How does one desperately savor the last morsel when our planet stands on the brink of global disaster? But do not we savor the morsel on the pretext of absolute disappearance of plenitude? Is the savoring of a morsel always portentous to the irretrievable end of wealth, fertility, and resources?
Savoring the last morsel of bread captures an image of planetary disorder—and, perhaps, a crisis in accumulation—through Renan Laru-an’s resurrection of Rene Villanueva’s “Nguyamyam,” based on his children’s fiction “Si Inggolok at ang Planeta Pakaskas,” as directed by Jo Atienza originally for the 1990s show “Batibot.” This work is on view in a biennale in Prague until Oct. 23; in the absence of a formal title, the show may be conveniently called “Matter of Art: 2nd Edition.”
Such a global future, however, is woven into our everyday through Laru-an’s curatorial intervention—a display of Villanueva’s animation on a flatscreen sitting on top of a wooden surface in a corner of the room. The animation comes alive in the melding of the work with Czech- and English-language books being sold in the gallery’s bookshop as well as photos of Villanueva’s storytelling workshops in different Philippine communities. The animation does not merely flash the visual images on the screen; instead, it momentarily interrupts the monotony of book displays in a gallery bookstore, providing a warning about our lifestyles built on global consumerism that causes environmental damage, which are the stories that Villanueva hoped to be part of our community-making.
Alternative life world
In this exhibition, Laru-an puts to the fore that, despite how even books bear all the knowledge to replenish our resources and protect our world, the presence of such ideas will remain inadequate unless the people’s material practice will change. Such curatorial insight becomes stark as Villanueva’s animation also introduces an alternative life world: a food planet called Pakaskas, a world made of food, with a river glistening in chocolate and milk and its houses shaped by bread.
At the heart of the planetary plenitude, its dwellers—called Nguyamyam, which colloquially means “to eat”—consume their resources in excess. Inggolok, the main character, warns and chides them for their gluttonous consumption. He believes that their mass gluttony will lead to food scarcity, mass hunger and, eventually, planetary disappearance.
With no one listening to Inggolok, his portentous message eventually crushes the planet into a tragic state of food extinction. The crisis forces Inggolok to search for means to survive, and the abandonment of their home in a coconut spaceship for another is the only recourse against the decimation of their kind.
The presence of this animation in a gallery bookshop reveals how the spaces where we buy our souvenirs, gifts, and memorabilia are also the same spaces in which the semiotic signs of our world order can appear, giving us a glimpse of our future, and asking us to offer our listening ear.
Unfortunately, the form of Villanueva’s animation foregrounds the material reality behind our global problems. The clay material, as the one that provides images and forms for Villanueva’s story, animates the harsh truth that we mold our present crisis condition. Dramatizing the global impact of our mass consumerism frame by frame, shapeshifting as sentient beings, critiques the anthropocentric nature of the world order as the same hands that shape and mold our future graveyard.
The clarion call from Villanueva as early as the ‘90s has reached other parts of the world, making this children’s fiction a global appeal for the youth’s future. In the course of exploring Villanueva’s body of work, Laru-an discovered that the rights to this animation were bought by the United Nations Development Program. It then disseminated the work through televisual circulation in developing countries, specifically in South America and the Caribbean, making this animation, to some, part of their own children’s literature.
With Laru-an having resurrected this work, we hope it becomes our contemporary art and fiction, whether in Prague or elsewhere.
Laru-an’s curatorial intervention, by featuring and exhibiting Villanueva’s work, situates art as historical and, at the same time, an important matter for our planetary survival. In such animation, planetary disorder finds its language through the labor of clay, animation, and the resurrection process. Larua-an sorts out the fraught relationship between contemporary problems and the politics of art history through a curatorial process of making art matter by virtue of resurrecting it from the Philippines’ popular culture archive, which surprisingly has a transnational scope.
In participating in the Prague Biennale, Laru-an is fortunately and perhaps unfortunately thrown as well into the tempestuous contemporary politics of Prague as it continues to weather the storms wrought by Russia on Ukraine—warfare not so distant from the peace the Czechs presently enjoy, as well as the public memory of the Prague Spring in the nation-state’s long history with Soviet socialism. The resurrection of art as something to matter is also a curatorial placement at the juncture of history in which art and its history are also both in a state of disorder and, at the same time, planetary exhaustion, especially as the breadth of curatorial practice is not estranged from the global warfare that continues to be waged in the Czech Republic’s neighborhood.
The wide reach of Villanueva’s work through Laru-an’s curatorial vision reveals the pliable nature of the clay form, animation, and the story of planetary consumerism. The clay form is not only a material that allows the story to move and appear visually; it is also an attempt to mold a lifeworld contingent upon the passage of planetary loss. Instead of allowing ourselves to succumb to this Armageddon, Laru-an’s curatorial vision hopes to slow down this seeming future from finally happening, hoping that we do not turn our world into Villanueva’s planet Pakaskas.
Jomar Cuartero recently moved to the University of the Philippines Diliman as a faculty member of the Department of English and Comparative Literature, where he also completed his degrees in comparative literature both as an undergraduate and master’s student. —Ed.