” were tied on the tracks as the trains arrive.
Oh, the stories the people in this tableau would tell, which is why it was titled, “The Baguio Stories.”
Leonard Aguinaldo is a major Baguio artist, known for his “okir” or huge rubber sheets etched and colored with printer ink.
With “Baguio Stories”, he decided on using woodcuts, carving on five plywood panels, and using only black ink to appropriate the silent movies at the turn of the old century.
There are also enough details to give you micro-stories of the market like the railroad track coming out from the mouth of the Kennon Lion, penis ashtray, bul-ol as pawns, Baguio brooms, and man-in-the-barrel.
This is Leonard’s second huge installation. His first one, now on display at the Singapore Art Museum, is the Kandong tree installation which tells the story of Candon and the supplication of mythic stories by the Catholic Church.
Candon is the home of Aguinaldo’s parents while Baguio is his hometown.
In his childhood days, he remembered the mini-train at Burnham Park.
In his middle-aged days, Leonard Aguinaldo gives us the ferocity of his train of thought and the tragedy it will bring us if we don’t stop its track.- Frank Cimatu