(by Wilhelmina S. Orozco)

What accounts for the significance of an artistic work? Is it the medium, the name of the artist, the content of the art object? The period when the artwork was completed?

It really seems difficult to pinpoint where a significant artwork begins and ends. So many factors could influence its creation and make the viewers appreciate it. But viewing Alwin Reamillo’s exhibit entitled “AngBalutViand” which features real balut and then cast into plaster with emulsion, is a study in high artwork. Reamillo has created an installation that speaks of the history, the cultural taste, as well as the economic state of a people that has seen various evolutions and revolutions in thought, word and deed.

Going through the pieces that he assembled at the Tin-aw Gallery at Makati City, the financial capital of the Philippines, one can find a bit of himself/herself in all of the items. Why because there is something in every piece that seems to exude a trait, a viewpoint, a quality of our race and even a question. Should we continue looking for change, or should we just flow with the historical tide?

An egg reminds us of something that will be born. In fact, we women have eggs that men’s sperms mix with to give life to a foetus or foetuses. In a similar vein, duck eggs are also birthing media. They give birth to ducklings but the process is cut short to produce something either as penoy – all yolk and albumin or balut, an egg with an unborn duckling, now both snackfoods in our country. Thus in this exhibit, a basket of balut reveals eggs cracked open and many more duck eggs hanging and lying here and there with a lot of things to say about Philippine life.

Now why did Reamillo choose a balut to signify the Balikbayan or the Balutviand? Is there a rebirthing process in his idea of the Filipino in another land and in this case Hong Kong where the art installation emanated?

The exhibit features many facets presenting what Reamillo ideates about of the balut. In the middle of the gallery is a table where lie silver saucers with plaster-hardened balut – half – and semi-cracked. From the ceiling hang several balut also and a few small helicopters with carapace bodies that swing in the air as the electric fan blows the air from the floor. Then at the right and left walls of the gallery are many more similar balut.

However, these are not ordinary balut transformations because they contain manyu messages. One egg contains a torn piece of a map of Hong Kong; another minute human male figures in orange and black suits. Other balut pieces contain a black and white drawing of the face of Christ, a clenched fist, the face of a woman saint, and Ninoy Aquino’s face in the 500 peso bill with serial number PS64655. Then in two other balut are, again, minute men in black and orange suits but this time with locks of black hair in disarray in the background.

Meanwhile on the left wall of the gallery are another set of balut – one containing a piece of “alambre” used for fences and reminding us of those used by the military and the police to seal off Malacanang from demonstrators. Another features a picture of a man’s face with eyes closed and drinking from a bottle. Still another, the carapace of the crab with Mao Ze Dong’s face. Such objects reveal a fragile existence manifesting an idea that cannot be sustained. They could also be Reamillo’s comments on a people that continually transforms to another kind of existence in another setting. This must be why his exhibit title Ang BalutViand has a caption “a transcultural balut project by Alwin Reamillo.”

Aside from poking fun at balut eaters, Reamillo also lightens up our view of the anti-Spanish period in Philippine history. In Tatlong Itlog (Los Indios Bravos), he presents a picture of three heroes – Jose Rizal, Marcelo H. del Pilar the propagandist and Mariano Ponce whose face is superimposed with an “itlog.” Rizal’s hand also has an embedded egg with a small man in black suit and his back turned to the viewer. Why Tatlong Itlog? Probably Reamillo thinks these men possessed ideas which never materialized.

Now, why did he pick this picture among all so many photographs of our heroes? The poses are frozen in time – with Rizal looking at the camera, and del Pilar’s gaze somewhere else. The photo seems to want to make us look back to history but at the same time warns us of the pitfalls of revolutionary ideas, thus showing Reamillo’s half-hearted view of societal change. Why, is it because of its bloody consequences once carried to extreme the way Bonifacio and the Katipunan conducted the revolution? It is not so strange anymore that Bonifacio’s face does not figure at all in this exhibit.

Meanwhile, the image of Rizal is repeated in a “posporo” a Phimco matchbox which is a common need in Philippine home-kitchens. On the other side of the matchbox is a painting of a human heart. Of this juxtaposition of ideas – Rizal and the heart - Reamillo shows his intellectual view of life– that a man who follows Rizal’s fiery heart could induce a change – but then the matchbox is transformed into a “maleta” or a luggage – that property of the Filipino Balikbayan who comes home for a vacation then flies to other lands to seek greener pastures. Thus the matchbox which could ignite change becomes a luggage, a tool for exiling oneself in another land.

Does the artwork show Rizal’s ideas being hatched in foreign lands or do they reflect the Balikbayan’s unending aspiration for Rizal’s love for a free Philippines even when abroad? Truly this artwork can evoke a lot of meanings and it is not for us to give a definitive explanation but rather to bring up many thoughts provoked by this artistic excursion of Reamillo.

At the gallery center wall is tacked “Sirangan,” a four-paneled wood almost two and a half feet high and three feet long shaped like a moth with a body and wings. Sirangan is a pun on Silangan, the East, where the Philippines is located, and is also a potshot at our country’s being labeled, “Perlas ng Silangan.” Embedded on this panel are chicken bones, feathers, a bahay kubo (nipa hut) and a man holding two fishes and whose feet are lifted up by a drawn forefinger of a hand reflecting the delicate situation of the poor folks as that of a moth.

Could this be an extension of Rizal’s story about a moth? Actually, Rizal wrote that children’s story told him by his mother, Teodora Alonzo. A moth gets attracted to the light of the gas lamp. It goes flying in circles nearer and nearer to the light until its wings get singed and it dies.

Over-all the exhibit does not transform us into revolutionaries nor into any kind of advocate. Rather it induces us to be a cynic --- cynical of institutions--- as can be found in one corner of the gallery floor, a 3-piece broken presidential seal with an inscription “Sagisag ng Ulo-pang ng Pilipinas,” an outright denigration of any kind of change emanating from the highest office of the land. However sarcastic this is, we need to know first when Reamillo did this – was it during this time of Pnoy or that of GMA whose administration brought us to the depths of moral degeneration, politically?

Also this exhibit tells us that we need not take life seriously as it could be just a temporary journey without beginning nor ending. Rather life calls us to immerse ourselves in it and to savor the big and small ideas that come our way, whether they involve an overhauling of institutions that deprive the people of a humane existence or just simply a case of enjoying the eating of balut. But be careful, the balut could contain a lot of messages ---consequential and inconsequential too.

sourced from the Wilhelmina S. Orosco's blogsite Thirdforce-PRG

Posted by orozco.myblog at 5:56 AM. 1 May 2011