On All-Too-Familiar Disruptions: A Review on “Normal scheduling will resume shortly”

The exhibition at the Cultural Center of the Philippines comes with a brief but politically loaded advisory: Normal scheduling will resume shortly. The terminology, intended to be apologetic, is most commonly used in broadcast to notify the viewers of the temporary halting of television programs due to a system glitch. Featured artists Poklong Anading from the Philippines and Neil Fettling from Australia, through their conceptual works, prompt the viewers to reflect on some known disruptions, both visible and invisible, in various sites of congestion in the city. The exhibition explores how the city’s passageways and network of infrastructure are similar to our body’s arteries and veins, where blood ideally courses without disruptions, allowing a certain system to function. The works are located at the Bulwagang Fernando Amorsolo, Pasilyo Victorio Edades, and 4/F Atrium of CCP — a curatorial decision aimed at facilitating engagement among the audience, while they navigate the exhibition space as if navigating the corners of the city.

For Vincent Alessi, the exhibit’s curator, the works “remain open-ended and resolute in their ideas creating unfolding and connected discussions” (Cultural Center of the Philippines) hence, the collaboration of Anading and Fettling becomes a transnational exchange of collective experience between two different socio-cultural origins, in this case, between Manila and Melbourne. The exhibit, an abstract yet poignant contemplation on the systems that pulsate life to the city and its inhabitants, urges dialogues and interactions instead of seeking solutions to some environmental problems.

Neil Fettling, “Catheterismo” (installation shot), mixed media, 2019

In the installation Catheterismo, Fettling hangs 28 catheter bags containing red liquid, corresponding to the number of days that the device is attached to his body while stuck in traffic. It is accompanied with recorded sound bites of taxi drivers singing novelty songs in the background, giving a glimpse of the kind of exchanges that take place in private while traversing a public space such as the roads in Manila. Traffic congestion displaces us in the very sense that it delays time and paralyzes movements within a space (or the lack of it). Here, the prolonged momentary confinement turns into an agonizing experience that one can only endure.

Neil Fettling, “Timba” (installation shot), sculptural work, 2019

Demonstrating inconvenience in an ideal system that is supposed to be fluid and driven by a sense of ebb and flow, Fettling gathers 40 buckets and assembles them in a way that they appear to be suspended from the sky. The sculptural work “Timba” is cleverly placed at the open-air atrium of the building, where it can harvest water when it rains. These blue buckets bring to mind the long queues that Metro Manila residents had to go through during water-service interruptions in a time of drought.

Artists: Poklong Anading in collaboration with Neil Fettling, MM Yu, Catherine Sarah Young, Paul Mondok, Rico Entico, Neo Maestro, Miguel Lorenzo Uy, Lorena Rose Baliña, Johannes Wiener, Idan Cruz, Billy Adonis, Gelo Narag, Mio Aseremo; “Seawall” (installation shot), mixed media, 2019

In collaboration with 11 other artists, Anading assembles stacked cages and other waste materials to form a “Seawall.” It features photographs of people sleeping along Manila Bay, which is one of the most featured places in travel magazines for its sunset view. The installation serves as a visual reminder of the amount of trash polluting the city and, somehow, exposes an unjust system that continues to clog the walkways and waterways in an urban setting.

Poklong Anading, “ — — — — — — — — “ (installation shot), digital photography, 2010

Our tendency as individuals to succumb to capitalism, an economic (and intangible system) is evident in Anading’s photographic work “ — — — — — — — — ” which examines our cyclic use (widely repurposed and passed on from one individual to another) of plastic bags. In the series of photographs, eight individuals are depicted with plastic shopping bags covering their heads. Inevitably, these plastic bags, a tool for consumerism, have become part of our daily lives — from shopping to storing, and even for collecting waste.

Neil Fettling, “PM 2.5” (detail shots), digital photographs, hand-painted face-masks, 2019

The artists assert the conflicted relationship, may it be internal or external, between human and the environment. Consisting of photographs and objects on display, Fettling’s “PM 2.5” visually renders our fear and paranoia of the unseen through hand-painted face-masks. When viewed as a reflection on environmental issues such as the global spread of deadly viruses, the works transcend the act of shielding one’s self from the pollutants of the city and posit a more timely discourse.

Normal scheduling will resume shortly, in one way or another, becomes indicative of the potential of the arts to be reflexive of the now and, at the same time, intuitive of the possibilities for the future. In this sense, the exhibition significantly opens up to reinterpretations of personal yet familiar narratives of disruption embedded in our national consciousness. For example, the state-sponsored shutdown of the country’s largest media network (in 1972 and in 2020) and the sudden displacement of people as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic are deeply rooted issues about ecology — these relations and linkages take place in different forms of blockage in the system. As such, the works serve as occurrences that when framed within the notion of contemporaneity, enable art to deterritorialize physical boundaries and decentralize cultural powers.

When the existing social norms are being challenged by the concept of the “new normal”, the system, despite all disruptions, continues to operate even before it finally resumes shortly, indefinitely. This time, an advisory is not necessary.

(Text and photographs provided by the author.)

JAMES LUIGI (b. 1990, Manila, Philippines) is a writer, cultural worker, and an independent curator from the Philippines. Here, he contemplates on art.