Making performance art in Manila

Performance What? 
By Walter Ang
October 2003 issue
MTV INK Magazine

Like a virgin The first time I ever saw performance art was via a documentary on Yoko Ono. The TV screen flickered with black and white images of her seated in the middle of a room while, horrors of horrors, people from the audience armed with scissors snipped away at her kimono!

Like a virgin ? live! Later that year, I got to catch a performance art festival in Penguin Café, Malate. Intrigued by what I had seen on TV, I wasn't going to let the real thing pass me by!

Just some of what I saw: Two shirtless guys, one slumped over the other, crawling all over the place ? on the floor, tabletops, the bar.

A guy who washed people's feet with a basin of beer.

And the weirdest one of all, a guy who put his hands in his pants and either 1) pretended to spank the monkey or 2) really spanked the monkey.

The friend I had Tom Sawyered into going with me and I fancied ourselves adventurous and open minded. We tried to see the art in performance art. We really did. We liked some of the stuff we saw. The rest just made us either laugh or roll our eyeballs. But it was loads of fun, and that's what counts.

Party Crashing While drinking free wine (and making pa-sosi) at a party I'd crashed, I'm introduced to this man with large, round eyes and an intense stare. Turns out he organized the performance art show I'd seen years back. "So what is performance art exactly?" I ask. He answers me indirectly by telling me stories of performance art that he has seen, but not giving an articulated dictionary definition. I stare into my glass and wonder if I'd had enough to drink for the night.

How party crashing makes you part of an event you didn't even know about Toreador ringtone goes off. "Hello?" I say into my cellphone. "Hi Walter! This is Mor'o!" Slight pause as I searched my memory banks. Ah yes, Yuan Mor'o, the performance art artist who I met last year! "I have something exciting to tell you. Let's meet."

So we meet and I find out I've already been included in the official list of performers for the 3rd Philippine International Performance Art Festival (PIPAF) dubbed "LAKARAN 2003." Why do I feel like my life is a sitcom?

Although I felt honored and excited (and important and glamorous and artistic), I asked, "Why me?" Mor'o answered, "Why not?" This is the part where I heard the canned laughter, like I was a character on "Will and Grace." He went on to explain that he included a line up of performers from different disciplines, writers included.

I'd done theater work, so I wasn't nervous about performing in front of a crowd. But I was coming from a totally different milieu and I wanted to clarify what it was exactly that I had to do. So I asked again, "What is performance art exactly?"

This time he tells me what it means by negating other performing arts forms. "It's not theater, it's not spoken poetry, it's not dance. We use props, but we don't call them props. We can talk, but we don't use a script." He concluded with a flourish, "Just do what is in your heart and be true to yourself!"

Okay. I can dig being true to myself. "So I'm scheduled for one performance, right?" I asked. "Two!" Mor'o smiled with glee. Now I really know my life is a sitcom! Groan.

A few hours before the opening performance Tonight, all 40 or so artists from several countries will be performing at the festival opening at the Kanlungan ng Sining in Luneta Park. It is humid and I am stuck in traffic!

Have thought long and hard about what to perform. The thing with performance art is that you either pick up on the performance's Very Deep Thought (as travel guide "Fodor's Up Close New York City" calls it) or all you see is a bunch of wackos who look like they've taken crazy pills. In short, you either see the art, or all you see is ka- fuck-you-han (pronounced "kapakyuhan" for full effect.)

But as Oscar Wilde puts it, art is in the eye of the beholder (a.k.a. the audience), or something to that effect. He says it so much more eloquently in the prologue of "The Picture of Dorian Gray," check it out on the internet.

Opening night Just some of what I saw: 3 guys and a girl tied together by packaging tape. (And no, there is no nudity nor leather straps!) The guy on one end screamed into a radio, the guy on the other end passed out polvoron wrapped in cellophane to the audience.

A Thai artist spread stuff from his backpack (notebook, water bottle, pens, etc.) on the ground, wore a raincoat, then walked around and around and around his seat repeatedly saying, "I'm so tired." Then he sat down, drank water from his bottle, and put the stuff back in his bag.

And the funniest one: A guy who made the audience hold up strips of tissue paper over his head while he attempted to step on two soda cans. After he squished the cans, he cut the strips by tried by burning them with a lighter. However, the first strip didn't stop burning and prompted the crowd to give out a collective gasp of fear. The guy had to stomp out the mini-fire he'd made.

What I did: I cut a hole in a 8.5 by 11.5 piece of bond paper that was big enough for bodies to go through. Neat huh?!

Like a virgin ? no more! A few nights later, Penguin Café is filled to the rafters with a motley crew of colorful characters. How exciting to be doing a piece of performance art in the same place where I first saw it live!

I chatted with the other performers while waiting for my turn. I found out that most of them where visual artists (painters, sculptors, etc.) with a peppering of theater actors and ballet dancers. We shared beer and stories of our backgrounds. Some artists brought along their families, some had friends in the audience.

It was fun evening full of people who wanted to share their art and, well, their Very Deep Thought. I did a variation of my piece for the opening night, hoping that the Very Deep Thought of my piece would be well conveyed. If not, I just hoped the audience had fun. Afterwards, I promptly melted into the crowd and partied the night away.