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Mindworks today

/ 09:26 AM December 11, 2013

Mindworks is the annual show of installations and performance art by students of the Fine Arts Program of the University of the Philippines Cebu. The show is the longest running show of this sort in the country. For better or worse, this show has been presented yearly for over 20 years now. It is open to the public. The performances happen on Friday the 13th of December 2013 at the University of the Philippines (UP) campus in Lahug, at around 7 p.m. It is entitled “Bangongut.”

What is performance art? And why is it different from regular theater? These are difficult questions to answer considering how theater itself has changed dramatically since the ‘60s. Both are quite experimental now. They are both certainly related. And yet one may still see fundamental construct differences. Contemporary performance art is probably best understood when we trace it historically back to Andy Warhol, his studio in New York (The Factory), and the Velvet Underground, an experimental music group which starred the late Lou Reed among others.

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Mindworks has of course no direct link to Warhol. It began in the late ’70s as a student movement in the UP campus where a new fine arts school was trying to establish itself despite difficult times. The teachers were mostly of the conservative school except for Javy Villacin. His classes became a venue for students to present works of installation and experimental performance.

Roylu presented what might have been the first installation work ever for this campus. He, together with this writer, Raymund L. Fernandez, Kingking Arnado, Tina Himaloloan and others presented the first performance art piece inspired very loosely by the play “The Persecution and Assasination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade.” They had not seen the play or film. What Fernandez heard, only by chance, was a long play album of the piece brought home by his sister Gingging, then teaching Psychology at the University of San Carlos. This was in the late ’70s. These students were nearing the end of their study-tour in UP. That same year they produced and presented the first Mindworks.

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And so began what would have been the first art movement from that school. In time, it would involve all of the current faculty, Karl Roque, Sio Montera, Christy Manguerra and Palmy Pe-Tudtud. At one time or another, they set up installation art or did performance art.

And yet even to this day, there is still a healthy ambiguity which accompanies the presentations. And they all center on questions like, What constitutes a beautiful installation? When do we say and by what criteria can we say, This performance is good. These are contentious issues that immediately refuse to be placed into a box. Given this nature, they are difficult, even impossible to teach.

Unless one cited very loose fundamental philosophical concepts. Concepts like randomness and chance and why they relate in turn to other core concepts of the human condition. Concepts like Choice and Freedom, the excitement of the simplest computer games, which would be no good unless they contained within their programs the element of randomness and yes, Chance and the unpredictable.

Mindworks is the local discourse of the constructs that constitute a mistake, the wrong answer. How beautiful is that inside a school environment where everything is graded numerically with everything either checked or crossed to indicate with finality: This is correct. This is wrong. Is there a difference between what is right and what is merely correct? Can an incorrect answer ever be right? Can it ever be beautiful? Is it good enough to eat? And what of the Bisayan word, pataka? Can that be beautiful too? And who will say they have never used it as a universal answer to everything when all else fails?

Mindworks is a sinful dish of chance offered using what seems to be a not-so-clean plate. But it is smorgasbord. And in due course, someone is bound to ask: But what is the point of all these? Another someone might answer. None at all. John Cage, the great experimental musician, might have said unless we are wrong: “Music is architectured time.” And so too, Mindworks. And life itself. The song and the performance begin now as you read this down to this ending. Now. Let the winds carry you here. Welcome to “Bangongut!”

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