February is amassed with art events in the Philippines. It is Arts Month here. Apart from writing seemingly countless essays in the first two months of the year, I had the privilege of curating and updating the Direction section of the Philippine Contemporary Art exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila.
Patrick Flores, foremost historian of Philippine art and art critic opened the exhibition two years ago. The museum has plans to recreate its sections periodically to heed the calling of the contemporary. The first such update is the 2016 edition of Direction. We had the soft opening (a bigger launch together with one other section is slated later in the year) last Saturday, 20th February. We opened with artist Russ Ligtas‘s performance of Mdm B. Niyaan.
Mdm. B. Niyaan is well choreographed, interspersing video projection, spoken word, written texts, dance, song, and audience collaboration. It is a poignant, powerful, emotionally unsettling and moving piece. Russ reembodied one of several alter egos: Mdm. B. Niyaan is abandoned and bereaved but eventually liberated from pain. We witness her confronting the enormity of loss. Russ describes the piece as ‘an intimate rite of ex[c]orcism’, and we see him transported by way of his body, a web camera, a laptop screen, a wall projection and in the most intimate trappings of this personified self: his voice, his movements, and the paraphernalia of an invented persona.
Russ moves powerfully yet is fragile like a doll, his boyish frame belying the power of his voice and the strong tension and force emanating from his limbs outward in space, parsed and owned as the physical vessel of the performance and as the interior recesses of emotions. The piece successfully braided the intimate with the shared: we have all experienced degrees of abandonment at some point in life. It is frank but not jarring because there is underlying vulnerability that solders it into a touching whole.
Mdm. B. Niyaan is poetic outpouring yet withholds much as it suggests we shroud it with empathy and our own unspoken pains. It ended with all of us chanting fragments of a song, its rhythm like a lullaby to which we sleep cradled in love’s embrace or soothed by our surrender to forgiveness.
A filmed performance in another venue is on view at the Direction section of the Philippine Contemporary Art exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Manila.
Russ’s thoughts about his art:
“I am not sure if there are artists. There is only art.My art is lived. It is exploration of the self. It is dangerous.
I confront the realities of my being – all conflicting facets, the illogical desires and fears, the demons and gods, my histories and trajectories. Some of them have become alter egos. They are me and they are not me. They are no one and they are everyone. They use art as a disguise for normalcy.
My performance engages notions of reality and questions authenticity. It is theater and it is not theater. It is performance art because it is a form of channeling. It might not be performance art because it is framed by theater. It is expressed theatrically. I refuse to call it theater. My performance is resigned to the fallibility of human perception. I embrace this obliviousness. In my ignorance, I create an experience of truth.”