Friday, June 14, 2024

Under the Rock, the Giant Sleeps

By Zarelle Glen Dorothy Villanzana | The Sillimanian Magazine

A collision of particles in a state of liquid matter. 

The metalheads react to the frequency in which sound travels through the air: 

A light grasp of another’s skin or the layers of clothing attached to their being (at least, for the night);

A violent nudge at an unseen foe, eyes closed, their ears functioning like antennae;

A soft plunge into the hard surface, or of grass, as another jumps over, another rolls over; soon, a pile of warm bodies hearing each other’s hearts beat fast, their breathing heavy. 

They are in a trance, yet widely awake—especially to the reality of which they set aside for the moment.

Find no academic inside, although many are in disguise, retired for the night from their four-walled-prison cells, and their schedules of 7 to 7.

Meet the night owls, those of piqued curiosities, the people mostly tardy for class but usually early for a show or whatever is tickling the city.

Visual spaces are filled in by art appreciators, teenagers with a passion for pretty pictures and radicalism, those with critical minds, the pensive and observative, those with a zest to look for life’s meaning or a quest to relish in their mortality.

Catch them all at the scene. 

“What scene?”

The creative scene—the lamp posts you walk by at night, a recluse from the dark. Many walk past it, but the fortunate ones linger under its warmth and experience something special.

Discovery in lamp post lighting

They have always been there: the lamp posts. Acknowledgment is given only at night as one walks home, when the dark is wrestled by their light. They don’t budge, and nobody cares much of their existence, unless the road has been fully overtaken into oblivion.

Similarly, Dumaguete City has always had a vibrant creative scene, flourishing especially at night. Along with an institution such as Silliman University that ensures culture is fostered, extension is granted by the gentle people who create marks in pursuit for more. It has always been there, only, less emphasis is given to the underground. Thus, the giant slumbers, without any urgency to wake up. 

More focus is presented to the institutions nearby, unfailing in their mission to cultivate art and culture: the Claire Isabel McGill Luce Auditorium and the Romeo Ariniego Gallery. Both with their high ceilings and warm interiors, they make art easily digestible to the masses, easily accessible for the students who find it taxing to look for art themselves, or who don’t actually intend on partaking in any.

Those who seek for more, however, would not know of the spectacle hidden under the rock, waiting to be found. 

Part of the university’s experience is the extracurriculars. A fever dream, it is another world. 

“None of you are gentle,” says the posters plastered on cement. Murals are located in many places. Spot one as you walk by Hibbard Avenue. Spot another as you walk by Laguna Road, only, instead of a contention, it is a colorful duckling on a wall of tin. 

The vandals remain unidentified, except to the ones who know. A sort of mystery that looms over the city, keeping its people on their toes—at least, to those who care.

These are the lamp posts that act as checkpoints. One can choose to linger on or to escape from the night, directly to head home. Either way, it will always be there, to be acknowledged in its own time.

The “who” for such acts is a collective; unmistakably, artists with something to say. The “where” is a question answerable only as the curious familiarize themselves with what is at bay.

 When you get to the place, you’ll be transported to another; a form of teleportation through the various mediums of which art has been undertaken, and shared. But you won’t get to the place unless you’re already there, or unless you find someone who knows where it is. This is the beauty of the scene. Only when one leads with curiosity enough, they’ll find the more whimsical of treasures nearby.

Take the Boulevard, for instance. One corner block resides a café, subtly hiding from the bustle, stationed above a restaurant. The Bethel sign glows brightly, and right across the signage is the balcony of Arté Café Gallery.

The gallery has housed many events, especially visual art exhibits, paving the way for local artists to gain recognition. Names like Cil Flores and Dolly Sordilla frequently adorn their posters, both Silliman alumni and faculty respectively.

Such events are one way to get involved in the community, Flores said. When asked how she did it, Flores mentioned two things: putting your work out there, and networking. “You can’t do it alone,” she emphasized.

Recognized for their exhibitions, Sillimanians have also become catalysts for widening the spaces of which the creative scene could flourish. Back in 2022, Shelter Art Gallery was launched by a former Fine Arts graduate of SU, Faye Mandi. Previously located in Jose Romero Road, it became another home for the bountiful pool of artists in the city and the institution, such as Fine Arts graduates Isabel Gutang and Jana Acuzar. 

While artist recognition becomes a big factor in showing the potential of the art scene, Gutang, however, mentioned this shouldn’t be given much emphasis.

“I don’t mean [there should be] no recognition at all, it’s just that most of the time people outside the arts assume that that’s enough compensation for us for what we do,” she expressed. “Artists aren’t just makers. Our ideas have value. If it’s a little tricky to understand, try to ask yourself how many poster making contests do you see in a year, do they actually make a difference?”

What the art scene really needs, she said, would be support.

In visual gallery spaces, it is cozy and quiet, and the music usually plays solemnly in the background, loud enough not to steal the limelight. On the contrary, loudness also becomes the exact cause for applause along Hibbard Avenue. 

Behind the gas station resides Daddy Don’s, a favorite recluse for the rockers. Events are organized by Purok Gahi, usually partnered with the university’s pioneering interest organization of music, Silliman University Producing and Songwriting Artists (SUPASA). 

Much like the start of SUPASA, Indievided, another organization jump started by a Sillimanian, has traversed beyond institutional boundaries and created a community where different forms of art is fostered. 

Cole Leo Vincoy Geconcillo, a former teacher and Indievided’s founder since 2009, said that the inspiration for the movement was progress, “both personally and collectively.” Their aim has since then been to promote the creation of original art by local creatives.

“The vision was ultimately to set a trajectory to a world where musicians wrote and sang their own songs to a crowd that sang along. The first few years were really challenging,” he said. “But persistence leads to results. I’m proud of where the Dumaguete music scene is at right now. The only way left to go is forward.” 

In 2010, the organization spurred the creation of one of the grandest segments of Hibalag Festival, the Rock Against Youth Apathy (RAYA) band competition, now annually awaited by performers and enthusiasts of live music.

Since the pandemic, the organization has been trying to reemerge to the scene as it was lost to the quiet, much like every other creative collective. Slow but steady progress is made, as they have also begun to organize events again, in venues such as Bugtaw—where they incorporated poetry and music—and CHADAA Music & Dreams.

Its outdoor space with an open stage, CHADAA’s tugkaran, also served vital for the Arts and Design track of Silliman University in 2023, as they performed their first cabaret show titled, “Sedurre.” History was cemented, and now it has accepted more opportunities for the community to utilize a space with a booming sound system, bridging the members of the music scene to the average bystander or passer-by.

These establishments, during the day, may be found at a standstill, awaiting potential. It is through the events created by such visionary dreamers that compel other artists to come together, celebrating their craft. In a way, there is a mutual agreement, a win-win situation for the organizers and the establishment.

More gems are hidden in tight alleys and rocky pathways, vibrating through the entire city’s borders. Others are right nearby, and you won’t know it—unless you lead not with your feet but with the rhythm of the artistic sensations. 

Like lamp posts, the scene does not beg for attention, it is merely there for the masses to appreciate when they decide to.

This is partly the reason it seldom rockets to the mainstream.

Anarchy makes good art 

“When you say art scene, typically what you normally see is the commercial side of it. So you have galleries, or events places, performances and certain events, etcetera. But I think the more important one is overly determined by commercial interest,”  Don Flores, Chairperson of the Fine Arts Department, shared in a conversation.

He expounded, saying that a lot of the important things happening are not institutionalized and how they typically have no center. “It’s not like a big giant organization…or you know, something that has a mission and vision. It’s diffused, which is, I think, its strength.”

“When you cross boundaries and cross disciplines, and there’s no identifiable category for you, that makes you interesting; because you become a change agent, as opposed to continuing the status quo,” Flores continued. 

Similarly, Isabel Gutang believed that it’s not only the established groups that help a lot with the art scene, but “facilitating discourse among peers, knowing how to discuss art with different people, sharing, and opening collaborative work.” She says, “It’s really all about nurturing those little pockets of interests for art to grow, in a critical but nurturing space.”

The list is vast and unending for the scene: rap, jazz, drag, reggae, sound art, performance—even more as artists continue to create and explore. Many are unbounded by a name, or a label. There is no center, as what Flores would say. Nevertheless, they exist, albeit quietly.

In a sense, there is anarchy in the art scene, an anarchy that keeps it alive. 

“When you start producing something new, and I think art has to help society by producing new things—the theory behind that, is that…the goal, really, of art, is emancipat[ion]. That is to say, I think, I personally feel that good art is the kind of art that produces more freedom in the world,” Flores said. “And I think that’s [the] interesting thing about these people being active on a more underground level, it’s because there’s a kind of activism there. It produces more freedom in the world. It tells us that, ‘Hey, these things are possible.’ It opens up possibilities.”

Further, he mentioned how it’s the things that are important to us, social concerns, which give art value. “Like gender rights, or gentrification, or, you know, things like that. These are all important social issues, and I think the clay of art has the capacity to address those things that are important to us. It drives a point of resistance against the status quo.” 

Even if it fails to take root, “The fact that it’s there and it was there for a time is very important,” he continued. Not only because it inserts itself in history, but also according to him: “For something like that to exist means that, there is greater possibility than you imagine.”

Waking up the giant

Not directly in the limelight, the creative spotlight is more like a lamp post you appreciate as it glows brightly in the cold nights of the street as you walk home. Rightly so, this intricate way of discovering the community’s various artistry—through hearsay, advertisement, spontaneous discovery, or invitation—is part of what makes their spotlight beautiful and warm. 

While recognitions are significant to showing how art can thrive, the art scene’s growth does not rely so much on the question of who deserves to be recognized for their contributions, but more from the support that people give it.

A sleeping giant is what the art scene is, constantly brewing its potential for the people to revel in. Beginning to recognize local artist’s names, familiarize faces, make friends, join the community—the sleeping giant is nudged to wake up, but it will never leave the rock where it hides, which is apparent only for those with a sparking interest from within, to find and experience it themselves.

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