More art in public spaces
ZOETROPE - Juaniyo Arcellana () - May 5, 2008 - 12:00am

The artist Danny Sillada rapped one evening in Penguin cafe in Malate, during the opening of the joint exhibition of Cesare Syjuco and Eghai Navarro, shortly before the onset of another long hot summer. Sillada was accompanied by a minus-one tape, the beat ethnic if not downright indigenous, the lyrics hip-hop Cebuano Visayan on the far side of Junior Kilat.

Sillada handed us a postcard that featured an oil painting of his, titled “Hope Amid the Vanishing Trees,” one of those exhibited at the Ricco-Renzo Galleries. The show itself may have long since packed up to give way to other exhibits, but the postcard has stayed in my drawer for the past couple of months, just waiting to make its presence felt among the various odds and ends of ballpens, old invites, assorted scratch paper, paper clips, tea bags.

Sillada was a perfect example of art in a public space, part performance and walking innuendo, straight from the wilds of Mindanao.

Behind the postcard the Syjuco daughter Trixie had written the names and instruments of the semi-retired avant-garde band Faust, that had the five Syjuco siblings blowing our collective minds many moons ago.

Here’s what Trixie wrote: “Syjuco sibs of Faust: Mickey on vocals; A.G., guitarist/composer; Trix, bassist/2nd vocals/rhythm guitar; Maxine, drummer/percussionist; Julian – guitars.”

Remnants of the former child prodigy band — now of course all grown up into full-fledged adults — did a sort of introductory set, mainly A.G. on guitar and assorted atmospherics on keyboards, and Maxine (she who was named after the Donald Fagen song on the album “The Nightfly”) on Laurie Anderson-like vocals, half-sung and half recited.

We forget what Maxine was singing about through the drone of electronica and electric guitar, but let’s just say it was very Syjuco of a performance: Faust Redux could read the phone book or cook book and it would still sound interesting and in the right public space.

Ronnie Lazaro also had a piece to say before the proceedings got underway: he briefed the audience on the syllable for the night, which sounded like “ehrm,” as if clearing the throat in order to say more things either profound or redundant, but nonetheless quasi-cosmic, ehrm.

Trixie was the emcee for the night, and before we knew it she was introducing another young band, Skies of Ember, which we first heard on the CD “Un Documento Compilo” some years back, a sampler mostly of bands and fine arts majors that played in Big Sky Mind in New Manila.

Skies of Ember lived up to its name, their music a wall of atmospheric sound, a bit of shoegaze and post-new wave. From New Manila to Malate, the distance is not so far under ember skies, from Big Sky Mind to Penguin. And the lead singer, looking like a grunge Migs Rosales.

Then it was back to the Sillada postcard for me, to write down some of the verses set on canvas by the Syjuco patriarch Cesare, hope that the handwriting is faithful enough: “And I a/ hunger above/ a spurt/ of eyes.,” and “and I/ the end of/ everything serious.,” always with the period before the coma.

By the time you read this the Syjuco Navarro roadshow would have gone down south, specifically Cebu for a series of shows and performances that would stretch well into early May. Among the welcoming committee in the queen city is UP Cebu College of Fine Arts teacher JV Villacin, who actually pioneered on local shores the concept of the CD sleeve as a foldable artwork.

The Syjucos, we’re told, would be taking the plane, while Navarro himself would go by boat, “but only because we’ll be lugging art pieces with us.”

By boat or by plane, art can be found all around in another summer of discontent, even on trains for those of us feeling trapped by choice or circumstance in the city. “Berso sa Metro” is a joint project of the LRT and the Instituto Cervantes, located on TM Kalaw, or between the stops of UN Avenue and Central Arroceros.

On a less-crowded ride one can read the Spanish verses with corresponding Tagalog translations on posters pasted on the side of the train, above the vents and glass windows. There’s Neruda, unmistakable in his romantic vagaries, and Machado zigzagging above the streets in the manner of a philosopher, even Claro Recto before he became more famous as diploma mill avenue, and Jose Rizal when Avenida was yet a promenade.

We remember best Neruda, and how lost he would become if he no longer glimpsed the smile of his lady love; he could be without bread and sun, rain or late afternoon, but never without love’s smile, or its shadow.

There’s one illustration that stands out too, of a stone pathway across the sea, obviously at low tide, before the stones and the verses too get submerged when the tide rises.

Sometimes we feel like copying the verses on cell phone, but not really. Too much finger work. Better to appreciate the train poetry at the moment, the rails sounding underneath, the commuters weaving and bobbing to a silent rhythm.

Somewhere a local brass band plays, stopping at one of the LRT stations with an impromptu public concert complete with bamboo xylophones, and we position ourselves along the platform trying to guess where exactly the door will open its air-conditioned welcome, for the ride over the city’s trees both real and vanished.

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