a version of this was published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer‘s Arts and Books section, October 26 2009.
Kiri Dalena looks at me and acknowledges familiarity – here was no high and mighty, isolated and removed artist. After establishing the lines that bound us, she jokingly whispers a rhetorical question, “I am not young or exciting … why am I here?”
There is nothing here in fact but self-deprecation, and a whole lot of humility. Kiri talks about her art, diverse as it is, as if it is all a matter of life and death. No, not in the romantic sense of dying for an art project, or having a life unworthy of being lived without art. There is no romantic notions of being artist here, no I’m-an-artist-hear-me-roar bravado. Instead, Kiri speaks in a hushed voice that belies a very clear sense of perspective. Maybe even a stark notion of her function as artist.
For Kiri, her art is everything and a representation of her own personal involvement in the lives that are lived in this country and the contingent deaths we face everyday. It is about her activism – the kind that translates to a dynamism in her work that refuses to be ahistorical, and banks precisely on a conscientious and consistent interest in the nation she lives in.
In this sense, Kiri seems to be necessarily in collaboration with her world all of the time, across the kinds of media she delves in – sculpture, documentary filmmaking, installation art – all these years that we have known her to be an artist. And yet, there remains to be so much growth here, in the mere fact of her efforts at literal collaborations and the kinds of evolution it allows.
Kiri speaks of the dynamism of her recent work currently in exhibition at the National Museum. She had asked carvers from her native Paete Laguna to render her clay sculptures in wood, replete with all its flaws and mistakes. Here, Kiri speaks of how the weight of her work does lie as well in its imperfections and seeming disregard for what would otherwise be deemed as orderly, or correct, or well, just plain perfect. She also speaks of this collaboration as something that’s new to her, and therefore as something that’s appealing. She also speaks of this collaboration without seeming superior to the carvers of Paete, or well, without seeming superior to anyone, period.
Which just might be what does keep Kiri all excited – and exciting – as an artist. When the deep well of creativity comes from one’s own sense of the real conditions of nation, when it is entrenched in the societal changes and unjust stabilities that oppress and repress us, when it is conscious of one’s role in the bigger stage that we all necessarily perform in, there can really only be excitement.
And rebellion and vibrance and humility, and the truth(s) of youth, that Kiri lives. Every other young and exciting artist should want to be the same.