About the Space

A Space of His Own
By Alya B. Honasan
Sunday Inquirer Magazine
June 6, 1999

Who is Yason Banal, and what is this "alternative venue for emerging talents" that he calls 3rd Space?

THE HOUSE in St. Ignatius Village would be nondescript from the outside, if not for the bright-colored gate and the banner advertising summer workshops. The place is called 3rd Space, and it is an unorthodox art venue conceptualized and seen to its fruition by a young filmmaker and performance artist named Yason Banal.

Yason who? people asked _ until the recent controversial "Kaka" show at the Cultural Center of the Philippines that featured 24 young artists from Manila and California, USA, and which freaked some guests out with installations in the bathrooms. "We explored the idea of 'kaka' as a prefix that could extend into whatever," Banal explains. "There was a lot of self-mockery, which was very subversive, especially since the traditional function of a banyo is very overhwelming. As in, bakit banyo?"

"Kaka" involved a performance piece, live work in the respective bathrooms, interactive installations (from February to March of this year), and an exhibit of the "written word as visual art," Banal explains. The closing of the exhibition last April marked a gathering of artists and art patrons who carried out peculiar "transactions." "People 'adopted' works or purchased them," Banal explains. "As such, they become 'surrogate parents' to the artworks." The relationship may or may not necessitate a correspondence between artist and patron, and Banal is planning a "family reunion" after one year. "Let's see how it turns out."

Both this recurring concern with the concept of family and the willingness to let events take their natural course are key elements of Banal's thesis. 3rd space, which was opened in January 1998, was meant to be both a home for artists and a work of art in itself with a definite lifespan; it will cease to exist in 2001. "It's a time- and site-specific performative installation that uses the physical and conceptual form of a house as a metaphor for a 'family album of artistic possibilities,'" he explains. With a grant he received from an anonymous "loose group" of art patrons, Banal aims to "create a third family, a community to which you are bonded by interest in art. It's not a clique," he clarifies. "You have to expand."

He has apparently linked up with many young movers and shakers in different fields. 3rd Space has featured installations and performances by Trek Valdizno, Sandra Palomar, Johnny Alcazaren, Neil Garcia, Katya Guerrero, Aureus Solito, Cecile Zamora, Claudine Sia, and even the band True Faith.

On June 20, Banal is opening "Queenly Matter," what he calls "an artistic exploration of motherhood, queer beauty and performance in the age of home/shopping networks" that's inspired by the traditional Santacruzan. The "Virgin's Slumber" part will involve individual processions inside SM Megamall from 2 to 5 p.m._"just think of it as shopping or brisk walking," Banal says. Participants will be invited female "artist-models" who will take on a "whole new appearance. . .from functional clothing to conceptual pieces; from sorrow to camp, ennui to shock. . .just do it and look it."

The ladies are also expected to lug around bags to fill with whatever they wish_and to photograph onlookers! The fact that other shoppers are expected to gawk at these performers will, Banal feels, only emphasize that "there's more room between art and life, everyday ritual and performance art. But unlike the Santacruzan which imposes linearity (orderly procession), passivity (on the part of the mechanical muses) and exhibitionism (through self-conscious display of beauty), 'Queenly Matter' focuses on each artist's journey, meaning you can choose wherever you want to go and do whatever seems worthwhile of the concept and image." Later on, bags and snaphots will be exhibited at 3rd Space.

The idea for the Santacruzan take-off and the fascination with rethinking rituals came to Banal last Holy Week, after he spent the days checking out traditional Lenten practices in Olongapo, Pampanga and Zambales. Contrary to the image of young artists who want to smash their forefathers' stereotypes, Banal doesn't believe in being "ahistorical. There has to be a certain sensitivity, acknowledging a historical context while still staying intuitive and having a gut-feel for what's happening now." He does his research, Banal assures us. "I find out what people in the art scene are doing. That's important for an artist-curator." That's how he has managed to invite the likes of Agnes Arellano, Myra Beltran, Jessica Hagedorn, Helena Guerrero, Angel Shaw and Jean-Marie Syjuco to work on "Queenly Matter."

For Banal, it seems like art has always been a good reason for being, and questioning the ordinary is even better. A self-labeled "queer," he studied film at the University of the Philippines and started MA studies in fine arts, but got disillusioned. In the interim, he made the films "Katakataka" and "The Legend of Malakas and Makahiya" and taught humanities, theater and film, and fine arts at UP Baguio. "It was a very alive and creative environment, cosmopolitan but indigenous. The energy is different. "He left in 1997 and, with some "subsidy from supportive parents," he laughs, opened 3rd Space.

To be sure, while he has zoomed in on the "emergent" media of film, installation and performance as 3rd Space's specialization, as it were, Banal's own work has been nothing if not, well, provocative. His "Kaka" contribution included heart-shaped pillows printed with graphic exhortations like "K__n mo ako"; he once reportedly sat inside a freezer for 45 minutes in a performance.

Outside of work, Banal's passions are film, writing plays, going out and having fun. "But when I'm inspired, I don't separate work from life, my friendships and my professional relationships," he says.

His being "queer," Banal says, is already evidence of "art being a haven even for queer people. We have to celebrate our differences, the absurdity of it all." He admits to getting frustrated in his rather Quixotic endeavor. "But then again, rage is a little important _ but not the whining type, not the mukhang kawawa artist type. It's important to stay critical of your practice."

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