And we were singing along.
These songs we grew up with, songs we thought were written about us, songs we either have not heard for years or have constantly keep in our music players.
And they were playing again, one after the other, and all of a sudden we’re teenagers. Graduating from high school, stepping into college, angry at the world yet each one of us so sure that we are some special, tortured, misunderstood soul.
Except for our music heroes.
Our younger friends looked at us, bemused and wondering what the fuck were we singing while we didn’t pay any attention. Most kids these days never heard of Nirvana, the Smashing Pumkins, Radiohead. Never experienced the first time they heard Alanis and knew all they really want is put a hand in one pocket.
It was silly. It was sad. It was wonderful.
Sandy sure knows how to cheer me up. She invited me to the opening of Gabriel Barredo’s “Opera” at the Silverlens Galleries after finding out that I parted ways with my (now ex-)boyfriend and that an exhibit of nightmare-inducing sculpture and installation art is what I needed.
Sandy is also a fangirl of Gabriel Barredo and it’s not hard to see why.
At first, I thought the title “Opera” referred to the performance. In hindsight, there was a lot of theatricality and drama in the exhibit, what with the gloomy lighting, the often haunting music, and the wonderful performance that was included in the opening. But “Opera” also refers to the Tagalog (by way of Spanish) word for “surgery”.
The installations featured numerous human figures, many of them cut open, with parts removed and transferred to incorrect places. Lines of almost life-sized fetus hang in semi-transparent mesh run along the space. Syringes, lens, dental chairs, and other medical equipment are used in many works. Prints of Medieval anatomical drawings are joined by modern x-rays and CAT scans. Looking at the (real) scans can make someone (who is not in the medical field) uncomfortable peeking into a person’s most private aspects and has the effect of dehumanizing a person.
This dehumanization was reinforced by many of the works including gears and machine parts. Shoulders connect to long pieces of metal to replace the biceps, before rejoining the rest of the arm. Some moving installations had flesh-colored rods flex like rhythmically undulating tentacles, yet you can see the machine powering the movements. The exhibit highlight includes several machine-mounted bamboo rods that flail incessantly, which reminded me of angry, moving plants in some horror movies.
When stripped out of life and personality, the human body is no different from a person-less machine, complex yet generic.
What seemed more disturbing is the curious lack of gore. Blood is rendered like narrow streams of fluid or faint red mist that remained in stretched mesh that looked like the amniotic sac. As I told Sandy while we were talking about the exhibits, it was as somebody wiped the nearly all blood out. And very carefully, too. There is no sense of chaos in the grotesque images, like it was a product of sanity and obsessive attention.
At first I thought the sound of a man singing was part of the background sounds, but when I looked around, it was coming from an actor. He was dressed and made up like the Phantom of the Opera (aha) and singing wordlessly, while struggling inside a flesh-colored mesh. He pulls out a knife and slowly starts slashing his way out of the mesh. Ugh. I haven’t really been creeped out until that point.
Sandy introduced me to her friends, Fran, Karl and Carlo, and we talked of our reactions to the exhibit. Carlo also told us of an exhibit of art from immediately after the Second World War, particularly from Japanese artists, and how the war affected the nation’s collective psyche. Art isn’t always about what is beautiful; grief, horror, and shame can inspire powerful work. Sandy wondered aloud where Mr Barredo got his inspiration for his exhibit.
Even before I left the Distillery, I can feel one shoulder to be slightly aching. I thought it was because of the bag I was carrying the entire night. I told Sandy and her friends that the place is really just a twenty-minute walk from my house and I actually planned to walk home. But after buying some snack in a convenience store, I decided I was too tired to walk and took a cab instead.
My shoulder was even more painful when I arrived and I think I knew why: It was the cachaça. I ordered caipirinha when we arrived. For some reason, sugarcane-based spirits has that effect on me, the reason why I don’t drink much rhum.
After we had dinner, we went to the Distillery for a few drinks. Fran, one of Sandy’s friends, jokingly warned that there are plenty of gay men inside.
“Are there straight men among us?” I asked them, deadpan. In our group, there were two women, Sandy and Fran, and two other gay men, Karl and Carlo. Fran later told me that she (and her other friends, except Sandy) initially thought I was straight. It must be the frumpy clothing.
There were indeed plenty of gay men inside. Even with my first time there, I saw three other friends who happened to be there that night. Some of those friends turned out to also be friends with Carl.
“We probably have A LOT of friends in common,” I told him when went outside for some fresh air. “It’s surprising I only got to meet you now.”
“I don’t know why the place is usually packed,” Fran wondered after I told her it was my first time going there. We were comparing it to other popular places (frequented by gay people). “There isn’t a dance floor. The drinks aren’t expensive but all you get to do here is stand around and drink.”
“You can smoke inside,” I pointed out. Not a lot of places allows smoking in an air-conditioned establishment. Being smoker-friendly is, I’m sure, a strong selling point of the place.
Fran thought it made sense. “But the smell sticks to your hair though,” she complained. I agreed, and told her it was also my problem when I had my hair long; sometimes, washing my hair twice isn’t enough to remove the smell.
Just now, I smelled the beanie I was wearing last night. I think I ought to give it a wash.
It’s odd looking at my hands without my rings on.
There are dents in some fingers, left where the metal dug slightly into the skin. There is the slight difference in color where a small strip of skin is often hidden against the sunlight. Even when my rings are not there, they are still there: leaving the ghost of their presence, a phantom sensation of metal.
Despite fitting well when I bought them years ago, eventually I had to stop wearing some rings that grew too tight. I didn’t think my fingers can still grow bigger well into adulthood; apparently, they can. The metal did not remain unchanging, either, the circle slowly bending out of shape until it followed the shape of the bone. But it can’t expand and started constricting the finger where it once fit in snugly.
It’s odd looking at my hands without my rings on.
But as strange as they look now without the rings on, a few days of not wearing them will become the new norm. Until as if I never wore rings in the first place. Until even the dented skin will grow back to fill the missing spaces.
There was this wonderful trick in the first sequence of Sigrid Andrea Bernardo’s Lorna: It essentially summarized the story we were about it watch, but one will only realize it once the movie finishes. It also introduced the recurring metaphor for love used in the film. Bullets fired from guns were the modern-day Love arrows, and they left a bloody mess where they struck.
Lorna was the story of one woman’s quest for love and the many men in her life: the ex-husband who left her, a foreign boyfriend, a returning old flame, and a charmer who pops up every so often. She was occasionally accompanied by two long-time friends, her son from her ex-husband, and a very randy housecat. The film had an impressive cast of actors, with Shamaine Buencamino as a very effective lead actress. Maria Isabel Lopez and Raquel Villavicencio were her two best friends; Ms. Lopez totally deserved her Best Supporting Actress win for playing the hilarious Elvie. Felix Roco was adorable as Lorna’s emocore son. Juan Rodrigo was refreshing as the guy with embarrassingly corny pick-up lines. Angel Aquino had a short, but scene-stealing appearance. And, of course, there was Lav Diaz.
Tangina, I love Lav Diaz.
Sigrid Bernardo is one of the probably few feminist filmmakers working right now, and Lorna had strong feminist themes. The beauty of it is how one won’t notice it at first; the feminism does not get in the way of entertainment. Lorna, just like her previous work, looked into the many facets of women’s lives, making them fully fleshed-out characters with histories and motivation. The roles women took for themselves were discussed, and the ideas of motherhood and womanhood examined through witty banter (typical of Sigrid’s screenplays) that combines heavy musings with humor. One of the few directors to consistently do so, Sigrid candidly presented women’s sexuality as a natural part of their being, not merely as a subject for jokes or titillation.
Sigrid is also a queer filmmaker. Unlike her previous film, however, Lorna was not about a gay character. There is a very minor queer subplot, although it might be one of the weaker aspects of the story. It felt underwritten and was explained as how a person might “change” which seems to send a message that sexual attraction is a choice. One of my main criticisms for the film were the inclusion of these intriguing plot points (another one was the backstory of Raquel Villavicencio’s character) which were not addressed in depth, making them feel like missed opportunities.
Another thing I can’t quite swallow is believing that Shamaine Buencamino (who is 49 years old) et al are a bunch of sixty-year old folks. This was perhaps lampshaded in the movie when Angel Aquino admitted within the story that she is supposedly fifty (fifty!) years old, but was told that she does not look fifty at all.
The movie had a delicious ending sequence where the character of Lorna, steaming while reading a romance novel in her favorite restaurant table, was surrounded by several couples making out. One of those couples were a pair of men (“Ano ba yan, puro mga bading,” exclaimed a man sitting behind us), the first to be shown. The whole sequence was played for comedy, but the inclusion of a gay couple in that shot was a subtle but strong statement on how love does not care for a person’s age nor gender.