a version of this was published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, September 14 2009.
It was on two seemingly disparate occasions that the interweaving of art and music came to life for this writer. The first one involved the unfinished and unfulfilled CD project of the arts organization CANVAS and Ambient Media, where local musicians collaborate with visual artists on the theme of Filipino identity. The second was what seemed to be a run-of-the-mill album launch of Grace Nono, in a genre all her own, singing her versions of various Visayan-Cebuano love songs.
In the end, both experiences meant a letting go of the ways in which I view art in itself, or listen to music by itself, as both collide into an intertexuality that’s both of the moment, but is entirely universal as well.
A new Juan for music
It was on the third night of the Manila Art Fest 2009 that contemporary Pinoy rock and gallery upon gallery of visual art came together in one merry mix. Borne of its “Looking For Juan” project CANVAS treated this audience to the experience of music as art, and vice versa. At an NBC Tent filled with paintings and sculptures, bands Loquy and Peryodiko made it seem like it was the most normal thing to hold a rock concert here – sans the mosh pit.
But dancing would’ve been the last thing on anyone’s mind, as this was art overload if there ever is one. In the midst of this visual feast, the music was as much the background as it was the star of the show. Yes, even when Loquy did some covers, and even when they started turning off the lights to the strains of Peryodiko’s set.
Loquy’s covers of foreign songs were as representative after all of the current Pinoy’s neo-colonial mind, as many of the paintings in those stalls were. Case in point: Andy Warhol-like (still!) paintings, and postmodern-inspired assessments of the contemporary urban Pinoy landscape, goodness. What were these but a removal from the real conditions of nation that in a time of crisis is downright irrelevant?
Probably the only sadder realization was the fact that CANVAS had yet to record all the songs that are part of this project, and that the two songs I heard that night from Peryodiko and Loquy were but a sneak peek at a CD that might never see the light of day. (I have since bought Peryodiko’s debut album though, a must-have for anyone – absolutely anyone – who swears to love Pinoy rakenrol).
As a collaboration between visual artists and musicians who, in contemporary times, problematize the question of identity, rooted as that still is in contemporary crises and conditions, this project is everything and important. Where are those nationalist indie music producers when you need them?
Some Grace for some art
Although she was singing songs from a CD of all Visayan love songs, there seemed to be very little of a language gap that balmy night at Yuchengco Museum when Grace Nono strutted her stuff after far too long. Nowhere in the invitation would you even imagine the magnitude of this woman’s voice, ricocheting against the walls and high dome ceiling of the museum’s first floor. The Orlinas on the second floor must have been shaking.
Entitled Dalit: Ballads on Love, Loss, and Finding Heart Again, the universality of Nono’s and musical arranger Bob Aves’ most recent CD is anything but a hindrance to its extraordinary power. While some of the lyrics seemed vaguely familiar, it is the singing and the music that render these songs unfamiliar – its newness is unmistakable. Nono herself did the research on these songs handed down from the elders of various Visayan provinces, and given her voice, Aves’ musicality, and the songs’ beauty to begin with, it was difficult not to be haunted by the loves and losses here.
Even more so because these songs were rendered at the Yunchengco Museum, and in the midst of the Juan Lunas, Botong Franciscos and Fernando Amorsolos on that first floor. Dalit’s music seemed strangely in harmony, highlighting the problematique at the same time that it problematizes the art around it. And yes, vice versa.
This dynamic would continue well into the evening as Boy Yuchengco and his pals continued jamming onstage, and as I walked through the manton de manila exhibit on the museum’s third floor. Entitled Draped in Silk, The Journey of the Manton de Manila, and curated by the museum’s resident curator Jeannie E. Javelosa, one is treated to mannequins in beautiful floor length shawls as contemporary interpretations of the original manton’s concept and elements. But this was no simple rendering of an old concept using contemporary aesthetics.
There was Margarita Fores’ installation art, a mix of dried wood and flowers, structured into an unconventional topiary. Ann Wizer’s mannequin was barely in a shawl, surrounded as it was with strings and unfinished crochet projects, highlighting its title “Cheap and Fast (Sorry, No More Silk). Wig Tysmans and George Tapan exhibited their literal and figurative photos of the manton – the former with prints of a 1996 pictorial of Pitoy Moreno couture at Plaza de Mayor in Madrid, the latter with prints of the colors and movements on the manton’s print as represented in Hispanic-introduced festivals and Maranao malongs. Amina Aranaz-Alunan’s interpretation of the manton came in the form of a tiny evening bag “Manton de Bolsa de Aranaz”, while Michelline Syjuco’s “She Never Did Care About the Little Things” was an installation of an empty chair in what looked like an unfinished – even disregarded – space.
It was clear here that this is no thin line that connects the 16th century precious cargo that was the manton and the contemporary conditions of the Filipino woman. That while it may be deemed superfluous to speak of beauty and fashion in this day of downtrodden Filipina lives, there is much that can be said about the socially-relevant and -involved rendering of what is deemed as superfluous.
And to the strains of the ethnic music from downstairs, superfluity seemed all but secondary.
Tagged: CANVAS, Dalit, Draped in Silk exhibit, Grace Nono, Looking For Juan, Loquy, love songs, Manila Art 2009, Manton de Manila exhibit, Peryodiko, pinoy rock, rakenrol, Visayan love songs, Yuchengco Museum