In Anticipation: UP Lantern Parade Experience


One of those Lantern Parade prod nights when we were still resident members of U.P. Artists' Circle Sorority (1995-1998). 
(L-R) Annie Valencia, me, Rhonda Miranda (+), Jeng Fortin, Aya Jimenez and Dang Jimenez

***

Due to the present crisis, the whole of human race is presented a unique position where we are forced to view the world from inside looking out, literally and figuratively. For almost a year now, we are made to see the world that we inherited and built from the lenses of the feeble social media, the ever-fallible mass media, the unregulatable streaming channels—generally thru the internet. We were made to utilise these too to express our response. Although this particular dynamics has masked our physical isolation by keeping us within the imaginaries of exchange, of the global, what changed ultimately is that we are not anymore living it as an option, but now as an imperative—to live a life in the alternative.

As creatives, this phenomenon that forced us into new dynamics, is something we can/have exploit/ed. With undetermined level, we can agree that this is an opportunity to explore unchartered or illusive territories.

I distilled this present thought by anticipating the upcoming UP Lantern Parade. This is one of the most awaited social activity in UP Diliman Campus. Members of the UP community—academic, research, administrative, and others, parade around the Academic Oval carrying their lanterns. This festive year-ender enacts the tradition of those who used lanterns to light their way when attending misa de gallo, which started in the Spanish Colonial period. The first Lantern Parade was in 1922 at the UP Campus in Taft Ave, Manila. It was institutionalised 12 years after.[1] This tradition went with the University when it established the Campus in Diliman, Quezon City. It had evolved in so many different ways, from including pageantry, to replacing simple lanterns with spectacular floats, from doing highly mechanised mobile floats to including performances, among many others.

One of the most memorable was in 2006, when the University cancelled the Parade due to “security threats” ("" from source text). College of Fine Arts (CFA) and UP Babaylan went ahead and paraded in the Academic Oval.[2]

This year, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, like in 2006, CFA remains steadfast in preparing for this UP Diliman Lantern Parade 2020. Now, taking into account that the threat is not anymore an anticipated threat, but a violent one, marked by pulsating statistics that grows by a couple of thousands in most days; that the threat is so real that the Semesters were moved into the same platform, where the rest of our (non-essential but necessary) humanly functions have been reassigned; CFA, like in 2006, is rising up to the challenge.

Thinking this through by asking these: What does the digital/online platform disables/enables in our creative process in building the lanterns and staging the “parade”?; and What is the point of doing Lantern Parade this year?

The digital/online platform is a very interesting “animal”. Earlier this year, in an interview by Pristine de Leon of Philippine Star for my exhibit Mutation Series, I mentioned that it is the responsibility of the artist (and curator, in my case) to understand the material fully and to uphold the integrity of the material, which is both the artwork and its staging ground. I am quoting it at length to include the context of my assertion: 


“On the one hand, in building any exhibit, I always start with the artworks (or archival records in some of my works). How it will be perceived should come from what the materials require. For example: a sculpture requires that it be seen in the round. When you place it on a pedestal resting on a wall, you have already denied the 3dimensionality of the sculpture. Same with auditory work, there are sound compositions that require headsets when you listen to them, especially small sounds. If you listen to it on speakers, environmental sound will be mixing with it, hence, violating the intended sound of the sound.

 

On the other hand, I always gauze the decorum, habits and culture of where the materials are exhibited. A commercial gallery has its own that is different from a university museum, or a sidewalk, or a theatre lobby, or an abandoned building, or a heritage site. I gauze this instead of imagining “who my audience are”, because as it turns out, people’s art experiencing habits (and their decorum in general) is influenced largely by the space where they are at.

 

As a curator, the commitment to uphold the integrity of the materials, which is both the artwork I am exhibiting and its staging ground, is something that I try to constantly adhere to, especially that I do more exhibitions outside the traditional white cube gallery spaces. 

 

 
So, in the case of digital work, I have to be constantly aware that I am dealing with 1s and 0s, it is ethereal, but also multi-dimensional. I should be aware of the extent of its flexibility and the danger of flattening it. In addition, with the choice to exhibit it online, I have to be aware too that the space has a different decorum, habits, culture than the physical exhibiting space. Now you see, why the shift from physical exhibition to online exhibition is a big deal for me.”[3]

The digital/online platform aka virtual world is an interesting “animal” because it has characteristics similar to what we have in the physical world aka real world, hence, it allows us to navigate the familiar. But at the same time, as mentioned on the last paragraph of the quote, virtual world has its own that might be or that is usually different from the other worlds, hence the demands are different.


What does the digital/online platform enable?
In making the lanterns, the virtual world endows us with tools to create any form we can conceive at any scale we wanted to. We have been relieved of the challenges of selecting which material can accommodate the form you are imagining; we are relieved from considering engineering challenges of balancing parts while at rest and when moving; and electronic challenges of making sure the lights and the sounds work the whole time of the parade.

We can also choose to combine virtual and analogue. Say, we do an actual lantern or float on a smaller scale and then present it using the virtual platform. This is an actual proposal that is being considered by the committee for Lantern Parade this year. With this, virtual staging platforms, like online galleries or video streaming, can still show the lantern the way it is seen in physical world. A virtual parade where one can see all sides of the lantern, it is moving from one location to another, backdropped on the dusking sky until the late evening. This can all be simulated.

Simulation is one keyword that accompanies our present default-platform. I have grown weary of using this term (simulation) over the course of months that I am more an occupant of the virtual world than any other worlds. Diana Saco in her book on the cyber world argues that most people confuses the distinction between physical and virtual world as a distinction of real and not real.[4] This responds directly to the assumption of computer simulated realities are categorically “less creative”, or even “less real,” than its “physical counterpart”. In this argument, I take the position that creating a computer produced work has its own merit and has to be appraised as its own reality. 

It is indeed different from what we used to know as real. I am guessing, it might have a lot to do with the shift in interaction.


What does the digital/online platform disable?
This is perhaps the most distinct aspect of art creation that changed when most of us shifted to the digital/online platform—the interaction; or should I say the interaction as we know it. It is what was ultimately disabled. Interaction as a keyword triggers tactility, the ability to touch, see, smell, hear, taste. For the virtual platform our interaction was left with two of this five—see and hear.

The other aspect of interaction called togetherness is also disabled or at least redefined in the virtual platform. Togetherness is not anymore being in one space. It is being tuned in to the same channel or link at the same time and taking that extra step for those who want to be together to inform each other that they are indeed tuned in the same channel or link; occasionally exchanging chats on chat-boxes of staging platforms. This extra step is unnecessary for the physical world; such that when you are both in the room, it is most likely that you will see each other, whether you like it or not.

Beyond these, what I find more curious is how this will give birth to new perceptual and conceptual meaning we would attach to UP Diliman Lantern Parade. 


What is the point of doing Lantern Parade this year?
CFA is in the process of planning for the theme, form/s that lanterns may take, options for staging, exploring possibilities and anticipating hurdles. In the 3 meetings that I attended, it was generally pleasant, fun even. It takes so much time though because most of us are invested in this affair, and we air our concerns and opinions quite generously. We are a month and half away from the target schedule of Lantern Parade, and we have a hundred details we still need to sort out, debate with and agree on.

Regardless of the details, it is understood as early as this point that any real attempt to make lanterns and to stage a parade in this present condition is a measure of our adaptability. Our ability to redefine the familiar boundaries and to accept new, if not actually better, realities.

I end by reminding all that UP Lantern Parade had gone way beyond pageantry. Sans the competition, the whole affair has become a symbolic gesture of solidarity of the members of the UP Diliman community. It is marking our territory. We mindfully, literally, go around our bakuran, around Academic Oval. A display of camaraderie when we walk and do our countless waving, handshaking, nodding, hugging and kumustahan with those who are with us and those who are watching the parade. I find that all these—showing our solidarity, marking our territory and exhibiting camaraderie, are still necessary despite or maybe even most especially now that we are reassigned to inhabit the virtual world. It is like a reminder that we still exist as us—as members of this community that is a microcosm of our country. 

While we face the challenges of translating the UP Diliman Lantern Parade Experience into the version suited to our present unique circumstance, (like the tradition that inspired this activity), we let our lanterns guide our future paths.


Dayang Yraola
21Oct2020 (23 and 24 Oct)
A sequel to my “quarantine muni-muni” (thinking thoughts): “Ang Maging Artista Sa Panahon ng Digma” (April, 2020) and “Sounds and Strings” (August, 2020)


***

Inspired by a discussion with colleagues in the Department of Theory, College of Fine Arts, University of the Philippines-Diliman, my official home unit since 2016. 

Daki Fernando, me, Poeleen Alvarez,
Cocoy Lumbao, Titat Ledesma, Lisa Ito,
Monette Narciso, Amos Manlangit

___________________
[1] Historical data from: https://upd.edu.ph/the-christmas-tradition-at-up/
[2] Ibid.  
[3] “Curator’s Notes: Interview, Dayang Yraola and Ricky Francisco by Pristine de Leon,” Mutation Series Catalogue, 2020, p.10-11. Full text not available online. Please write to Fundacion Sanso or Dayang Yraola for a copy of the catalogue. Portion of the interview was published here: https://www.philstar.com/lifestyle/arts-and-culture/2020/07/20/2029145/art-quick-look-through-browser
[4] Diana Saco, Cybering Democracy: Public Space and the Internet, Minneapolis/ London: University of Minnesota Press, 2002