Mich Dulce transforms her egg freezing experience into art

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Mich Dulce’s experience of freezing her eggs turned into the foundation on which she built the concept of her latest show in Finale Art File, “At Least I Won’t Regret Anything.” Photo courtesy of FINALE ART FILE

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Mich Dulce had her eggs frozen in 2016. She religiously wrote on her journal during the entire process, as she tried to articulate thoughts and feelings about a decision that society may still find uncustomary. “It was a powerful and confusing experience to me,” she says.

Even as she identified as a feminist (she co-founded Grrrl Gang Manila, a community initiative that aims to create safe spaces for women where they can talk about issues that concern them), and even if she is widely lauded as a milliner, designer, and artist (her label has been sold and stocked in Tokyo, London, Paris, and Milan, among others), she still saw how polarizing her thoughts were about an act that she knew was, ultimately, her intrinsic right as a woman.

“You know I call myself a feminist and you know I really do identify as feminist,” she says. “But when I look back, ‘Oh my god, I'm still completely controlled by these ideas that have come to me as a young girl and regardless of me being, ‘Oh, I'm so modern, oh, I'm so cool,’ it's still ingrained, it's still in there.” She shares that no matter how much females try to reject norms and traditions imposed on them, and whether or not we choose to recognize these impositions, it’s still entrenched in the way we raise a family, find a partner, or bear a child.

day 5 k.jpg “At Least I Won’t Regret Anything” is an installation of baptismal dresses, with excerpts from the artist’s journal beaded on them, hanging on baby mobiles, which symbolize her journey towards reproductive autonomy. Photo courtesy of FINALE ART FILE

“It was such an intense feeling that I knew I had to document it and create something from that intense experience,” she adds. This experience then turned into the foundation on which she built the concept of her latest show in Finale Art File, “At Least I Won’t Regret Anything,” an installation of baptismal dresses, with excerpts from her journal beaded on them, hanging on baby mobiles, which symbolize her journey towards reproductive autonomy. During the 10th or 11th day of the freezing process, she remembers “going crazy” and felt that she had to survive it so she can turn it into an art piece or a concept that more people, particularly women, can resonate with.

“While that had happened, I also felt like it was also a really effective way to talk about reproductive autonomy and how this is really something that affects us,” she explains. CNN Philippines Life talked to Dulce about her exhibition, and how feminism informs her art. Below are edited excerpts from the interview.

Before we go to the specifics of your exhibit, can you share what drove you to freeze your eggs?

[It was] the fact that I am not in a relationship. And for me, childbearing is one of the things that I really want to do as a woman. It's really part of my life goals. For me, I think it's amazing how some women can really identify with wanting to be a mom, but there are some women who are like, ‘Hell no.’ And I think, for me, speaking about reproductive autonomy, [it's] so important that we recognize that there's no right choice; there's only our choice.

For me, it's like, ‘yun ‘yun eh. For me, freezing my eggs was me saying that I'm not gonna let my body clock defeat me. I'm gonna do my best to try and, you know, obviously, there are no guarantees, right? But it's like an insurance policy. It increases my chances given that I'm not in a relationship, I'm governed by society rule via my mom telling me you can't just get pregnant randomly because that's not how you do things. And while I feel like I'm likely to do that, I don't think I will do that because I still have a mom who's mega-conservative.

day 5 f.jpg In the exhibit area, visitors were encouraged to get a ribbon from the cot, where they can write ideas or thoughts about fertility and womanhood. Photo courtesy of FINALE ART FILE

You shared excerpts from your journal entries, which display both the apprehension and empowerment you felt. What was the most revealing for you as you were documenting the process and why did you choose this concept for the exhibit?

I wrote the two most powerful entries for me on the wall. It was crazy how I wanted to write more but I didn't want to distract from the work so I just put two. But, it was crazy to me how much I changed everyday. Oh, I'm so happy, I'm proud of myself, you can see that in the dresses.

I was really proud of myself [for] being able to conquer my fear of needles and stabbing myself. And I went to feeling scared, like what if it doesn't work? And then the next day I'd be really angry, and I'm really upset but I'm trying to convince myself that things are going to be okay. Ang labo talaga. I really had to make sense of it.

Then one day, I just had a day of mega self-pity when I was like, ‘You know, normal people get married, you know, you're boyfriend-girlfriend, you get married, you have kids.’ They don't have to stab themselves, they just have kids. And I was like, ‘Ano bang mali sa'kin?’ Going back to the show, that's how I chose what's beaded on the dress.

For me, speaking about reproductive autonomy, [it's] so important that we recognize that there's no right choice; there's only our choice.

The idea was that I was thinking about what to do for the show and I kind of realized that my adult life has been governed by needles. Because I work in fashion, I built my career and my persona on working with needles. And I found it so ironic, because one, I'm super scared of needles. Like, I can't. Every time [I need an] injection, I freak out. But then I found it ironic, for the thing that I want the most, it still required needles. I decided I wanted to make everything in the show [using] a needle.

I decided to make baptismal dresses, the symbolism being that that's the first most important garment that you wear as a Catholic, diba? I was thinking, a garment, a garment. What do we wear? What can I make? And I realized ... that's the first thing, diba? A child wears that. And whether you're a boy or a girl, you wear a baptismal dress. So you know, you're wearing this hyper-feminine dress with lace, but regardless of your gender, it's totally acceptable that you're wearing this dress.

So for me, that's so powerful. Each of the dresses has a syringe from my process attached to it. Like, an artifact from my process and then a quote that comes from the journal. And I selected the quotes to show how neurotic it was na parang they're verging on the super whatevs "How do I find the perfect sperm" to like, you know, "Is my independence emasculating?" to show the range of emotion that I felt.

Can you talk a bit more about how it’s all set up? Why the baby mobile?

First of all, I wanted it to move. I'm not a painter so I like to build environments. For me, the work that speaks to me the most whenever I got out is something I can walk around in and be part of. During my last show [at Finale Art File], I built a house. And this time, I was like, I wanted to be overwhelmed by it. And I did the mobile, so I wanted it to move — that symbolism of balance and you know, it's always changing — you can't really stop it. That's what we are, as women and individuals, like, … some days, we're good. But at the end of the day, we live diba.

day 5 n.jpg "I wrote the two most powerful entries for me on the wall. It was crazy how I wanted to write more, but I didn't want to distract from the work so I just put two. But, it was crazy to me how much I changed everyday," Dulce says of her journal entries during her egg freezing process. Photo courtesy of FINALE ART FILE

The exhibit shows your journey towards reproductive autonomy, as well as you being a feminist. How do these concepts inform your art?

The recurring theme on my work is always a commentary on me versus the world, or me versus the social norms placed upon me. My first show was about me and the things that I was raised to believe in about marriage, that you [should be] submissive. It's always a statement. I like to call my work confessional, because it's always about me and something I'm going through and a struggle — it's always based on a feeling. And speaking of reproductive autonomy, if anything, it's body autonomy and autonomy over yourself is kind of the recurring theme of my work.

What would you want for the audience to get from this exhibit?

For me, the best thing would be like if someone was like, ‘Oo nga ‘no, I share that feeling or I have an opposing feeling’. But for them to feel [that] what you're going through or what you're feeling, especially for women, is super valid. You don't have to stop yourself from feeling like that. That's why I felt like I had to put my journals on display even if they're so personal, because I want people to be like 'Oh my god, she's neurotic' or 'She has all these feelings, and they are similar feelings to what I would feel, like I get that.' For me, it's like empowering other people na if you're going through this struggle, we're going through the same shit.

We do live in the world where people [may be] experiencing the same thing and it's a matter of using that personal experience to strengthen others.

That’s also why people are invited to write and partake in the show. For me, that's like, that's something that I'd like to cultivate in my work. To have people engage ... I just wanted to try it for this one. If no one writes, then that's fine … Also for this one, I forgot to mention the sound piece, the sound piece is a kid chanting the rhyme. It's really not a subtle way of really stating na you know the reason we go through all these things is because as children we're conditioned by stupid rhymes like this, that tell us that there's a cycle: first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes a baby. Like, how is that not supposed to fuck us up when we're being subjected to this kind of general social norm at such an early age? It's something we need to think about.

In a way, the show, which touches on social norms, is also very political. Was that deliberate?

I'm gonna say the ultimate feminist cliché which is that the personal is political. That's the easiest way to say it. The fact is what we do and what we experience ...  we do live in the world where people [may be] experiencing the same thing and it's a matter of using that personal experience to strengthen others.

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“At Least I Won’t Regret Anything” runs until Jan. 29, 2018 at  Finale Art File, 2241, Chino Roces Ave., Makati.