My collaborators and I are fortunate to continue working on artistic projects during this pandemic. Our practice is situated in the body and in relation to other bodies in a physical location. Liveness is a condition of our work, so to quickly adapt and migrate the practice to the virtual was a necessity that comes with a lot of internal-external struggle, reluctance and frustration.
We are working on the third part of Happyland, a series that looks at Filipino labor, performance of happiness and production of fantasy within the happiness empire of Disney. Manila Zoo is a shape-shifting sonic performance co-created and performed with Russ Ligtas, Bunny Cadag, Joshua Serafin and Cathrine Go. The creation is situated in conditions of the pandemic and ecological crisis. It explores relations between human and animal, systems of labor and confinement; politics of gaze and the spectacle within the Disney empire, the Zoo and one’s own room via Zoom. Manila Zoo confronts the psychosis collectively shared by both humans and animals in isolation. How can we perform our collective rage in a time of extended isolation?
TFSB2020 – ‘Superwoman: Empire of Care’
The second project that is being developed byThe Filipino Superwoman Band is rooted in the question; ‘what is essential in this time of pandemic?’ The Filipino Superwoman Band hijacks K-Pop music, aesthetics and its pirated manifestations to create a K-Pop inspired band identity TFSB2020 and a new work ‘Superwoman: Empire of Care’ music video. We continue to zoom in on migrant work; Filipino nurses, health care workers and cleaners as the world’s frontliners against the global pandemic. TFSB2020 ‘Superwoman: Empire of Care’ performs a call to action against increasing systemic violence, government corruption and abuse of power that forces Filipinos to continue looking for work outside of the Philippines. The Filipino Superwoman Band is an all female ensemble composed of Bunny Cadag, Cathrine Go, Teresa Barrozo, Franchesca Casauay and myself.
Local and international collaboration in times of physical distancing
Manila Zoo is a creation developed by 5 Filipino performers and an international artistic team. The research-creation-development was set to take place in different locations with the final premiere in Frankfurt in April 2021. We were supposed to create the works in HongKong and Taiwan, but we are all COVID-grounded in Manila so the creation moved to the virtual space of Zoom.
ZOOm in the Exhibition
The Zoo project was supposed to be performed live in the exhibition venue. I proposed to adapt the work to the pandemic conditions by livestreaming our 4-hour durational performances from our rooms in Manila during the lockdown into the exhibition space of Tai Kwun in Hong Kong. This further emphasized the layers of confinement and isolation that are visible and systemic. We performed from May 25 until July 13 and will resume in September once they open the museums.
When ECQ was lifted in Manila, we attempted to travel to Hong Kong to finally perform live there but the only way was through obtaining an OFW exit clearance from the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration (POEA). We encountered the difficulties that OFWs had to undergo. Systemic violence is POEA and our government. Halfway through the tedious application process, we reached a point where we had to cancel because of stricter travel protocols and the higher health risks from getting all the requirements for travel.
Manila ZOOm in the Theatre
We are currently working towards Manila Zoo, work-in-Pandemic showing for the Taipei Arts Festival on Aug 28 to 29. Unable to join the festival in person, we invite the audience to meet us in the theatre as we perform from our own rooms, a sort of live cinema experience.
The work is being coordinated from 5 different countries; 4 performers in Manila + 1 in Brussels, our technical director and tech support in Singapore, our sound composer in Frankfurt, and our audience in Taipei. We are working from multiple locations and streaming all components into a singular performance composition in Taipei. Reflecting on this, our performance is several times removed from our own bodies; captured, coded transformed into data and pixels, projected as light and finally seen by our audiences in Taipei. We are performing a disembodied ‘live’ performance.
The work also questions and challenges the mode of production, and the politics and limits of the virtual format from within the format itself. How to explode the zoom frame/cage? How to insist on the materiality of the body and on liveness in this virtuality?
Against the New Normal, towards Ecology
As the world goes into erratic periods of lockdown, tech billionaires are forging a new empire on digitalization. Everything is dematerialized and made virtual from work, shopping, entertainment, education, wellness, art, community, relationships and so forth. Our lived experience is being reduced to data. Along with it state violence has become the new normal. We are kept isolated in multiple echo chambers, provided with the illusion of connection to keep us docile. The Internet reinforces existing biases and divisions. It is the most immediate solution in bridging people during this pandemic. But I refuse this dematerialized habituation and state violence as the new normal.
The challenge is how to create new habits of living, of working, of creating and caring for our immediate communities that are not entirely dependent on the Internet. We must take care of our liveness and cultivate a full expression of it. Now is the time to reflect, envision, and create habits and practices that are rooted in establishing healthy ecologies. How to encourage and nurture sustainability and ecologically centered communities? It is time that we start learning from indigenous people who have lived with great respect and harmony with nature.