Thursday, November 14, 2002
Calgary's News & Entertainment Weekly
FFWD Weekly
VISUAL ARTS
by Anne Marie Nakagawa
From a fluorescent-lit basement suite in Capital Hill, Paulina Constancia speaks of the tropical existence of her fellow Filipinos on the Island of Cebu. In vivid colours, she describes a land where people still experience wonder and savour the unlikely trappings of the ordinary.

Story Tiling, Constancia’s current exhibition at Artspace Gallery, tells the stories of these Cebuanos through skillfully manipulated glazed tile images.

"My work is trying to show the simple pleasures," says Constancia. "Not to say anything against people in the First World, but it seems that in less fortunate economies, people have more appreciation for the little things. Things that don’t cost much but bring so much pleasure, like just being with your family or going to the beach."

According to Constancia, this appreciation stems from the way communities define themselves in the Philippines. She explains that when government doesn’t provide for the people, the people tend to be closer to each other because that’s their form of social security. Within a volatile economic environment, relationships are valued over possessions.

In pieces such as Gakus ni Mama (Mom’s Embrace), a rosy-cheeked mom and daughter emphasize this idea. Other images show extended families at the beach, weddings, shopping day, Cebuanos waiting for the Jeepney (the Filipino bus) or women doing laundry.

Far from the images of a problem-riddled Philippines of the Marcos and Aquino era, Story Tiling depicts a carefree levity and a child-like whimsy unfamiliar to those of us who have only viewed the country through the eyes of network news media.

Cats, turtles, water buffaloes and birds weave their way into the world of the Cebuanos, piggybacking on bicycles, orchestrating trapeze acts on clotheslines and playing string instruments at the county fair. The world of Story Tiling is equal parts Aesop’s Fables and Marc Chagall.

Indeed, Constancia says there’s a fine line between fable and real-life stories in the Philippines.

"A lot of our real life stories are too grand to be real, she says."

The artist recounts one larger-than-life but true story about her father checking on their rental properties on a neighbouring island. People thought Mr. Constancia was a doctor because he always had his first-aid kit with him. One fateful evening, a man came knocking on his door. With no explanation, he implored Mr. Constancia to come with him and to bring his first-aid kit. When Mr. Constancia arrived at the man’s house, he was greeted by a child with a huge gash on her forehead.

The man and his wife had been fighting, throwing plates at each other. One of the plates was embedded in the child’s forehead. With no medical professionals in the vicinity, Mr. Constancia cleaned the wound of blood, food and plate shards and stitched it to the best of his ability.

A few years later, Mr. Constancia was back on the island, this time as a judge for a talent contest. One young contestant kept pointing to her forehead when he asked her name. The young woman with the beautiful voice was the same child he had treated that night. Her parents had never taken her to a real doctor, but, remarkably, she survived and only had a faint scar where Mr. Constancia’s stitches had been.

Paulina Constancia is still wide-eyed as she tells this tale. Unfortunately, narratives passed on from father to child, or grandparent to grandchild, is a tradition which she thinks is slowly dying and being replaced by mass-media stand-ins.

"(TV) and Game Boys are like proxy-parenting – people don’t have time for their children anymore… instead of children gathering around their grandma and hearing stories from her childhood, they watch TV."

One imagines that if Story Tiling was based on TV narratives, the rotund women doing laundry would be replaced by leggy fashion models and a day at the beach would become a day at the penitentiary after a dramatic drug bust. Constancia’s idyllic scenes exist in stark contrast to these alternative realities. They are cotton candy for an over-stimulated mental landscape.

Yes, a plate may land on a young girl’s head, but in the end, she sings in a talent contest. Everyone is smiling in Constancia’s world.

Copyright 2002 FFWD. All rights reserved.