MANILA, Philippines -- The stand-off between two warring sides of the same theory of power in the last Philippine elections is a call to speak up loud and clear on the alternative theory of power called art.
Forget art as decoration, status symbol, hedge against inflation or propaganda. Deeper still is art as challenge to the ruling order with a different way of seeing, feeling, thinking and being.
On this level, art becomes an alternative politics, economics, history, education ? and spirituality. The thread is creativity rooted in a vision of infinite possibility, beginning with one?s own. Whether or not we realize it, every life is visited by inspiration, enticing it to a fuller life away from ?the dreary wasteland of dead habit,? as the poet Rabindranath Tagore once called it, into art ? if we let it.
?If we let it? is the decisive element. Yielding to inspiration or refusing it for the old and familiar decides personal fate; cumulated over generations, it can shape a nation. This is why it?s vital to regularly reclaim ourselves in silence ? free of static from politics, media, consumerism, religious sectarianism, even family and profession ? to listen to the still, small voice of originality.
To do otherwise is to risk aborting masterpieces all are invited to create from the raw material of existence. The world may see and recognize them; it may not. Art will always be its own sweet reward.
Let?s illustrate this today with the anti-clone life adventures of one Alwin Reamillo, 42, before and after he became a CCP Thirteen Artists awardee at 29. Departure from habitual ways of seeing has clearly marked this life ? beginning with his response to the brownouts of the Cory years as a young art teacher in the Philippine High School for the Arts (PHSA).
Like Namfrel on the snap election trail, Alwin did not curse the darkness. He Pied Pipered his class to glee: So it?s dark, let?s play with shadows! Light and shadow had always fascinated him, its possibilities for theatre inflamed by a trip to the wayang kulit center of Jogjakarta as an art student.
With a VHS camera just arrived at the PHSA, brownouts became perfect moments for his class to capture shadow play on video. Then teacher and students created three vignettes named after their two class sections, Ang Shadow Play ng Rizal at Hidalgo that won first prize in the experimental category of the CCP Alternative Cinema and Video Competition in 1991.
The following year brought another first prize in experimental cinema, this time for Alwin?s project with Berni Solina of Teatro Mulat and PHSA theater instructor Junevic Andrion ? ?Kuwento ng Aray (The Story of Ouch),? an MTV of the year?s Earth Day song competition winner, limned in more artful light and shadow.
Setback transformed into art became tradition on Mt. Makiling, soon sending out seeds of shadow play theatre to such as the Pundaquit Arts Festival in Zambales. The Anino Collective was formally organized in 1993; 14 years later, its latter-day disciples are going strong, with new techniques that make its progenitor smile in pleased recall of its first inspiration.
Alwin took his first trip to Australia for the Third Artists Regional Exchange in 1992. In 1993, he received the Thirteen Artists Award and made his first major artistic statement with the ?Black Hole Project? back in Manila.
In collaboration with Juliet Lea, a British-Australian sculptor he met (and fell in love with) at the Arts Exchange, ?Black Hole? responded to Imelda Marcos?s return from exile with performance art. It centered on a famous unresolved trauma ? the burial of over a hundred construction workers in quick-drying cement, when a top floor collapsed on them in the tight deadline for a Manila Film Center hastily built for the opening of the first Manila International Film Festival in 1982.
An abandoned building wreathed in rumors of ghosts became an unblinking metaphor of the Iron Butterfly?s role under Martial Law. Lit by theater lights, Madame Marcos?s ghost image wept tears of coins ? an image lodged deeper into racial memory when filmmaker Ramona Diaz spliced it into her documentary film ?Imelda? twelve years later.
Alwin and Juliet also went up and lived together in Baguio in 1993, close to the visionaries of the Baguio Arts Guild. It could have gone on indefinitely for him, but in 1995, at her urging, they moved to Australia with a two-year old son. The vision of the umbilical cord between art and history that left with Alwin would now reveal its universality on foreign soil.
Soon something inside him began to whisper another role for an artist in diaspora - ?a mobile facilitator, no longer fixed in a nation state.? ?Social sculpture? is how he defines the natural attraction that took him to live with aboriginal communities for months, coaxing their experience of white Australia to the fore through art.
A high point emerged in 2003, when the art students he taught fulltime in remote Western Australia created a four-meter long ?helicopter? with found materials ? wild turkey feathers and emu claws all over wild country, plus aluminum beer cans in pointed reference to the life-sapping contagion of alcoholism that white colonizers spread all over the indigenous world in pristine Nature.
Trying to transcend bitter history with art, a new ?abo? generation had recovered the memory of Jandamarra, a legendary tribal medicine man and his four-year resistance campaign against white settlers, using bullets made from melted tin objects raided from their homes. The ?abo helicopter? called ?Jandamarra Crossing? ? adorned by the Royal Australian Air Force logo and flying the colors of the aboriginal flag ? was short-listed for the National Sculpture Prize from 500 entries nationwide, one of only 20 chosen for exhibit at the Australian National Art Gallery.
Acquired by the Western Australian Museum, it speaks with the rich subtext of a past and present at war for one excuse or another. ?The opening of the National Sculpture Prize was the very day John Howard committed Australia to the war in Iraq,? notes Alwin wryly, adding that while the helicopter is a modern weapon of choice, older victims of Western colonization have already turned it into another way of seeing.
Grander and Grander
Alwin?s new Australian citizenship in 1999 quickly went beyond its original purpose of easing his son?s legal status. Now he was qualified for art residencies and self-generated art projects that had him ranging Australia and visiting New Zealand, Japan and the Philippines for exhibits and workshops with his unique perspective.
Mostly he worked with young people. In Australia, it was with ?youth at risk? from drink and wild driving. In Fukuouka, Japanese attachment to the whale became whimsical children?s transport. In 2001, he began bringing sponsored visual arts projects and exhibits home to the Philippines, renewing his place in the CCP community and egging on its High School for the Arts, his alma mater, in lively state-of-the art commentary on Pinoy culture labeled with a welter of outrageous puns.
This year Alwin Reamillo has outdone himself in The Grand Piano Project that art historian Eileen Legaspi Ramirez writes about in bemused appreciation for its rhyme and reason, worth a careful read.
Words were swept aside the moment the Wittemberg upright piano doubling as a harpsichord, restored with love, wit and infinite patience, filled Galerie Duemilla?s new home in Pasay with the clean, pure notes of Chopin?s ?Impromptu in A flat minor.?
It was the beginning of a long evening of a musical past recovered, with the piano, not the TV or PC, at the center of leisure in countless Filipino households, through war and peace. Again an artist?s compulsion to realize his inspirations against the odds was making history whole.
The Grand Piano Project has more implications beyond a new medium of cultural exchange between Alwin?s native and adopted countries. It also points to potential revival of an industry producing nothing but the finest of pianos in islands already world-renowned for musicality. In a world dominated by karaoke clones, there will always be those who choose the longer, more demanding and far more satisfying route to music ? and a different way of being.
?But what use is all that in a mechanized world?? asks a practical man. ?Art can?t feed my family or clean this government.? Would you throw away the seed of a rare fruit tree because it can?t feed or shelter you right now? A fresh trail beckons.
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