Reinventing Escolta: ‘Parasitic’ shapes creep up on Old Manila’s buildings

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Artist Derek Tumala calls attention to the state of Manila architecture by conjuring ghostly images on the facades of some of Escolta’s iconic buildings using guerrilla video mapping. Photo by DON JAUCIAN

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — The structures we see everyday are easy to take for granted. But transformed, they take on a new meaning. The buildings of Escolta are some of the most common sights for a commuter parsing through some of the busiest roads in Manila. The Regina, the baroque Santa Cruz church, and the BPI building are all just landmarks that dissolve into a blur on the way to work, church, the market, and eventually home. But during the London Biennale Manila Pollination, ghostly shapes have taken up residence in their facades at night, putting, almost literally, a spotlight to these figures in the city’s streetscape.

Though artistic and creative initiatives have renewed interest in the area in the last few years, mostly from the collaboration of building owners and the collective 98B, it takes more than pop-up events to call attention to the need to restore the heritage of one of Manila’s most charming areas. Artists who have taken up spaces in some of Escolta’s buildings, such as Derek Tumala, have been inspired into drawing attention to the architecture of the area.

derek tumala Derek Tumala has been shortlisted for the 2015 Ateneo Art Awards and has exhibited works, from painting, photography to video mapping installations, in Malaysia, Japan, and Singapore. Photo courtesy of DEREK TUMALA  

“We wanted to create new dialogues, new ideas, new audience, new experiences, new exchanges and hopefully inspire people to go back to Manila, where it all started,” he says. “Lucid Abyss of Immanence,” a guerrilla mapping project during the recent London Biennale Manila Pollination, is a step toward a new engagement, not only in terms of nostalgia but also in taking concrete steps to reviving neglected areas of the city.

Tumala, who has been shortlisted in the Ateneo Art Awards in 2015, talks about “invading” buildings, the use of old school OPM to strengthen the hold of his projected images, and the need for more cultural hubs in the country. Below are edited excerpts from the interview.

Can you tell us the idea behind the video mapping project?

The idea started when I moved my studio here [in Escolta] more than a year ago and the buildings resonated to me as spiritual entities of memories, vital to our history. Over the course of more than a year of basing my studio here, I saw buildings being torn down, renovated, [given a] facelift, or completely abandoned. It's a never ending cycle to build and destroy. Coincidentally I was invited by Steph Palallos, organizer of David Medalla's London Biennale Manila Pollination and it was a perfect venue for the idea. So I and Jose Tong, who is an architect-artist, collaborated with "Lucid Abyss of Immanence" and thought maybe we can create something that will invade these structures and create "guerrilla" mapping and "parasitic" architecture (an installation on the 3rd floor of the First United Building) which shows the present notion of adaptive reuse, destructive, negligible or invasive methods of use of these historical places. We did research on each [of the] buildings and tried to understand its history and current state. The invasion of light in the buildings relive [their] glorious times and people started asking questions of why or what the building is all about.

How do you think guerrilla video mapping relates to the current initiative to revive Escolta?

I think in our process of creating independently, we've always been guerrilla. We hack our own way to get things done, get funding, and support to create an audience. With the initiatives to revive Escolta, I think "guerrilla" initiatives became vital to what it has become now. We used art as a tool to direct people to Escolta and come here to see what history has left us. Before 98B's existence here in Escolta, [which] started some time 5 years ago, no art or cultural offices were [existing here]. It was somehow symbolic that independent initiatives are "guerrillas" in terms of how we present ideas/works/exhibition. It's always in a temporary space, in an alternative venue or in an unexpected place like the one down the street called PAN///, a pop-up window exhibition handled by 98B as well, it was an old store window for the construction company called Panpisco Inc. given to 98B to serve as an exhibition activation space.

I think in our process of creating independently, we've always been guerrilla. We hack our own way to get things done, get funding and support to create an audience.

 

During the closing party, OPM songs amplified the sense of nostalgia in seeing the “invasion” mapped out on buildings. Was this an intended effect?

The impromptu party was actually intended for us to celebrate the success of the exhibitions, but yes, me and DJ Major Chie curated the music that was going to be played — nostalgic/tropicalia so that people can differentiate Escolta apart from the other places in the city. I think music is vital in a place, it lets you give a sense of character. It's important to me that my audience has [that kind of] experience with my work. It is also another way to realign past-present, a parallelism that I am very interested in.

The term “invasion” implies the rebellious nature of the project. Do you think this is a reaction toward the little focus of the government in cultural initiatives?

With the current political snub on culture and the arts, I think the way we create/think of processes always includes hacking the system and how to make ends meet, so it echoes that in essence. You have to "invade" systems to make things work.

Can you see this being done in different parts of the city that also need attention in terms of architectural preservation?

Yes, absolutely, but with the huge challenge of mounting works like this, it will be hard, but of course we'll always try to make it work. This work actually inspires me to go to more places not just Manila, and try to create a conversation of realigning past and present, not just to appreciate but how we can make use of it today.

regina building Derek Tumala's guerrilla mapping projected at the Regina Building in Escolta. Photo by DON JAUCIAN

Much has been said about Escolta, mostly hinged on nostalgia, but how do you think artistic pursuits can push the street, and eventually the city, into something more sustainable?

I think what artists and artist collective's initiatives are doing is vital in making Escolta as an arts and culture hub, we present new ideas on how to use spaces, rather than just a place to visit old buildings, it's not just about remembering the past, but how you can relate that past to the present, and create new perspectives on how this will work in a current setting. Arts and culture is deemed unnecessary to the masses, and it's also one opportunity to educate them. Nostalgia is just lingering, what we need to do is to create conversations, work on it, push new ideas, create experiences and present new perspectives on how we can make Escolta, or this city great again.