Nostalgia is the strangest place
"There is a field, I’ll meet you there" by Maria Belina Manalang

Nostalgia is the strangest place

ZOETROPE - Juaniyo Arcellana (The Philippine Star) - November 25, 2019 - 12:00am

Turn left to Zapote Street of NJ’s reportage on crime from JP Rizal Makati on a Saturday afternoon with traffic in the crosshairs of sunset, right to Malolos after nearly missing the turn but saved in time with directions from the sidewalk isaw vendor, emerge on Chino Roces Avenue left and a couple or so blocks down you’ll see Altro Mondo Creative Space, destination at left, a two-story structure including an entresuelo-like foyer filled with paintings, art installations and stuff.

It’s the first time in a long while I’m seeing the work of old UP elementary and high school batch mate Maria Belina Manalang, aka Pep, which had written about some moons ago but based solely on the pictures posted on Viber by another batchmate, Loli Luna, and have to admit the difference between live and cellphone is like watching basketball on TV and live at the coliseum, you miss a lot of, how do we call it, nuances — the painting come to life before you, the clinking of cocktail glasses, the chitchat and hubbub of gallery habitués on opening night.

“Mukha ba talagang yero, Juaniyo?” Pep greets me after being out of sight of each other for nearly a decade, the last at the old Integrated School along Katipunan during one of those inevitable class reunions, after exchange of usual pleasantries. She had read the previous review where her work was likened to sheets of corrugated iron, with Manansala’s barong-barong series used as objective correlative.

Again, have to admit after seeing the paintings up close — “Seashore,” “Nightscape,” “There is a Field I’ll Meet You There,” “Reliquary,” etc., part of her latest collection “Interior Landscapes” — that they look nothing like yero, and so stand corrected and humbled after the exposed dilettante criticism. The Manansala reference was better left on Viber, almost fallen off its stool much like painter Danny Sillada’s recreation of “The Thinker” along Altro Mondo’s stairwell between gallery sections.

Detail of Alvarez-De Roca-Pamintuan exhibit

As it was, she was standing in an adjoining gallery that housed the works of three young women during the omnibus opening, “Why am I the one always packing up my stuff?” by contemporaries Poeleen Alvarez, Tammy De Roca and Faye Pamintuan, girlhood friends who went their separate paths due to fate and circumstance but now coming together again in this show, a parallel reunion of another generation.

On the wall were what seemed like sculpted footsteps between zones temperate and tropical, and another installation featuring a slow-dripping contraption usually seen in academic laboratories, this one gradually eroding a piece of rock placed ruminatively underneath, and nearby an endless loop projecting on an adjacent wall suggestions of a slow-sinking Malabon.

Another section of the three young women has a clothesline exposition, a series in watercolor on paper superimposed on more conventional watercolors, a mélange of images from Texas to the Philippines, as well as points between. Their group show takes its cue from Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides, once featured as one of Granta’s best young novelists, which in turn was adapted into film by Sofia Coppola.

Handsomely curated by Gwen Bautista who also wrote the program notes, the Alvarez-De Roca-Pamintuan collaboration is a worthy companion piece for Manalang’s landscapes. “Why am I always packing” is dedicated to the memory of the sister of one of the artists, who died in her early 20s. 

Soon enough the rest of the Katipunan gang start arriving, Gideon without his Bible but with wife and kids in tow, themselves a walking holy literature, cousin Melissa from the old Lantana Street in Cubao near the long-shuttered Arcega’s, Lulu à la rock chick still the Alona Alegre lookalike, Doc Peppon now semiretired from Makati Medical Center.

Serial groufies and selfies would ensue on that second Saturday of November at the exhibit slated to run till about the US Thanksgiving holiday or before month’s end, whichever comes first.

Of course might never hear the end of it, yero or no yero, but trust in the objective correlative — the Robert Duvall character in the film adaptation of Camus’ The Plague, his dying words as he is stretchered away being “nostalgie, nostalgie,” or Andrei Tarkovsky’s penultimate work in his filmography of seven, Nostalghia, wherein one frame can be seen: sister, mother, grandmother, horse, dog, with a log cabin at back and slowly encroaching fog.

Left to Zapote, right to Malolos, left to Pasong Tamo. There is a Saguijo will meet you there.

Pep between “Nightscape” and “Seashore”


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