Staging the Materiality of Art Production

by Roma Estrada

Photos from Angelo Suarez's Facebook account.

▶︎ Coinciding with the Don Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards Night on the 5th of October was "Table and Two Chairs" by Angelo Suarez and Donna Miranda. It was interesting to think that while champion writers, dressed to the nines, were basking in the blinding limelight of a contest win, somewhere in Makati a poet and a choreographer were assembling a set of DIY (do-it-yourself) table and chairs before a very small audience.

There were no preliminaries. They unceremoniously just started work nailing together piles of wood that had been pre-set in the performance area. Without exchanging a word, they hammered away for a good 25 minutes or so until it was safe to sit on the chairs and put their cups of coffee on opposite ends of the table.

Finally sitting down on the chairs they assembled themselves, each of them brought out a script, and started reading it alternately in between sips of coffee.

The script turned out to be about their poetics, about the process of assembly itself. How staging the assembly of the table and two chairs can be a way to get an audience to consider that creating any "work of art" requires actual materials dictated by capital, how this "work of art" becomes possible because of manual and shared efforts, how Suarez and Miranda themselves had to assemble the table and chairs first before they could sit down to explain the process.

Very few performances showcase both art criticism and self-reflexivity through the staging of its process the way "Table and Two Chairs" does. The medium is the message, says Marshall McLuhan. The process is the message, say these two. At a time when capitalism popularizes the value of "finished products" without having to know how it is made and how much labor was dedicated to its making, when even supposedly "anti-market" art gets commodified, when we are trained to evaluate "works of art" outside the context of its production, "Table and Two Chairs" invites us to go backstage and see who and what is behind the show, even to the point of staging the process as "the show."

To what end do we need to know the materiality of art production? We speak of materiality as the concrete quality of art notwithstanding its nature and tendencies for abstraction. By concrete, we mean actual tools and skills as capital for labor that is the artistic process. By labor, we pertain not only to the labor of the "artist" but also to all those who make a piece of art possible, since every artistic endeavour is a product of collective effort. Even literature does not end with the act of writing (or of speech). Its circulation is made possible by book production, the process of which involves editors, layout artists, printing and binding personnel, delivery and sales personnel, and many others until the book finally reaches its readers.

Staging the materiality of art is stripping it of its romanticism. We cease to speak of muses, of tortured artists, of geniuses. We start thinking of processes, of ways towards accessibility. We question superstructures and root for alternatives.

One longs to see the same intent of Table and Two Chairs translated into other forms by fellow Filipino artists.***

Roma Estrada is a teacher and writer.