David Medalla: Curiouser & curiouser

- Ramon De Veyra -

MANILA, Philippines - The celebrated multi-disciplinary artist David Medalla is in the country, which is no mean feat as his last visit here was almost 30 years ago, so it was a rare treat to attend a talk (entitled Tuloy Po Kayo) and reception of the artist at the Ateneo Art Gallery last Wednesday.

Though nearly 70, the artist stood for much of his two hour-plus talk, despite having a chair handy, and was animated throughout. He regaled the capacity crowd (which overflowed into a second room, equipped with a TV showing the artist) with tales and anecdotes from his illustrious career, from early inspirations (local and otherwise) to specific instances that were accidental but proved instrumental in his career.

The artist didn’t delve too much into specific works, but would mention specific shows and how they were received or conceived. One memorable tale was about how his trousers kept falling down at an exhibit opening, which all but ensured that at the very least, there would be something memorable about the show. And it worked; years later people would come up to him mentioning the time his pants fell down. But the way Medalla tells it, I can’t tell if it was something he planned or not.

Medalla and fashion designer/milliner Mich Dulce have a project they’re brewing together for the UK. Photos by MM YU

He had a slideshow with him of recent jaunts on this trip to the country, visiting churches and restaurants and one entertaining bit where they were exploring the campus of Ateneo itself and struck a friendship with the grasscutters, posing with them and spending the afternoon asking them questions. Such is Medalla: ever curious, ever fascinated with people’s lives.

 He would casually tell stories of friends, like one of his old roommates and how they would get into a fight because her boyfriend kept dropping over, but then drop bombs like the fact that that roommate was Yoko Ono and the “boyfriend” was John Lennon. He even babysat Sean Lennon when he was a baby! He used to hang out with Laurence Olivier’s son, also an artist. He was on the set of Lamberto Avellana’s Badjao (1957) (“It was a good excuse to spend time at the beach.”).

It may have been a rambling, semi-discursive talk (though he had a three-page outline prepared!), but those were the types of pearls Medalla would throw out like so much confetti.

At the end of the talk, the artist got volunteers who spoke different dialects to participate in a performance piece he was working on.

At the end of the lecture, he called for volunteers; specifically, people who spoke different dialects. He gathered the people in front, with two people holding a string across them, and they took turns reading a passage in their respective dialect as he would move down the line. (I couldn’t tell, but I believe it was the same passage). One of the volunteers was BenCab! Then, he had everyone speak at the same time. The same message, the same passage, the same meaning, expressed in different dialects, but transmitted and heard (though perhaps not necessarily understood) at the same time: this was his goal, an almost-glossolalia of shared meaning, a communal experience. It was very in keeping with the Medalla I had observed over the last two hours. While I knew a few of his works, I knew very little about the man’s personality, which was full of wonder and excitement, still very much enthusiastic about learning and playing and experimenting  ­­­the kind of things that got him where he is. It’s good to see that that spirit is still very much alive in him and still as hungry as ever. And it wasn’t the sober ambition of the young, it was the playful curiosity of the even younger, the person who delights in the new and the old simultaneously, always asking, “What if?”

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The Ateneo Art Gallery is currently exhibiting its entire collection of Medalla’s works, so do try and check it out! Visit www.ateneoartgallery.org for more information.










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