dancing, spilled red, and stuffed toys
chai and russ
I am therefore I'm art
Vera Leigh C. Lasam gets kicked out of the box by a genre slasher.
(Sunstar Weekend piece, Sep29'07)
Everything constitutes the work.
It occurs live; no rules, no guidelines. It covers any topic, real and unreal. Performance art seems to evade definitions. Suffice it to say it is a personal expression and a public experience born from various media at the place and time it happens.
Arthistory.com traces the term performance art from the 1960s in the US when “live artistic events that included poets, musicians, filmmakers, etc. – in addition to visual artists happen.” It was this boom that saw the likes of Chicago’s Sarah Binion perform household chores, like laundry and ironing, as experiments in a new genre detaching itself from the category of installation arts or theater.
In Cebu, consistently practicing performance art is the University of the Philippines in the Visayas Cebu College (UPVCC)’s Fine Arts Program through its annual “Mindworks.” Around 1980, then students, now teachers and artists, Roy “Roylu” Lumagbas and Raymund Fernandez initiated a “theater of the absurd” group play under the class of Jose “Javy” Villacin. The
Theater of the Absurd diverts from realism through works like plays with repetitive dialogue and seemingly meaningless plots.
Javy, Roylu, Wilson, Mundz
While “Mindworks” is already two decades old and counting, it usually comes as a yearly university event. It also does not travel around and reach out to audiences beyond the academe and other art supporters.
As an offshoot of the Mindworks tradition, the group of Javy, Raymund, Roylu and other youngblood has been going around town, mounting performances. They dub themselves “xo?”
“xoxo means love and kisses and connotes affection. The name is pronounced ‘SO?’ The question mark is meant to establish our attitude towards what we do. The question mark is an inflection, which is a bit arrogant but is also reflective of the fact that we need a lot of guts to do what we do. So?” explains Raymund.
UPVCC Mass Communication alumna Chai Fonacier recalls a performance where she marked calendars on the 15th and the 30th.
These she pasted on the outer sides of a box sized just enough to fit her. After taking out a black umbrella, she hid inside the box, while another performer rained marbles on her. “I fitted myself like a turtle. From inside, it did sound like it was raining. I factored in the idioms ‘saving up for a rainy day’ and ‘losing one’s marbles’ over trying to keep things together.”
Chai sees the common wage earner as depending so much on what he or she gets every 15 days. “Here, the employee eventually ends up living in a small box, with opportunities to explore space lost to him or her.” Chai considers herself a newbie to performance art and would like to see her works as molding around a moving concept. “It’s like 3D poetry, and you’re playing with spontaneity like clay."
Roylu adds that a performance artist can “rely on his or her being an amateur. (The artist) always accepts the limitations of non-virtuosity, turns it around to his or her advantage by becoming agile, ready to shift between forms, material and media in the middle of a performance. This is a form of visual art that encompasses many other artistic forms, chief of which is his or her own body as a central element, often dance. It is backgrounded by the passage of time and this very passage can often be the subject of an artist’s meditation or artistic intervention.”
For Russ Ligtas, a performance is first experienced, and then remembered. “When I look at documents of my performances, I get surprised, and say ‘Was that what really happened? Did I really do that?’ then it comes back to me slowly, like trying to remember what happened on my seventh birthday. I remember performances like kissing my first boyfriend, or drinking my first shot of tequila. I remember how it felt on my skin or the way I stood or sat, experiencing the whole thing.”
Some performances also actively involve the audience. Roylu’s “I face white with white” was made in memory of a poet friend. Wearing an all-white ensemble, he had a red bicycle light blinking from the middle of his chest. Spreading talcum powder with a paintbrush, he drew an oval face-like shape in the middle of this talcum-filled area. Powdering his face, he sat in the classic zazeb pose. Then standing up, he placed talcum on the audience’s cupped hands, stopping only when everyone’s palms turned white.
“Why one chooses death over life is an immense mystery, a whiteness best faced with silence, a profound but grateful silence. Grateful that we are witness to this mystery, we participate in it, even do with it what we wish, including making up stories, philosophies, religions.”
With performances leaning outside popular forms, xo? tries to make the audience get used to the unexpected.
Raymund emphasizes that “xo? is not pop. But what’s good is we have a following of older audiences, as well as the younger ones. It is new in our locality and we continue to promote this as a viable medium of expression. Performance art is as relevant as ever.”
Does the medium work? “We don’t (know),” answers Raymund. “We cannot tell for sure. Except for the fact that our regular audience seems to like it. Our venues seem to like it; we perform inside malls, bars, and on the streets. Art is always an expression of faith. We do because we believe.”