Saturday, June 6, 2015, 6 pm

June 6 to July 3, 2015

Forward ever, backward never!

People who live or who have spent time – wasted time – navigating the streets of Manila would be familiar with this seemingly progressive slogan, usually publicized through ad space in every public utility vehicle stop. As is the case with most advertisements, it would not be complete without endorsers; this campaign features two famous local TV/movie male personalities, elected Mayor and Vice-Mayor of the city, respectively. “Mayabang ang Metro Manila (Metro Manila is proud),” Mark Salvatus quips. The artist pronounces the statement not to pass judgment, but is based on the context of his awareness of how the region pitches itself, the apparent incongruence between the notion and actuality, and how these permeate the consciousness of its occupants.

In his video work titled Mountains, Salvatus establishes his commentary upon one widespread perception about Metro Manila that is particular to people from rural areas of the country: that the National Capital Region is “the land of opportunities” where work would be found that could fulfil hopes and dreams. The video is a montage comprising footages of people ascending and descending stairways of several overpasses found within the metro, coming in and out of view. The sequences recurrently result to juxtaposition of scenes that creates triangular configurations with these stairways. This manipulation of recordings of a common occurrence consequently creates a visual representation of the struggle most city-dwellers come into grips with in due course. Instead of finding direction in their chosen destination, they are caught up in a cycle.

Even though the search for greener pastures has extended past Metro Manila, the capital still has a significant role as a portal with numerous recruitment agencies for people looking to find their fortune in other countries. Salvatus likens these people to coconuts that fall from trees, float on the ocean, wash up on another distant shore, and grow in foreign soil. The artist illustrates this journey metaphorically in another video work titled We Used to Roam the World. Salvatus documents a coconut being kicked and rolling along city streets. The view is fixed towards the ground as the coconut stubbornly spins and turns amidst human and urban appendages. The coconut eventually ends up in the sea, where it floats in surreal suspended motion. The work speaks of the resolve of many Filipinos who want and are presently working abroad, but also points out the fact that most are simply forced into such an ordeal. One’s misery is another man’s capital.

Manila is sketchy, indeed, as how Salvatus’ third video work portrays it. Sketch is another compilation of footages of a ubiquitous element of the metropolitan landscape – the yellow safety hazard tape. The yellow tape is the constant visual thread through a succession of scenes from different sites. The video shows what Metro Manila precisely is: one huge “never-ending construction site.” There is much preoccupation with what the area could be, yet one cannot help but doubt if current efforts will live up (if they are even aligned) to the ideal. It is no coincidence that the word “caution” printed on the surface of the tape constantly scrolls through. It is but wise to heed the instruction seen. The city is not what it seems.