ILISTA MO NA LANG SA TUBIG
(Just Write Them on the Water)
An essay written by Filipino Professor and Curator Patrick Duarte Flores
for MOVE ON ASIA 2010 organized by the Loop Gallery, Seoul.
In faraway Norway, Jet Pascua’s art seems remote, his video, distant. But dwelling on the work "Just Write Them on the Water" (2006), a transliteration of the Filipino saying “Ilista Mo na Lang sa Tubig,” the gap between origin and migration, the tropical and the foreign, is crossed poignantly. And it is uncanny that the vehicle of this crossing is water and the aspiration to remember is textual. Well, almost .
We see a hand wielding a stick, going through the motions of inscribing something on the liquid surface, the marks never really being impressed on its fluid slate, seemingly just stirring and crumpling the placid reflection. What we see is this toil that is apparently not an instrument to any end, except perhaps to play as the rustle of the water permeates the scene, with varying energies and pressures, only to revert to stillness.
We learn that the hand is writing through the piece of crooked timber names of people who have died in another country, in the artist’s archipelago of so many islands. They are not ordinary folks who have passed on; they are martyrs to political causes refused by regimes paradoxically after the fall of the dictatorship in the eighties. It may appear banal and routinary, but with the title in mind, the gesture becomes a ritual of recollection, of recalling the past and committing it to memory, which is all flux, in the context of a current performance.
What inflects the melancholy is the weight of the Filipino passage. It speaks of forgetting, of not confronting issues and problems, of by extension denying justice to the grieving and the dispossessed. We therefore discern here indignation as the names are recovered and rewritten in futility, a romantic evocation of the disappeared through a deed that does not ensure appearance: a negation of a negation that is a productive failure.
Pascua’s passion seems to lie in the politics of inscription, the aesthetic of the graphic. In a previous exhibition of drawing, he spins the notion of repetition and discipline. In the said video project, he refers to the novel of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude, to take us to Macondo where the village suffers from collective amnesia and has to nominate almost everything as if from tabula rasa. This garcimarquesian panic serves as foil to this film’ s deep disquiet, a testament of loss, absence, and dis-place. His other works betray affinity with this tedium-transcendence , such as Scratching the Surface (2008) in which he writes the word history on immaculate paper with a ballpoint pen over and over again until the tortured word recedes into a palimpsest of ink and in Vanishing Horizon (2008) in which he traces a line on a wall with a pencil and erases the trail at the same time, with delicacy and fury respectively.
For a place that forgets so easily, that is so taken by mystifications about freedom and it s heroes, this is radically sad, more acutely so if imagined from exile. There is repetition, surely, and very little change across the rivers and lakes and seas of the artist’s otherwise buoyant nation.
This video has been shown at the Loop Gallery Seoul, Metropolitan Museum Manila, The Tate Museum London, City Gallery Wellington, Silverlens Gallery Singapore, Video Guerilha Sao Paolo, West Gallery Manila and in Oslo, Norway.