Lulan | 1999 | A Stereoscopic Vision | Site-Specific Installation and Video (15:30 min loop) | 40 meters quilted blue velvet , book, map, monitor and media player | Dumbo Arts Center New York | Dimensions variable

Curated by: Melissa Chiu

Manalo uses her life’s experience as reference in her work. Her concern for the environment is integrated into many of her compositions, such the traveling site specific installation “Lulan ( To bring back )” which involves a 40 meters long strip of quilted velvet cloth installed in 15 different urban and rural sites. This work suggests the element of water which for her is synonymous to energy, to life and regeneration in any form. She wished to address different ways of reformulating meaning and rehabilitating sites. Like her personal journal, her video and photographs of Lulan tell the stories of her many journeys to places and her relationship with people she has met on her journeys.


By Ana P. Labrador
Philippine Star, Jan 2000, p.16

Riza Manalo seems to be taking journeys all her life. Set to leave soon for Canada, it will perhaps be one of the more physically distant trips she will be taking. Yet she is determined not to miss it for the world, even if she finds the preparation wearing.  Before embarking on her voyage, Manalo mounted her third solo exhibition at the Stockroom of the Surrounded by Water Gallery.  This time it is an extension of Lulan, which she began for her graduation thesis in 1998 at the University of the Philippines’ College of Fine Arts, Diliman. Lulan is a Tagalog word meaning to convey or bear something from one place to the next.  In most journeys, people tend to bring along material or other non-material stuff with them either to ease the transition or take gifts. It appears that this leave-taking may be her most difficult yet.

Project Lulan extends Manalo’s concept of her site-specific installation. This involves unraveling a 40-meter quilted blue velvet in various areas and documenting local people’s interaction with it. Like her personal journal, Manalo’s videos and photographs of Lulan tell the stories of her many journeys to places and her relationships with local people.

At the Surrounded by Water, she invited guests to bring in materials to lengthen or embellish her quilted cloth.  This has not been the success she expected, since not many people responded to her proposal.  She suspects it is the urban mind-set so used to systems and structures that inhibit them from creatively interacting with the cloth.  Nonetheless the things that has so far been added to it are curious mixes of other people’s expression and introspection.

Manalo has been known to use as reference her life’s experiences in her work. Her concern for the environment is integrated into many of her compositions.  A 1999 painting, “Salt Haze” features a misty rendering of a stretched, nude female figure that seems to be part of the blue-green wall.  Resembling a barrier of water cascading in a forest, the woman seems to be engulfed by it, either descending or soaring with her fluid medium. The ultramarine blue she smeared thickly on her canvas seems inspired by the hue of the blue velvet for Lulan.

Apart from being an accomplished oil painter, she has assembled for her past shows eclectic materials.  Among these are old mannequins from dressmakers’ shops to represent her ideas about the female body.  Her Bed Series also stands out as both an autobiography and a commentary of the nomadic existence of many Filipinos as a result of the dire social conditions in this country.  Having had to constantly move as she was growing up, Manalo now insist on taking her queen-sized mattress with her for both installations she has mounted. In “Bed Series #2, the artist rolled the mattress on the floor and bound it with cable wires and metal buckles.  She also attached a metal plate etched with her poetry.  In her forthcoming “Grassland” Manalo will unbound her bed, laying it flat on the floor. She plans to attach collected human hair as if it has grown out of the mattress.  For her this symbolizes the dead space created by local contemporary events such as the war in Mindanao.

This outlook on the interrelationship of her art, experiences and insights has made her work something to contend with.  It has a sense of urgency while at the same time relates to some spiritual awareness of the space around us.  Unraveling the 40-meter blue velvet in different spaces has not only re-defined, even if fleetingly, those places she marked for her site-specific works.  She has actually captivated local people to get involved in evaluating her installation art.  An excerpt from her art journal reads:  “Adults choose to jump over it, as in the Cubao Overpass and outside the Quiapo church.  Urban kids, however, perceive it as a new playground.  Rural children from Abakan, who are more familiar with nature, appropriate it, literally plunging into it as they would in a river, then pretend to sleep or rest on it.”  Each time she unfurls the velvet material, Manalo aims to heighten viewers’ experience of the site and encourage them to lend their personal interpretations.  Viewers were not taken out of their familiar milieu as they would have she exhibited in a museum or gallery. Instead her mobile and interactive work tried to blend with her viewers’ environment.

The raveling blue velvet in spaces of difference reminds me of an account I read about the history of cloth and Indian society.  Handspun cotton cloth made famous by Mahatma Gandhi was among the succinct examples of the discussions in that essay. But what stuck to my mind is how at certain instances cloth may hold special powers to groups of people. Turbans, or the head accessories worn mainly by men, held spiritual charisma in Indian Islam.  One account in the early years of the nineteenth century disclosed that a renowned spiritual teacher unraveled his twenty-foot turban and allowed his great throngs of would-be disciples to initiate themselves by touching parts of its length. Manalo’s cloth seems to gain some importance in the way it has been touched, jumped or rolled over and attached with things by other people.  The survival and her documentation of this particular cloth’s relocations may secure its place in history and memories.

For Manalo the blue velvet fabric is like a river that connects land.  It may also embody the waterways that inter-link many localities that are often spaces of hazy physical and cultural boundaries. The cloth convey energy that both recharges the places were she spreads it out and connects it to where she last extended the cloth.  With her Lulan project, Manalo reminds us that the borders between the Taal Volcano, Quiapo, Abakan Bridge and Surrounded by Water are arbitrary and we can find their connections somehow if we look hard enough.  The quilted blue velvet, evoking its exquisite quality associated in the past with royalty, serves to remind us of junctures and seams that encompass us.

The blue velvet, mannequins, mattress and paintings will all be left behind when Manalo takes the leap to the half-known world in the Northern Hemisphere.  These are material evidences of her energy, imagination and enthusiasm here. Wherever her journeys take her, she has at least revealed to us sites that we can follow, if not in body, then perhaps in spirit.«



© Riza Manalo 2018