Reamillo and Juliet

Since 1993 this artist team, Alwin Reamillo from the Philippines and Juliet Lea from Australia have collaborated in Manila, Baguio, and other cities, and their provocative political installations have more recently attracted wide attention in Asia and Australia, and Japan. “ We are investigating ang deconstructing recent constructed history , showing the disaster that it really is” (1) This installation of Tres Persona Non Grata, is their first presentation outside the Asia-Pacific area, and was originally created for the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

The artists cover the floor with sand and “lahar”, volcanic debris gathered near Mount Pinatubo, not only as a reminder of that natural disaster which thoroughly disrupted the country in 1991, but of the powerful rules of nature by which Filipinos have lived for centuries. Sandbag barriers represent the futile efforts to stop the disastrous flow of sludge of all kinds. Into this gray powder they have scattered and buried a range of real and plaster-cast items (bits of religious objects, Mac Burgers, toy guns, and army soldiers, etc.) often satirically reconfigured. This contemporary debris, semi-submerged in the dusty surface layer, offers clues to the subconscious and deeper history of the Philippines’ succession of invasions, or what the artists call “ cultural lahar”. The artists summarized Philippine history in this way:

Brief His Story

400 years of Christian colonization under Spain. 50 years American Hollywood education benevolent assimilation entertainment, 3 years in a Japanese garrison. Prior to Western intrusion cross cultural encounters have been thriving by trading and commerce within the region. Called Ma’I by Chinese traders, even before Magellan came armed with the Cross and the Sword. Christened Filipinas after King Philip’s Penis. Rape. (2)

The three walls are painted with archetypes referred to in their title, derived from the Biblical phrase, “Tres Persona Solo Dios,” the mystery of the Holy Trinity, yet these three and all they represent are “ non grata”, not welcome. The layered caricatures represent what the artists see as the faces of man-made causes of suffering and poverty in the Philippines: Multinational Capitalism and TV (Kuya Germs as Ronald MacDonald); the nation-state and politicians (President Fidel Ramos); and the colonizing impulses of organized Christian religion ( Jesus Christ). Presented as if from political billboards or movie posters, they appear as charismatic figures meant to inspire fidelity, devotion, or at least cosumption. Reamillo and Juliet subvert- even satirize- by laying down contrapuntal, sometimes contradicting images such as political posters and slogans from the recent elections. The artists’ cleverly written introductions to these characters also reveal the train-of-thought process which hip hops from one cultural frame of reference to another with bold panache.

first persona

He saw Christ / Hesukristo / Jesus Christ masSuperstar. head of faith ideology fascism religion makes fascism possible. war violence phallic religion man domination over everything else

second persona

InFidelity to Marcos marc us / General Fidel Valdez Ramos / ED SA 92 head of state military police politicians corruption nation bureaucracy economic elite

third persona

German Moreno a.k.a. Kuya Germs as Ronald MacDonald popular TV Movie icons head of taste Kuya means Big Brother, multinational capitalism Entertainment Mass Culture Basketball imitation of bad america

Their mixed metaphors and playful puns are both verbal and visual, and found throughout the works, such as the red, white, and blue basketball hoop mounted like a target to the clown’s forehead. We can also read ironic made-up slogans and texts such as “Coca-colonized” and “Bureaucarcinoma” (bureaucracy + carcinoma) which implicate recent Philippine political and cultural events with cutting double and triple entendres which would amuse any Filipino. For example “ U Gatt ng Ka Erap an” starts with a fragment from the anti-US imperialism , anti- bureaucrat capitalism slogan “Ugat ng Kahirapan /” “ Root of Poverty,” a popular battlecry of student activists during the Marcos regime. U Gatt is the Uruguay round of the General Agreement of Tariff and Trade. Ka Erap a.k.a. Joseph Estrada, Vice President of Ramos and former action movie star, all adds up to attack the ‘new world economic order” which will overwhelm developing countries.

With visual punch, sly wit, and a dash of poignant and poetic politics, Reamillo and Juliet attack the outside forces , imported to this island group in the name of “modernization” and “salvation”, which have transformed the landscape and society and almost wiped out the nomadic cultures which once inhabited the hundreds of islands which make up the Philippines.

(1) Talitha Espiritu, "House of Horrors" Manila Chronicle, 12 November 1993

(2) Reamillo and Juliet, letter to the author, 4 April 1995, page 2

(3) Ibid.

(4) Ibid.

reprinted from text written by Dana Friis-Hansen for the the exhibition catalogue of TransCulture / La Biennale di Venezia 1995.