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This Exhibit Is Inspired by a Rare Saltwater Snake in Taal Lake

By / September 02, 2019

( If you’ve ever traveled abroad, you’ve most likely juxtaposed something from your own culture with that of the foreign place—whether you’re doing it consciously or not. In the process, you learn something new about yourself and where you come from. Being surrounded by the unfamiliar offers an opportunity for introspection and a reexamination of what we think is usually common and customary. Contemporary artist Alfred Marasigan is no stranger to this, having been away from the Philippines for almost two years pursuing his post-graduate studies in the chilly fjords of Norway. Insurrection, Marasigan’s homecoming show, explores his own personal journey of displacement, intertwining it with the unusual origins of a rare freshwater snake in Taal Lake. The show runs until September 9 at Altro Mondo Creative Space in Makati City.

Taal Lake in Batangas—also the hometown of Marasigan—was once a saltwater lake until it lost its salinity after a volcanic eruption sealed it off from the sea. It is home to what’s known locally as “duhol matapang” (Hydrophis semperi), which used to be a saltwater snake that adapted to its new surroundings by evolving into a freshwater species. This endemic snake’s encounter with an unfamiliar situation led to a journey of resilience and transformation, in the same way that Marasigan dealt with being away from his homeland.

The snake makes its appearance as a large illustration on one wall of the exhibition space. On its right rests two acrylic paintings, “Place 66” and “Place 64,” which are reminiscent of Marasigan’s works for his solo exhibit titled Places at the Cultural Center of the Philippines in 2016. The paintings are snapshots of familiar scenes: “Place 66” features a warm, hazy sunset, the kind that serves as a coda to a lazy weekend afternoon.

A silhouetted canopy of trees fills the foreground of “Place 64.” This is parted in the middle by the faint orange glow of a street lamp illuminating the exterior of a house. The two paintings channel the stillness and slowness of evenings in the province where Marasigan grew up—a countryside setting echoed by the slow-style cinematography in the Norwegian shows that inspired his livestream works.

An example of this is found at the very center of the space—”Siglo,” a 48-minute clip of a fire dancing show performed and captured during the opening night of the exhibit. The stream is viewed on an iPhone attached to a tripod. Marasigan utilizes the medium of livestreaming, which allows people to be in different places at the same time, as a way to question his sense of place and identity. The livestream, archived and ready to be played, complicates our understanding of what is past, what is present, and who we are at this moment, when moments are only fleeting.

At its core, Insurrection is a deeply personal journey of self-discovery and self-reflection for the returning artist. Despite intimate ties to Marasigan’s personal life, the exhibit tackles matters that concern many of us who struggle with our ever-evolving Filipino identity, as well as our identity complicated by the many iterations of ourselves that we present in social media. Insurrection provides a space to raise these questions, a space to reevaluate what we think we know about ourselves and where we come from. The show offers the same kind of reflective distance that traveling abroad provides without ever having to leave the country.

Insurrection, along with Make Believe, Abstract Fragments, All Is Flux, and Lingering, runs until September 9 at Altro Mondo Creative Space, 1159 Don Chino Roces Avenue, San Antonio Village, Makati City. Alfred Marasigan’s artist talk is on September 7 at 4 p.m.  For more information, visit Altro Mondo’s website.

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