Semena Santa Cruxtations

The gallery is filled with sand and transformed into a littoral zone where clusters of crabs, bearing cryptic messages congregate and proliferate. Detritus that might wash up on the shoreline is scattered on the sand, each piece layered with appropriated iconography. A pseudo-retablo banner, a palimpsest of transfigured images – Mickey Mouse, the Last Supper, Ronald MacDonald, Captain Cook and the Virgin Mary are nailed unto the walls. Like a movie billboard, the retablo advertises the next attraction, Second Coming Soon! A chaotic parabiblical tableau is created on the beach…novus ordo seclorum, our new world (dis)order…nothing’s sacred.

Filipino artist Alwin Reamillo brings the Semena Santa Cruxtations (or How to gobble sideways and multiply O kung paano mamingwit sa tala ng ka hirap an) to Fremantle for its final staging after successful shows in Manila, Hong Kong, Darwin and Melbourne. The installation is also a culmination of the successive residencies, during which the artist orchestrated what he calls ‘ The First Supper’, a participatory staging of community feast based on the traditional Filipino fiesta. Crabs were caught (and sometimes bought), prepared and consumed. In workshops following the feast the carapaces were cleaned and partially layered by participants, re-surfacing later in the installation. The opening will be an amazing and chaotic event with a para/evangelical action performance, a multi-media soundscape and the odd live crab.

The title of the installation partially references Holy Week in Castilian (Semana Santa) but also contrived to suggest Semen/Seamen (Semena) and Crux (Cross), Stations (Xtations) to form Cruxtations (Crustaceans). The installation like the title, is about the interplay of mimicry, camouflage andparody- the creation of hybrid words/worlds and meanings. Reamillo’s installations usually combine elements of religious iconography, American pop culture, icons of consumer capitalism and Filipino wordplay with subversive humor. The forces that created Filipino culture that Reamillo animates- the agencies of colonialism, religion, nationalism and commodification of culture- are also at work in Australian culture. In the artist’s view the impact of global capitalism perpetuates the destruction of local culture- overtaking Asia and the rest of the world with the same ferocity once used to peddle Christianity. As Chris Crouch states in the catalogue: “ Alwin Reamillo’s work presents us with a site as contradictory and bewildering as our own real world. But because it is art pursuing life and not mimicking it, it reminds us that there are possibilities for change…

Cath Bowdler

reprinted from the festival catalogue slipstream/ perth visual arts festival, perth international arts festival 2002