What is Thought in the Thought of People

2015

3 drawings: 50×70 cm- 2 drawings: 35×50 cm- 1 drawing 40,5×30,5 cm

Video HD- 17’

The hour of the serpent descends on the land, echoes an old man’s voice as he recalls a memory meandering between the mythic and real. Faceless, the testimony unfolds, unhurriedly. This is a tale where both temporality and territory intertwine: a fragment of local oral history but also a signifying marker of unease and unrest, crossing over into the present time.

This found narrative from the Philippines is the locus of a collaboration between Paloma Polo (Madrid, 1983) and Leonilo Doloricon (Surigao del Sur; 1957).

The tale can be traced back to the hinterlands of Casiguran, Aurora province in northern Philippines, where indigenous peoples, settlers and fisherfolk face dispossession of their common lands and waters amidst plans to set up a freeport zone. An archipelago of more than 7,000 islands in maritime Southeast Asia, this country named after the Spanish monarch King Philip II embodies other larger paradoxes. It has a rich multicultural past as a historic node of trade, migration, and colonisation yet is also confronted by many present contradictions arising from shifting directions of nascent nationhood and the lingering links with global empires. The resulting interactions between the two artists distill how markers of economic integration and unification—so central to institutions of global modernity—surface and recede amidst the spectre of collapse and the reality of grassroots resistance.

Polo’s immersion in this site of struggle since 2013 and her interactions with other socially-engaged Filipino artists also points to various modes of problematizing the links between art and politics. Art historian and critic Alice Guillermo writes of how art as a signifying practice involves production and creation in its work of defetishizing everyday reality and offering an authentic reflection of it (Guillermo, 31). This process involves not only the mimetic capturing of what is out there in the world, but also translating the structural critique of complex socio-economic conditions into a specific encounter within the parameters of the exhibition space: crossing over from the condition of being and conscienticization to the sublimation and distillation of these worldviews through the work.

Responding to the allegorical character of the elder’s tale, Doloricon’s employment of visual tropes and conventional iconography for the illustrations forms part of what he terms as “paggamit ng simbolong malapit sa karanasang masa, at ang pagsasalarawan sa kanila bilang mga bayani, at bilang mapagpasiyang bagay sa pagbabago ng lipunan” or “use of symbols close to the masses’ experiences, and their portrayal as heroes and decisive forces in social change” (Doloricon, 216).

The collaboration also highlights how artists construct their relationships with social movements, within and beyond the art world. Polo’s continuing immersion in the Philippines and in zones of unrest, for instance, unfolds as a long-term commitment towards emancipatory politics—rather than as a brief excursion or gesture of acquaintanceship—best seen in the openness to work with grassroots organizations and contexts. A separate interview with Doloricon, on the other hand, dwells on his formative years and principles as an artist associated with the tradition of Social Realism in the country, shedding light on the pragmatic and theoretical considerations of being a cultural worker embedded in the Philippine context.

Originating from different parameters of practice, their biographical dimensions jointly underscore how the artist, popularly construed as the isolated master or the eccentric creative, can assert a sense of critical reflection amidst the state of unrest: how artistic agency can help delineate the dimensions of destabilization unfolding all around.

References

Doloricon, Leonilo O. Ang Sining Protesta at Ang Kilusang Masa: Isang Istorikong Paglalarawan (1983-1988), thesis presented to the Asian Center, University of the Philipppines for the MA Philippine Studies program, 1994.

Guillermo, Alice G. Protest/Revolutionary Art in the Philippines, 1970-1990. Manila: University of the Philippines Press, 2001.

Lisa Ito