THERE is something whimsical about Two Fold by Lyra Garcellano (at the Vargas Museum, UP Diliman) that belies the seriousness of the questions it raises, the crises that it explores.
That a week hence what resonates is the frustration and despair in “Double Consciousness,” and what echoes is the calm voice that asks “Dear Artist, how much are you worth?”—plus a hankering for cake—reveals how the seeming flightiness, the playfulness if you will, just might have worked to this exhibit’s advantage.
One: the #blessing of identity
Unearthing the layers in “Double Consciousness” is a tiresome exercise, and one gets the sinking feeling that it was deliberate, a decision to generate a discussion about travel and identity, gender and language that has no conclusion in sight.
Passports of Jorge Vargas and his wife Adelaida are on display; their dates of arrival and departure with corresponding places written in pencil on a wall; against it, an image of a notebook with translations of the phrase “I am Filipino.” The opposite wall carries business cards: one one side the name of the artist, on the other other a translation of the same phrase in another language.
At the center of this is Garcellano on video, performing this phrase as she is performing travel and migration for every Filipino, in the past, and obviously in the present—and most probably in the future. This is of course part of the anxiety that is in this performance; it is also what dictates the discomfiture of spectatorship.
It is not easy to pin down this disquiet. On the one hand it is nothing but national identification, one that we are born with, one that slides off the tongue like our names. On the other, there is the strange and unfamiliar language, that one that we might easily dismiss as part of the task of travel. It is a language we need not perfect; one that we should not need to identify ourselves against.
And yet in this performance on video, Garcellano allows for those familiar words in a new language to carry the weight of our past, but also our present. What the performance reveals is the difficulty with which we might identify ourselves in another’s language; what it tells are the multifarious narratives about Filipino migration and departure, the kind that we now know enough about to have images and stories and names in our heads, of real men and women who leave nation, rendering identity irrelevant even as it is what sends them away to begin with.
In “Double Consciousness” Garcellano turns the dial between travel and migration, back and forth and back and forth, the playfulness of flight versus the seriousness of departure, the leaving that is about a return, and the going that is a withdrawal, a surrender, an exit, an absconding.
Two: the #blessing of art
“Dear Artist, How much are you worth?” is emblazoned in bright bold red letters to welcome you into Two Fold. It is of course a scream that is silenced in / by this museum as institution, it is a cry for help that is in the form of a question turned rhetorical.
It is the voice of the artist speaking about this question that echoes through his area: she does not provide answers. Instead it is a calm voice that is unpacking the crisis of artmaking relative, and as bound, to art institutions and the art market. It is an objective voice, one that almost seems removed from the subject at hand, that is tearing down the layers that all art is covered in, as artifact and as object, as product and as asset.
That this voice is speaking through a video installation that is about cakes—on display, as it is being sliced, as it is served on plates, as it is staged to be consumed—is critical to this project. The simple analogy belies the complexity of seeing cake and its eating as analogous to art and its consumption. At some point the voice goes beyond the question of how much of that cake is yours? To: is it possible that in fact the artist is the cake?
The shift from the scientific (which is also in the diagrams of cake slices hanging on one wall) to the philosophical, speak of that line that’s drawn between what is real and what might be dismissed as imagined unease. This is also in the only photo of one of the artist’s works, as installed and exhibited in another gallery, in the past. The photo shows: Everyone is desperate to be relevant. A statement that inevitably turns upon itself, one that is not owned after its display.
Opposite the video installation is a set of postcards that is a multiple choice document for rejecting an artist’s works for an exhibit or competition or grant. The playfulness of the multiple choice document vis a vis the seriousness of a rejection renders the rebuff unstable on the one hand, but also almost laughable. Three cake installations in glass cases are spread out around the video, concretizing the grim fact that you might be given your cake, but you can never eat it, too.
Two sides of the same
Two Fold are two different exercises in futility. It speaks of detention within systems of escape, it speaks of freedom within the walls of institutions.
For both national identity and artistic worth, there are the truths of consumption and capital, of need and hunger, of un-freedom and distress. And while the exercise itself of critique that these two works engage in might be seen as an insistence on freedom, part of the anxiety of spectatorship is the sinking feeling that Garcellano’s interrogation will only uncover an endless, bottomless pit of what we cannot resolve, what we cannot capture.
One finds there is nothing more disquieting than to be told that critique is futile.