Tuesday, March 06, 2007


[First published in The Philippine Star, March 5, 2007]


A poem of mine that's been much-anthologized, titled "Andy Warhol Speaks to His Two Filipino Maids," starts with these lines:

"Art, my dears, is not cleaning up/ after the act. Neither is it washing off/ grime with the soap of tact. In fact/ and in truth, my dears, art is dead// center, between meals, amid spices/ and spoilage..."

This came to mind at the penultimate day of the five-week-old exhibit titled "Chromatext Reloaded" at the CCP Main Gallery. The poets, writers and artists who had participated were ready to help strike down the display the next day and take the works home. In a way we had enjoyed our Warholian 15 minutes of public scrutiny if not exactly fame.

But at the scheduled closing event last Tuesday — a performed poetry gig billed as "Word of Mouth" that drew an audience of over 150 people who gave of their engrossed time "between meals" — CCP Visual Arts head Sid Gomez Hildawa announced that "owing to overwhelming public demand," the show would be extended by another week. This means that those who still have to catch it can do so until 6 p.m. tomorrow.

It could have been the appreciation drawn from the public, especially from groups of students from Los Baños, Dasmariñas in Cavite, Tarlac and Baguio City that visited the gallery and filled up the attendance ledger with glowing remarks like "Unique!" and "Fantastic!" Or it might have been the voiced request of not a few writer-artists themselves, such as culture honcho Nick Tiongson, hear tell, who hoped to yet find a chance to view the exhibit.

Well, a co-participant has claimed that it's been one of the most exciting displays mounted at the CCP over the past year. I wouldn't know about that. But at the risk of being accused of unabated self-promotion, I can't help but share the glad tidings that "Chromatext Reloaded" did bring together quite a bunch of spirited "Sunday artists" — whose tokens of creative expression were allowed the privilege of hanging alongside others of a legitimate claim to gallery walls, floors, ledges and glassed-in boxes.

These latter works included textually highlighted wood sculpture by National Artist Billy Abueva, writers' portraits by National Artist Bencab, distinctive canvases and graphic art by multimedia artists David Medalla, Manny Baldemor, Pandy Aviado, Danny Dalena, Rock Drilon, Fil de la Cruz, Tita Lacambra Ayala, Gilda Cordero Fernando, Erlinda Panlilio, Mav Rufino, Margot Marfori, Barbara Gonzalez, Beaulah Taguiwalo, Heber Bartolome, Pete Lacaba, Jun Cruz Reyes, Frank Rivera, Jean Marie Syjuco and Cesare A.X. Syjuco, among others.

Toss in holographs (in their own write, that is) of poems by National Artists Edith L. Tiempo and Virgilio S. Almario, stunning sculpture by Agnes Arellano and riveting installation art by Vim Carmelo Nadera, Lorina Javier, and Raul Funilas, plus movie actor Piolo Pascual's handwritten appropriation of poet-novelist R. Zamora Linmark's couplets — inscribed across the heartthrob's own glossy photos in a magazine — and you get an idea of the kind of mélange, motley and multi-dimensional, offered on view.

A few days before the performance reading, I had a chance to revisit the scene of these startling crimes of verbal-visual fusion. In the quiet and relative solitude (only a couple was around, intently taking notes before each work), I managed to appreciate the whole shebang even more.

Certain sections of the grand exhibit involving over 80 literary and visual artists will stay in the mind, or mind's eye. That end corner occupied by Jean Marie's tantalizing sculptural installation. Boy Yuchengco's altar. RayVi Sunico's wine bottles with poem labels. Handcrafted books by Babeth Lolarga and Del Tolentino. Xerography by Raul Ingles and the late Larry Francia of the writers' group named The Ravens.

Then there's a section that is probably the most hypermodern of the lot. From the left wall and panning right were Maxine Syjuco's arresting photo assemblage, followed by Fran Ng's self-portrait in oil upon which is layered quasi-graffiti on a plastic sheet, thence three illustrated poems by Danton Remoto, one of these half-concealed in a wooden frame, and then a small audio-video gizmo hooked up to the wall with earphones, allowing anyone to listen privately to Lourd de Veyra's recitation while viewing flowing images concocted by Nona Garcia.

Off the wall, at the center of this recessed area, are a couple of monitor screens playing text-layered video by both Sarge Lacuesta and Mookie Katigbak, while fronting them, on the floor, is a weighing scale where one can stand and view the poundage tape reel through, and stop at the word "Kulang."

Towards the right is Judy Freya Sibayan's wall installation that incorporates alphabet blocks, followed by Angelo Suarez's corner installation of a chair mounted with his cheeky deconstruction of mentor Ophie Dimalanta's poem. Taking up the right wall are Igan D'Bayan's oil painting of sheep-men's faces pregnant with the silence of a howl, and lastly, a Red Cross paper installation that is visual poetry decanted by Eileen Tabios from Marcos' literary era.

The assemblage turns even more dynamic when one sees viewers padding up to each work in reverential gaze and/or perusal/participation, such as at last Tuesday's event. Lasting nearly three hours, "Word of Mouth" was something else again, combining the energies of senior "page poet" readers with those of electric (in more ways than one!) musicians, performance crews, spoken word adepts, hip-hop rappers in both Tagalog and English... Such dynamism, mesmerizing as a litany!

Particularly memorable was the opening number by Lirio Salvador of the experimental band Elemento, conducted on a gleaming metal contraption that took the electronic organ into the 22nd century. Same with the harmonium and electric violin duo of Punnu Wasu and Oz Arcilla, who were eventually joined by verbalist Yanna Acosta (she who has just written two original songs with master guitarist Sammy Asuncion, for Candid!).

In the epic midst of all that sound confabulation, a student from PSID, Nityalila Saulo, lofted the evening into ether with her lovely, powerful voice — rendering with solo acoustic guitar a finely melodic song she herself composed, as an adaptation of Marjorie Evasco's classic poem "Origami."

Took everyone's breath away, before we could fold and tuck our corners of delight into a night's gigabyte of awe.

Now, art, my dears, can be all that and more. More often than not, in this country that fairly brims with transcendental creative genius, particularly in the visual and performing fields, we wish for more time — "amid spices and spoilage" — to soak ourselves in the cornucopia.

I for one would like nothing more than to declare retirement in my over-preening dotage, so I may spend my whiles and wherefores in the comfort of art galleries and theaters, taking in what's best in the Pinoy. So many artists, so much art stuff to revel in. But breadwinning chores prevent us from attending every exhibit opening we're invited to, so that we can only defer to old friendships in the appreciation of across-the-board, across-the-archipelago talent.

There was our young buddy Igan D'Bayan's second solo exhibit at The Crucible, another sold-out affair, even if not consisting of garden-variety sala decor, but rather of provocatively "dark" paintings that seemed to marry Goth and Meta, their connubial bliss spiced up with rock-and-roll!

Why, that's what I should have said to Jaime Zobel when we ran into one another before the opening at Megamall's Art Walk, and he had asked me to explain the appeal of Igan's art. He had made sure to visit the exhibit before the crowd came, something to do with a wisdom tooth pre-empting sosyal chitchat.

So we stood there by another gallery, wondering about the vagaries of art, including the beautiful accidents occasioned by such group shows as his recent one with my cousin Reggie Yuson (I claim kinship!) and company. It is possibly the same with "Chromatext Reloaded," which I urged him to view, if only to see a title card for an oil painting that read: "After Jaime Zobel's Red Flower Photograph."

We feed on one another, on the healthy diet of competition and mutual, collegial, communal support. Rockers Chikoy Pura and Mon Espia perform live at Igan's opening, and somehow we see (and hear, resoundingly) how Igan's art relates to the retro music in the air.

Before crossing paths with Don Jaime, himself an accomplished artist, I had been taking in the proliferation of architectural art ("Gimme Shelter!") among the display in three galleries at Art Walk: Prisms, Passionata, and Purple, which all owe their materials to Chuckie Arellano's fabulous personal collection.

I've begun to think that art is like that, too: democratic even if conducted mostly by aristocrats of creative expression. Finally it becomes meritocracy at work, and play.

At "Word of Mouth," I finally get to meet the widow and artist-daughter of old friend Ibarra de la Rosa (bless his comic soul), who once stayed with me in Dumaguete during a Negros painting foray with Jon Altomonte, way back in 1970. I tell Camille de la Rosa that I've been following her early success as a painter, in the papers. Genetically predisposed she is, of course. But what she does next, or progressively, would owe as much to what she sees being done around her, and how she reacts to it, as to her father's legacy.

Also last week, while planning a commemorative affair for the third anniversary by late April of Nick Joaquin's demise, his literary executor Billy Lacaba recounted a funny story.

It seems Billy had tried to make "arbor" an oil portrait of what he thought was a religious lady, veiled and all, that hang in Nick's room. The master's voice boomed: "Hindi taga Cofradia 'yan, kundi lady of the night. At kay Abe Aguilar Cruz 'yan! Hindi ko bibigay sayo!" Inspecting the painting, however, Billy found its authorship on the back of the framed canvas. It wasn't Abe's at all. Showing this to Nick, Billy got this response: "A, di pala sa kaibigan kong si Abe. Kung ganun, sayo na lang."

Names can be important, my dears. As is, of course, friendship. Take the current display of "Macau Magic" at the second floor lounge of The Podium. With friends Bencab, Soler, Phyllis Zaballero and Claude Tayag as the featured artists, and Nilo Ilarde as curator, how could I decline the invite from organizer Finale Art File and Bob Zozobrado?

No way. And I was glad, too, that I attended the unveiling, for not only was a lion and dragon dance presented; I also ran into my old buddy FVR who was a guest of honor. (To think that only a week earlier I had photographed beloved Tita Cory Aquino presenting her paintings to Benedictine fathers at the Red & White Ball. And I had interjected, "Fathers, she's the finest Sunday lady painter I know." To which the ever-gracious lady riposted: "Ikaw naman, oo.")

Now here was her successor in the flesh, too, at an art opening. Why, shaking hands with the best president we've had in recent memory is to learn that he makes a living now out of the golf course.

"Not from sandbagging, Sir, I hope?"

"Not on your life. From honestly playing the game, against all dishonest comers."

Bravo. That could be a quip applied to art, too. And so, my dears, from Andy Warhol to El Tabako, wisdom is gained that will see us through for more than 15 minutes — rather a lifetime of tact, of truth, and of being right on center.


  • What does the speaker in the poem mean by “art is dead”? Explain the death of art.

    By Blogger Cris, at 8:11 AM  

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