What the wood contains
There is an emptiness in the Maker’s workshop. The works he had been doing for over a year now have been moved to the SM City Cebu Art Center where they will stay in exhibition until January 4 when his show “Bulahan and Bunga sa Tiyan Mo” finally ends. From there the works will take their final step in the journey to their final destinations, one goes to a home, another to an office and still another to a chapel in the hills.
This emptiness reflects in the sense of metaphor to occurrences elsewhere in the country. Over a thousand died in the wake of typhoon Sendong. Floodwaters washed over villages, wiping out everything in their path, leaving behind only stories of tragic ends and heroic survivals. The stories are still coming in now. There is much reason for us to participate in the efforts to unburden those who survive now in refugee camps. But in time, all these return once again to silence and emptiness. This is true for survivors as well as for the rest of us. We give, but after giving as much as we can, we return back to life as it was. It is a reasoning that leaves in its path a void. This void moves us to wonder: Is there a logic to all these? Who pulls the strings?
The Maker is writing all these down inside the exhibition hall that he, Dr. Ted, and Estela have transformed into a small chapel with pews that people can actually sit on so they might enjoy the pleasure of a few minutes away from the rest of the mall. Outside, there is the din of trading, of things bought on sale, bills paid, food paid for and eaten. Inside, there is only the silence and emptiness, which is also food, but only for the few who feel the hunger for it. Only a few actually sit down.
Most people see these things as decoration or art. They gawk and wonder at the difficulty of their making. And so they have their pictures taken with “Bulahang Maria Asuncion” or “Victory” or “These are my children whom I have saved” and leave respectfully as soon as the shots have been taken. It is well and good. By these acts, half of the purpose of art has been served. But they lose something to people who would actually sit down to rest. There are only a few who actually do. Fewer still who would sit just simply to appreciate the silence and emptiness, and by that to feel the true beauty of these things. And the Maker finally comes to understand what Sister Raiza had said about sacred art.
“See how silent they are,” Sister Raiza said as she flashed her slides of medieval art onscreen. When the Maker heard it for the first time at a lecture she gave for his students, he wondered what the good sister meant. Of course, paintings and sculpture are silent. Unless they are video or multimedia, they would of course produce no sound. But she was not referring to silence as in the absence of sound. Neither was she referring to the vibration of molecules in the air that produce sensations in our ears. She was not even referring to the silence required for the proper chanting of usual prayers.
And it dawned on the Maker that in the year and a half it took him to finish the works now exhibited and in whose midst he now sits, he had never really come to see them as they were nor as they would finally be after he had removed himself from the act of making them. While he carved the wood or bent and welded the copper, he could see them only as materials that needed to be shaped. True, he searched carefully for what they should finally become. But he saw more than heard them for what they were.
He tries always to be careful to properly situate his works. These are sculpture, not idols. We do not pray at them. We do not pray to them. We pray with them. Ideally, not even that. We pray because of them. And what the wood finally contains is not God or His Mother or His saints. What the wood finally contains is only a silence and emptiness into which we might go for moments at a time. Inside those moments of silence and emptiness, a prayer needing no words, a song requiring no sound.
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