By Alfred A. Yuson
The Philippine Star, 31 January 2005
The Philippine Star, 31 January 2005
Several weeks ago, this space featured a review of "Flashes of Genius" - the comeback exhibit of Cesare A.X. Syjuco at the CCP Main Gallery. The show closed last Thursday. But before it did, on Saturday Jan. 22, curators Sid Hildawa and Jean-Marie Syjuco arranged a poetry reading cum performance evening billed as "Poessessed." The artist, who is also known to be a first-rate art critic and a Palanca awardee for poetry, read four poems, a couple of which were featured as "hypertext" in his cryptic, illuminated artworks.
Other readers included Cesare's and Jean-Marie's daughter Maxine, actor slash performance artist slash photographer Ronnie Lazaro, and Likhaan: UP Institute of Creative Writing director Vim Carmelo Nadera, another flasher/shocker of a performance perpetrator.
I was invited by fellow poet Hildawa to participate that evening, but couldn't get away from a previous commitment to operate on an incipient garden in Tagaytay. Good thing another buddy, Mario Taguiwalo, made it to the ritual event, and better yet, rendered a fine report on the occasion.
Mario's no slouch as an analyst and critic of all things under the sun, from governance to high fashion to the management of development funds,let alone hospitals, such as he once did with Medical City. He has also served as DOH Undersecretary, and done beefcake roles in Peque Gallaga films.
Ten years before what we now call EDSA Uno. Mario wrote a prophetic piece for ERMITA magazine, titled "what is edsa and why is it doing these things to me?" A brief bio he submitted reads thus:
"Mario Taguiwalo is a lapsed Catholic, relapsed activist and a fellow traveler in the world of what DTI Secretary Cesar Purisima now calls 'the creative economy' that includes everyone making a living by their wits. His professional interests include diseases, ignorance and prejudice, hunger and pain, lust and pregnancies on a mass scale, and unfulfilled wants and unrealized aspirations. In more conventional terms, he works on health, education, social protection, population and reproductive health, culture and governance."
Occasionally we find his perceptive socio-political analyses appearing in various newspapers. So when Mario hands over a critique of sorts on cutting-edge art, friends who are often awed by his intelligence and intuition can only pay mind and heart to it.
Following is his report, titled "Unplugging Flashes of Genius."
The Saturday ritual started late. Young people from the National High School for the Arts were milling around the pictures, anticipating some action. The waiting felt like performance art. Small children were running from one end of the hall to the other. Euro disco music was playing on the background. A guy came forward and announced that coffee, water and some sandwiches were available. It felt like a metaphor of something important - a death, a birth or a passing of an era.
Then it began. Cesare Syjuco, the artist whose exhibit was closing in a few days' time, was introduced as "the guy wearing a bonnet standing by the water cooler." Sid Hildawa read a poem about zooming out. Joe Gruta came forward to say he was invited to read a poem but he was not given a poem to read. Mystifying. Was this a miscue or a finely executed act? Another metaphor, perhaps, about poverty and deprivation? Some TV correspondent, whose name I did not get, read a poem about being rushed because time is gold. A performance artist did his version of a tsunami on a basin and a cardboard box, which caused the middle of the audience to stand back to escape the waters.
Then there was a balagtasan about whether a long penis is better than a thick one. Hilarious. Although I was wondering what the four- and five-year-old kids thought of it. Heber Bartolome recited an old song of his about media, falsehood and truth. I thought its earnestness was a nice counterpoint to the evening's absurdity. Vim Nadera did a typically strange act wearing a medical patient's gown and a black cardboard mask while asking people if they wanted love. Then he launched on all the social evils of Philippine society as the source of our lack of love. No need for a metaphor there.
Did you see Cesare's latest exhibit? It was extended till Thursday the 27th. It demanded intelligence and sensitivity; so if you have neither, it was right that you missed it. I did not see it as an exhibit. I experienced it as a venue for a ritual event. I wonder how it would have affected me had I encountered it as a quiet exhibit on a mid-morning or late afternoon of a working day. Maybe I would have walked around and said to myself, "How clever! How witty! How smart!" Or maybe I would have gaped at the white spaces, words on pictures or pictures on words, and said to myself, "What the f**k is this about? What is this crazy guy trying to say?" Cesare really has a knack for challenging your idea of art, taunting you to either spit on him or kneel in prayer before him.
In any case, I was part of a motley crowd that celebrated the imminent end of the exhibit. I sat across a part of the exhibit hall where backlit pictures screamed at me: "I could." and "Eat my shorts." and one with a long sentence that included a phrase about "the rectum parallel with the body." And these words were in frames with images of Americans from the 1950's that seemed quaint and perverse at the same time.
The highlight of the event was Cesare reciting his poems. But first he was preceded by his daughter, Maxine, looking like an anime character's love object - dainty, fragile, bright, but strange, reciting a poem about her being an origami being folded and floated to the sea until her tears melted with the waters.
When the daughter was done, the father stood up and took the mike. Cesare first recited "Our Lady of the Thorns," a fairy tale about a boy who accidentally mutilates himself and talks to the Virgin Mary. After this religious piece, Cesare offered a math lesson in life, "The Table of Zero," a litany about nothing coming from nothing and leading to nothing. Then he really got serious and tackled racial discrimination, religious persecution and individual paranoia with his poem, "American Scarecrow."
And best of all, he ended with his poetic take-off from something suggested by a David Bowie song - "Commander/James/Calling/Space/Station" - including a haunting and disturbing guitar solo accompanying the words. I have a copy of these four poems but Cesare's poems are merely faint suggestions on paper that are transformed into fully formed vibrant living beings when performed by him.
The whole shebang - the exhibit and the closing performances - was cleansing.
Meaning is subordinate to mystery. Purpose is not in ourselves but in our situation. Art is the moment when creation meets audience and an emotional connection beyond words ignites, even for just a moment, even beneath consciousness.
Through the mystifying acts and symbols, through the dense imagery, behind the correct grammar but undecipherable meaning, beyond the unfinished sentences and the unmelodic sounds, one finds accidental significance, personal clarity, emotional release and ultimately, gentle relief from the daily oppression of navigating this life with sense and responsibility.