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This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

entry arrow2:05 PM | A Second Year of 'Dagit' Art

There is always a vision of Dumaguete as an artists’ haven. In the best of times — when everyone’s artistic energy is in sync with each other and the circumstances are conducive — it strikes us as the most ordinary, the most beautiful truth about the city. You go around and you see the musicians doing their thing, the writers doing their thing, the theatre artists doing their thing, the dancers doing their thing, the visual artists doing their thing, the filmmakers doing their thing — and when these disparate, colourful things collide or collude, the result is often a startling beauty that makes you go, “Of course we can do that. This is Dumaguete, after all. An artists’ haven.”

I’ve seen that beautiful synthesis happen many times in Dumaguete over the years, but for now, in the interest of this space, my best example would have to be the local theatrical triumph of Scharon Mani, a small but resounding musical that dared tell the lives of ordinary Dumaguetenos. But more than that, the production skilfully weaved together the artistic threads of various disciplines that thrive locally — the theatricality of the Youth Advocates Through Theatre Arts or YATTA combined with the musicality of the Belltower Project, and infused with the visual feast of a production design by Aziza Daksla, the smart and knowing script by playwright Junsly Kitay, and the moves of choreographer Nikki Cimafranca.

In the worst of times though you can feel lonely as an artist in Dumaguete. In barren moments, you ask yourself, where are the galleries, the street art? The happenings? The film productions? The concerts? The organizations? They are there, of course, if you know where to look — but a common blindness still characterize us as artists in a community. When we finally formed the 6200 Film Society, a network of local filmmakers, one of the things we realized we needed solving was the fact that, despite our love for local filmmaking, we didn’t even get to see, or know of, each others' works.

And the community as a whole is still largely an inchoate one that is saddled with old grudges, stifling disappointments, and hidden agendas — all understandable, all part and parcel to the dynamics of any group, especially artistic ones with incurably sensitive souls. Artists are still humans, after all. We are still getting there, to that vision of a Dumaguete art community that hums and sparkles and works, and we will get there, somehow, soon.

One such miracle of communal undertaking is the Dagit Arts Fest. And today is the last day to catch the best and the most startling art made by local visual artists in Dumaguete. The DAGIT ARTS FEST opened last February 25, in the final flourish to end National Arts Month — or Kisaw 2017, as we call it in Dumaguete. Sponsored by the Provincial Office of the Department of Trade and Industry and coordinated by Gugma Gaia's Raz Salvarita, this is the second year of exhibition of local arts and crafts.

To go to Robinson’s Place to see all these artists and their works gathered together under the festival’s theme of “Istorya Isla” is to see them in their vision of place, in their phase of artistic growth, in their hopefulness that Dumaguete is at heart a haven that nurtures them.

I love several of the works by artists I already know… Danni Sollesta’s “Body Poetry,” a sculptural work in terra cotta, is a delightful and witty Botero-esque piece that somehow awes and terrifies all at once. Irma Lacorte’s “Untitled,” with its circular frame and pen-and-ink finish is a melancholy meditation set in jagged natural geometry. Rianne Salvarita’s “Gaia” is a bold take on an environmental theme that strikes one as being both traditional and groundbreaking at the same time. Babbu Wenceslao’s “Habal-Habal” is a joyful depiction, in terra cotta, of a regular transportation scene — and proves art’s biggest theme: to pull the ordinary into a beautiful defamiliarization. Glory Abueva-Tobias’ expressionistic “Embrace” is a riot of colors and shapes, depicting hazy human figures in that titular act, that is both warm and disorienting. But Jana Jumalon-Alano’s sculptural piece, a gigantic papier-mâché ziggurat of personal mementos, is probably the most breathtaking and towering, literally and metaphorically: it is a piece that intimidates with its size but is also conducive to inviting the casual passersby in examining its intricate nooks and crannies — the small windows scattered here and there, the significance of all the pictures embedded here and there…

The exhibit also boasts of other artists I have yet to hear more about — and already their works show much promise: the tight representational works of Audie Estrellada and Hope Estrellada, the spare minimalism of Epefanio Mate and Heun Yang, the moodiness of Ken Concepcion, the witty and graphic beauty of Tenet Vanguardia and Grape-Ninja, the whimsy of Wilson John Abiera.

The Dagit Arts Fest feels very much like the start of that community of local visual artists we’ve been waiting for to happen for years now. And it seems to be the seed of an even more considerable anthology of art that is uniquely Dumaguete in the years to come. Mr. Salvarita and all the other artists deserve congratulations for pulling this off the second time around. Our expectations for the next editions are even higher now — and deservingly so.

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Monday, February 20, 2017

entry arrow2:25 PM | Miguel's Small World

I am endlessly fascinated by the small and miniature. When I was growing up, I fantasized there were tiny people living underneath my bed — all of them thumb-sized — and that they navigated our world into theirs via a tiny enchanted door somewhere along my bedroom wall. I was so convinced of this that I’d spend many nights on stakeouts, waiting for one of these magical creatures to open that door and give me a glimpse into their miniature lives in their miniature world. (I have a feeling this was induced by my childhood devotion to the TV show Fraggle Rock.) That this glimpse never materialised never fazed me. It was a kind of wonder that proved sustainable, and sometimes, even in the full reckoning of adulthood, I’d still think about that childhood fantasy and believe that one day I’d be granted entrance to that world, like Alice into Wonderland, like Dorothy into Oz.

This fascination has since blossomed to assorted other things of a similar nature. I am fond of the small. Like the haiku and other gnomic verses. The bonsai. Doll houses with their miniature furniture. Matchbox cars. Lego. And miniature art.

And so, when Miguel del Prado started an Instagram account [ @mig_doodle ] devoted entirely to miniature doodles, I was hooked instantly. That this impulse came from him was both a surprise and not a surprise. The first because I had never known him to be particularly expressive over overtly artistic endeavours, something that can truly be declared as part of the personalities of his siblings: Ramon is into animation, Gabby is into culinary arts, Anna is into theatre and dance, and Carmen is into documentary filmmaking. We know Miguel as exemplary hilot, a completely different sort of craft. But this hidden talent — at least to me — ultimately proves unsurprising — because artistry must truly run in the Del Prado blood, and these doodles are only another revelation of that.

In his doodles, Miguel makes the effort to partner his drawings — usually done in color pencil — with an everyday object of comparable size. A thumb. A coin. The tip of a pencil or pen. Beside these objects, we see the full resonance of the doodles’ miniature nature. The result is a kind of whimsy that brings out a merrier consideration of these works.

What I love about these drawings is the seeming ease of their execution — and that’s part of these doodles’ deceptive appeal. Truth to tell, these are not easy to make: to reduce the essence of the original inspiration — an ice cream cart, a bottle of Coke or beer, a violin, assorted animals, Dexter and his sister, a jeepney — to something the size of a 5-centavo coin is an achievement that requires great skill, a reality that I believe only poets can limn. And the poet Edith Tiempo did try in her wonderful poem, “Bonsai”: “It’s utter sublimation / A feat, this heart’s control / Moment to moment / To scale all love down / To a cupped hand’s size…”

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Sunday, February 19, 2017

entry arrow10:12 AM | A Memory of Bayawan as Hometown

I have three hometowns. The city I was born in: Dumaguete. The city my late father came from: Butuan, in Agusan del Norte. And the city my mother came from: Bayawan, at the southern tip of Negros Oriental. I live and work in the first; the second is the source of all my longing for paternal roots, but also the one place I have never really been to; and the third is the mythic source of all my heartbeats, and a significant number of my fiction. And because February 18 was Bayawan’s fiesta (one of three it celebrates annually), I shall write about it. I should: because I rarely go back anymore to visit, but every time I do, I fall in love with it all over again.

The last time I visited was quite recently — only last December 2016, and friends of the family had willingly toured me around even as far away as the mountains of Omod, where we visited the very site on which the legend of Bayawan’s naming came from.

Its old name is Tolong Nuevo, then a part of Tolong Viejo, which is present-day Sta. Catalina town. “Tolong Nuevo” had existed as a place-name as early as 1868. But in 1953, the name was changed to Bayawan, and the name “Tolong” had since lapsed into obscurity, forgotten by succeeding generations.

To “bayaw” means to raise, and in the legend’s case, to raise the chalice for a mass, the very act by which a Spanish priest was doing when he was speared to death by a native Maghat. Today, the site of that old chapel which gave witness to this historical murder is graced by a gigantic statue of the Christ, which overlooks most of Bayawan’s mountains, as well as the plains of rice and sugarcane fields below. It is a rarely visited site, too far away from civilization, overgrown by weeds, and not many Bayawanons actually know of the place, to my surprise.

Somewhere around that area, my own family had once made an old fortune — now gone — from sugar. Our hacienda then was named Hacienda Roca, after “Rosales Casocot,” one of the biggest plantations then at the height of the sugar boom of the late 1950s into the early 1970s. We lost everything in the terrible bust that followed. I have scant memories of this time in my family’s lives.

All I know is, like many Bayawanons who were born in the 1970s, I was born in a Dumaguete hospital — but grew up, and knew childhood, in Bayawan. It is my mythical place of roots, like no other, not even Dumaguete in which I’ve lived most of my adult life.

In Bayawan lay the secrets of my blood, my history. Also here is the setting of my mother’s bedside stories, of those moments when I was a young child and she’d tuck me to bed and gamely recall a life when she was a young woman and World War II was brewing, or much later when she had returned to Bayawan as a married woman in the heyday of the sugar boom and became, for a while, one of its fairer society hostesses. Those were the heady days, when sugar cane oiled the pockets of young hacienderos on the make, and everybody was rich. (And then there was the hard, hard fall…)


Bayawan means memory—and this word alone means so much in the ways it must mean: as a threshold of recollections both happy and tragic.

Bayawan is the stuff of stories. And no wonder that after many years of listening to my mother regale me with her growing-up stories in this place, I would become a writer, most often chronicling what I can from a childhood of ghosts. One such story would later win me a Palanca Award.

When I, too, would move away from Bayawan due to the circumstances of family and adulthood, it was always this place that I kept turning back to as my essence of a "hometown," as a past, as a cache of memories that sustained me as a writer.

It is fixed in my mind like my true north. I remember my family once lived in a fortunate corner just along a narrow stretch of road in Poblacion. I say “fortunate,” because this corner was the focal point to everything else, especially when one was a young boy just ascertaining the world outside, his immediate environs his kingdom of discovery.


My Tita Fannie just lived a stone’s throw away from us. And just next door, in a block that contained so many relatives I cannot remember them all, my three lolas — Rose, Lily, and Adeling — manned their stores, and would give me treats when I passed by. To this day, I cannot forget my Lola Adeling’s lechon de carajay, which remains, for me, the best of its kind anywhere.

Across the street, to the right, there was Oriente Cinema—my bodega of dreams, the place I first saw a movie in. It remains in my imagination as the true birthing place for my current scholarship on film. To the left across the road was Chua’s general merchandise store, its mud yellow paint still sticking to my memories; and further down the road is the old Diao house, where I played away so many afternoons. Everything was big and large in my memory.

Today, however, whenever I go back to Bayawan, everything looks smaller when once they had all loomed large in my seeing as a child. And things have also changed — for the better, I guess, but all these I cannot help but feel as a slight betrayal to a boyhood memory.

The first time I saw the corner of what used to be my family’s house, when I was already in high school and had come back to visit, I saw that it housed a ramshackle selling second-hand clothes from abroad. The ukay-ukay felt sad then, but also somehow liberating. Today, there’s a building there, a squat and common thing of no architectural value, finally obliterating what is left of my memory. But even then this tiny spot continues to haunt me to this day, and provides me the inspiration with which I have built a literature upon: of this spot I remember my mother’s lively beehive of a beauty parlor, my father's yellow sakbayan, my older brothers' merry shenanigans.

Here, there used to be thickets of bamboo guarding its roadside wall, and it was in their very shadows that I’d hide in, most of the time, from little friends hunting me down in our games of hide-and-seek. Occasionally, from within these bamboo thickets, I’d spy the town’s resident madpeople, Pidong Buang and Wana Buang (for a long time, I thought they were married because they shared the same family name—Buang), who both embodied the perfect caricature of a town’s conscience. Years later, when I was in high school (or college?) somebody reported to my mother the news of Pidong Buang’s death—and it was surprising to feel inside me a surge of memory folding in onto itself, like a chapter in my life of remembrances suddenly coming to a close. How strange that even mad people from our childhood can have such a hold on our imaginations! Our lives!


Bayawan, in reminiscence and in reality, begs me to ask: What is indeed the integrity of memory? Do we really remember what we remember? But always, even with such unsettling questions, my hometown still manages to nurture me.


Whenever I am in Bayawan, I somehow cease to become the citified adult that I am; there, I become the child I once was, and everything else turns sepia… to memory, to play, to running across the brown fields while childhood friends chase me, to scraping knees trying to battle a bicycle, to hearing the sound of bamboo cannons on New Year’s Eve, to chewing on sugar canes fallen down cargo trucks, to tasting baye-baye from Manang Julia’s kitchen. And then—better late than never—I, too, somehow become part of my mother’s stories. Bayawan has become what is in the heart.

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Monday, February 13, 2017

entry arrow5:45 PM | Deo’s Dark Romance: On Deo Baseleres' Daily

An exhibition is always an invitation — a passport, so to speak — to get inside an artist’s head. What indeed is a curated collection? It’s Alice’s rabbit hole to Wonderland, it’s Dorothy’s tornado to Oz. The world an exhibit reveals or leads to is a mindscape of images that can fascinate, can trigger a million questions, can be a purveyor of tempests. As such, it is very much a Rorschach test of how the artist views the world, and depending on the mastery of execution, an exhibit can be deathly dull, or endlessly fascinating, or downright dangerous. But that’s a given for the chance to behold a work of art and see where it can lead us: art’s ultimate goal is to refract the familiar world and reshape it through the singular point-of-view of the artist. We call this “defamiliarization,” and it works in two ways: to comment and to transport.

Let me be random in my choice of explanation. Pablo Picasso’s “Guernica,” a jagged greyscale immensity of great art, for example, can easily transport the one who beholds it to a world that’s abstract, disproportioned, and harsh in its choice of palette. Look closer, and you can easily get lost in the what-ness of the painting, its composition, its masterful command of hues, its figures that draw much from what is real in the word but stylized in certain ways that makes us take a closer look into the picture, and into the scene that is wrought. But it is also a commentary on war, the horrors of it, the unspeakable tragedy — and it means to overwhelm us with its angry message.

I thought about these things when I saw Deo Joseph Baseleres’ Daily, now on exhibition at KRI. AT first glance, it might be easy to dismiss these works done in pen-and-ink on canvas: they’re set on framing that’s too small to be considered arresting, and the medium itself — monochromatic ink — does not particularly bleed ocular invitation. The undiscriminating can walk past them and see only doodle art, but of the elevated kind, given the dubious privilege of being hung on a gallery wall — but that is a mistake. Because on closer inspection, Baseleres’ works are playful contradictions on one hand, and a fascinating survey of a particular psyche on the other.

Consider for example his artistic statement for this particular exhibit: that ‘Daily’ is the “crisp and exquisite … manifestation of the artist’s ideas [that] reveal hope, passion, struggles, inspirations, and everything that he beholds.” It continues: “The collection displays the things [the artist encounters] on a day-to-day basis, and how the artist lifts his spirits to go on everyday living.” Powerful, sincere words — but words, I think, that have more than a measure of playfulness to them.

Because “hope” or “passion” are not readily conjured by the images that Mr. Baseleres has wrought in this stark monochromatic series that recall a confluence of Tim Burton and goth art and Dia de los Muertos. There is a darkness to them. But it is a darkness, nonetheless, that play with the tension of lightness, indeed of a strange kind of uplift. Consider his “Adulation,” a truly disturbing piece that is framed like the coffin-shaped hexagon: at its center are two skeletal figures in an attempt to embrace, between them a diamond and a beating heart, and around them wispy lines that seem to indicate the two figures are from two different worlds — but joined here, perhaps even in the eternity of death, bonded by a rose. If there is such a thing as the romantic macabre, this is it.

Then there’s “Devotion,” a portrait of a girl in a Dia de los Muertos mask, deathly and devoted all at the same time, her face in spiritual repose. Then there’s “Tip of the Needle,” a painful study of punctures invading deep, suggesting skeletons and death and addiction — and yet the surprising inclusion of an outline in red gives us the mirage of a butterfly spreading its fragile wings. Is this the “hope” Mr. Baseleres is talking about?

To be sure, the other paintings in the collection are so much more darker. “Stereo Freak” gives us the suggestion of music technology as a kind of fanged monster, a hanging chain perhaps signifying enslavement — and yet we are also given subtle hints of wings and blossoming trees and a romantic moon. “Epicurean Fangs” follows up that theme, giving us an H.R. Giger monstrosity, and its not difficult to take a leap over what it wants to say about materialism and pleasure. “Liberty of the Mind” gives us a skull and what seems to be an all-knowing eyeball crowning it, ghostly wisps and jagged squares emanating from it suggesting perhaps its titular promise. “Neko,” which is Japanese for cat, is a whimsical portrait of that ubiquitous good luck figurine with the waving paw, king of a hill made of golden coins, its stare into the void of space serious and forbidding.

I like them all. They are windows to an exciting and disturbing point-of-view, one that introduces us to the idea that representations of death and darkness don’t necessarily extinguish life and lightness. They can be intertwined.

As executed, the paintings of Daily have the seriousness of relief art, of intaglio, its appeal and power rendered in lithographic preciseness. They remind me of the dark, romantic art of Austin Osman Spare (1886-1956) crossed with the playfulness of Tim Barnard. In the Philippines, there’s Kerry Rosanes who specializes in art of this kind — but of the whimsical. Deo Baseleres is his dark, romantic comrade.

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