When Navin Rawanchaikul, a Thai-born Indian artist, showed Yutaka Sone's video, "The End of All the Journeys," inside his green-and-yellow cab while stuck in the traffic-strewn streets of Bangkok, he not only turned the taxi (now the Navin Gallery) into a venue for free miniexhibits, but more important, he proved that nothing can stop the forward march of art.
Artist Jason "Yason" Banal thunders along in the same cadence. He converted a house into Third Space Arts Laboratoryo (14 Third Street, St. Ignatius Village, Q.C.), a factory for those who want to explore the limitless reaches of alternative art. A pink wall, with a huge "No. 14" scribbled on it, greets you at the entrance, which leads to a stone garden that contains a couple of shells where a disco ball or a fallen kite might rest.
Inside, the barely finished house contains books, art materials, magazines, video and a lot of white walls to stick artworks on. And, there's a genderless Chinese chicken named Anonymous going about its own business.
Yason is not new to such provocative images. One of his first public exhibits was along Nakpil Street, titled "Impierno, Purgatorio at Paraiso": He placed his paintings and art installations in the then Cafe Iguana and Cafe Insomnia; presented his own vision of "A Streetcar Named Desire" at the then Blue Cafe; then screened his black-and-white film on "mutants" at the Third World Cafe. The event injected a much-needed shot of adrenaline into the jarring underbelly of Manila's alternative scene.
For his last series of performances, "The Performances of an Exhibition," he wore a security guard's uniform, wrapped himself in plastic, and sat inside freezer wearing what looked like a bridal gown.
A work of art is good if it presents things in a different angle, or if it presents reality in a thought-provoking way. To Yason, it doesn't matter whether we get it or not. What does count is what we react to. As and sure as the United States has its White House, and Seoul its Blue House, Manila will always have people like Jason, artists who'll color their houses, even the entire cultural landscape, in whatever way they can.
In one of your performances, "Oration Marathon," you wrapped yourself in Gladwrap and walked around the University of the Philippines in broad daylight.
(Laughs) For that series, I assumed a certain persona in the art world every day for about a week. The first day, I was a curator. The last day, which was that walk around UP, I was the art object.
What was going through your head?
It's a different experience for people. They may not make sense of it, or they might even hate it, but they react. And that tension is what I like about my work.
In "Self-Procreation Is the Birth of an Asylum," not only were you wrapped in plastic, there was finger food all over your body, which you eventually ate.
(Laughs) It was a morbid experience for some, but it became humorous when I started eating myself. The whole concept was for them to take a piece of me, and then eat it. Partake in me. I had to eat 25 pieces first, since it was my 25th birthday. So, in that sense, my body was also the cake. (Laughs) It's something about the consumption of art, but people hesitated to eat because it's a human body.
In the name Third Space, why Third?
We're so into dualism, either-or, gay or straight, East or West. Even in math, the third power. The idea of a third already implies a continuum. A first and a second is just a reaction. That's why I'm not into political art, because it's just reactionary. This is also why people don't like performance. It mixes the alternative, which is the second to the first, and makes everything absurd. Third is a continuing process.
You've gone into practically every avenue of expression already, from film to performance art. Is this part of a search, or is it the result of your interdisciplinary stance?
The exciting thing about art is, the moment you give birth to art, like a film or a play, you kill it. Art provides us with uncertainty, which people have a negative impression of. Of course, you believe in something. But with uncertainty comes insight, which is what art is about.
Life is inspired by art, making it playful or more wicked -- which doesn't mean that life should be that way. There should be an arena, where values and ideas can be explored without thinking of moral or even formalist concerns.
We're stuck with the modern tradition here: abstraction; belief in the genius; art can be without context; art can exist on its own. These are obsolete already. We're still not in the postmodern way of thinking.
What is the state of alternative art in the Philippines? By alternative, I mean the guerilla, nonmainstream, noncommercial kind.
In a sense, there's a new kind of energy now. There are spaces that are being opened, so in terms of distribution, artists are becoming more aggressive. It's not in the production that we have a problem here -- because we have a lot of talent -- it's in the distribution.
The artist has always been unfortunate. The artist should start exploring the distribution system, and, in that sense, the younger ones are successful. People are making zines, putting up raves, even if some people call it pretentious or whatever. We come to judge it as pretentious precisely because we have choices now.
If someone tells me my art is pretentious, then that's a good sign. This means he's already saturated with art, so he now has choices of what is good for him and what's bad. The younger artists have less to lose now, that's why we're more raring to slay the professor.
This is why you put up the school?
Yes. Third Space began with the concept of the house as an artwork in itself, using the space as the work. Most of us have this idea that if I put a recorder here, spotlight here, and Troy B presents his work here -- that becomes art. But if you put the recorder outside, no title card, it's not art. The house has a function, it's a house, but if you make it into an art object, then it raises questions about the nature of art.
Maybe it's the gallery that can be manipulated into the art object. I'm making fun of the gallery system. Why not make the gallery an art object? Therefore, they become self-conscious. Then, put the collectors, all these snobs, as the objects -- and they don't know. That's why I like putting cameras.
Your art caters to a specific mindset. Does that translate into the students you have here?
I can't be narrow-minded. My entire purpose is to be accommodating. Who says I'm right? Or they're wrong?
That's why I also encourage commercial artists. They shouldn't be judged harshly, because they have ideas and it's the system that limits them. The space should be open to both those into experimentation and those into mainstream. In fact, I admire the latter, because there should be a fusion between business and art, which is what Andy Warhol did.
Fighting or art, or, I guess, anything you believe in, is always an uphill battle, especially here where people, or probably the older generation who still runs the show, still insist on keeping their minds closed to change or new ways of doing things. How do you keep going?
I used to take pleasure in depression, in angst, which is what's the trend now -- being evil, sensational, angry. Which is boring.
Your art is a form of protest or rebellion.
No, it's actually a celebration. I'm into causes, but I'm at a point where I'm critical of the cause itself. Art is narcissistic. You're using not just canvas and paint, but bodies and rituals such as going to the gym.
Art is the exploration of material, process, concept. Modern art is really something to be bought, material, that's why I'm into dematerializing it through memory, performance, seduction, post-announcements, obituaries. It has a different effect. Can art not be seen, bought, or had, yet still linger in the memory?
So the opening of this house, this art, is now a memory. What was it like?
I created different themes in the house. One, I called it the Beauty Parlor. I see art there, because it's basically a transformation of material. I stamped people and made them living sculptures. They didn't take it seriously, but that was the fun of it. Then, another room was the Funeral Parlor. So the juxtaposition of two parlors -- death and beauty. It was fun. You begin to ask: Hey, maybe I am an art object.
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