Saturday, July 09, 2016

Now showing

I CAME home after three days of being closeted in research proposal writing. The decompression of one’s world jolts when, after three days of trying to read the code embedded in a piece of loom-woven fabric, the same pair of eyes scans the front pages of newspapers.

July 8, Philippine Daily Inquirer, page 1: “Probe of killings pushed,” “PH may become a killing field,” “Drug killings,” “Vigilantes kill Bulacan policeman,” “Rody names 3 Triad drug lords, pins Garbo,” “Inquirer ‘Kill List’,” “Drug-related killings hit 72 since June 30,” “Drug deaths add more life to funeral trade,” and my favorite: “Buhay na buhay ang negosyo ng patay!”

Death used to be a mystery; now it’s commonplace. Occasionally, the mind-numbing march pauses to allow a distraction: the coffin of slain drug personality Jeffrey “Jaguar” Diaz seems to float in a sea of mourners in Amper Campaña’s unforgettable photo splashed on page 1 of the June 28 issue of Sun.Star Superbalita (Cebu).

According to Arnold Y. Bustamante’s report, more than 2,500 people walked the 1.7-kilometer distance from Duljo Fatima, where Jaguar lived, to accompany the body to the cemetery in Calamba. The vivid imagery of Bustamante’s journalese rivals the Campaña banner photo and shames pallid translation into English: “Halos nahabwa and tibuok barangay nga nitahod kang Jaguar busa nagsugwak ang mga tawo sa simbahan…”

What more is needed for a blockbuster? A cast of thousands, a central figure who became even larger than life with his death and burial, the church, the police providing comic relief (the Mambaling police chief had to send officers for Jaguar’s spectacular exit “kase nagka problema na tayo sa ‘traffic’ doon, eh”) and, last but not the least, the drum and bugle corps leading the funeral procession.

In this wired word, an event is an event only when it draws a reaction. Watching the televised coverage of Jaguar’s funeral cortege, I overheard my companion mutter, “Why don’t they arrest all those drug users and pushers accompanying Jaguar? Look, they’re even in uniform(ed shirts). Are the police blind?”

The culture of death is creeping inexorably from the peripheries and the undersides to the center. Just like in a nightmare, our thinking and actions defy what we suppress when we are awake and aware. Those of us who think that the “others” should be “neutralized” to keep the world “safe” for “us” are as abnormal as those of us who gave a man labeled by the police as the no. 1 drug lord in Central Visayas a hero’s burial.

So, are we in a nightmare we need to wake up from? Or do we pretend death is just another movie and we can take a leak during commercials?

Last June 30, I was at the University of the Philippines (UP) Cebu Digital Fabrication Laboratory (FabLab), watching an XO? performance.

Raymund Fernandez played a riff with the sax. Linya Ocampo Fernandez rolled inside a black swath of cloth, one hand swaying like a leaf. Aldrich Maligsa pantomimed with pursed lips, emitting the sound of a leaf being played like a flute. The XO? performance was dedicated to the passing of drummer Winston Rallosa Velez.

The performance ends with the destruction of artwork by the artists who created this. Long after the last banging reduces creation to waste, my heart still hammers. I never heard Velez play in life but I can hear what death silenced. And could not.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s July 10, 2016 issue of “Matamata,” the Sunday editorial-page column

Saturday, July 02, 2016

Which orifice is talking?

THE ARTIST wore a checkered polo, jeans and running shoes. He uncapped a tube of toothpaste and brushed his teeth.

He bent to put down the tube of toothpaste and toothbrush on the floor. He picked up a megaphone and whispered into it.

I don’t know about my fellow onlookers but I wasn’t sure at first if I heard him right. He said “Patya… patya” as if he were whispering a secret or entreating a lover.

Then the megaphone was replaced on the floor. The artist picked up the tube and brush and repeated the act of brushing.

Then the switch again, the megaphone covering the lips that repeated the words, clearer now because after the second and third and other times, the man was screaming: “Patya… patya… patya sila (kill them).”

A scent of peppermint permeated the silence inside the room occupied at the center by the artist in the checkered polo and his manic monologue.

With each brushing, the man’s lips, chin then the lower half of his face glistened with red. He was a harlot gone amok with lipstick. A clown prowling to get out of a nightmare. A demagogue drunk with power.

To some of us, the performer dripping red reminded us of the man who, just that noon, took his oath as the country’s 16th president.

Later, the artist Roy Lumagbas, known better as Roylu, informed us that the title of his performance was “Sipilyo/ Si Pilyo”. The homonyms are not interchangeable: the first use refers to a toothbrush; the second means “The Mischievous One”.

Some of us wanted to know if Roylu has an advocacy against President Rodrigo Duterte, whose campaign promise to end criminality by any means, even extrajudicial killing, was embraced by more than 14.8 million voters, representing 39 percent of the electorate.

Roylu, who now lives in Bolivia, is a member of XO?, pronounced as “So?,” the quintessential question that triggers doubt, inquiry and criticism. XO is a group of Fine Arts alumni, students and faculty of the University of the Philippines (UP) Cebu.

Artists in their own right, the XO members occasionally gather to use performance art to draw the public’s attention to issues. The audience gathered last June 30 at the UP Cebu Fabrication Laboratory (FabLab) was composed of artists, students and teachers.

We had earlier listened to visiting multimedia artist, professor Leticia R. Bajuyo of the University of Notre Dame and Hanover College, talk about her work with “momentary monuments.”

Retrieving the detritus of commercial culture, Prof. Bajuyo constructed monumental artwork from metal slugs, Styrofoam peanuts, compact discs and other throwaway materials. Unlike monuments that are traditionally built to last, Bajuyo’s art is about using transience to “make the matter matter.”

People are fickle, she observed. We suffer from “social amnesia”. Yet, art connects people so we can reflect on “what we remember and what we forget.”

UP professor Raymund Fernandez, a co-founder of XO?, said that unlike actors who play a role, an artist is “not acting” in performance art. During martial law, Roylu, Mons and I had classmates, students, and friends who “disappeared” for being political lepers: activists, human rights workers, Reds.

Now we hear again the unspeakable made popular and official: “Kill the others”.

When artists speak—or say, brush their teeth—it pays to listen.

( 01973226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s July 3, 2016 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”