Symbolic Performativity: A Review of Green Go Home | Tiravanija, Vu

Compared to the earlier projects the Vargas Museum has contended and negotiated with, the ongoing exhibition “Green Go Home” appears to be running within a simpler frame. It foregrounds seven wall sketches of images of Filipino protest filling the white walls of the ground floor gallery, amidst the background of a research initiative on the same topic, and an installation which roots this specific instance to the originating series of international exhibitions of the same title.

Envisioned by collaborators Rirkrit Tiravanija and Tomas Vu, the title of the exhibitions was inflected with the term “gringo,” frequently used by Latin Americans to refer to Western foreigners. This term is believed to have multiple etymologies within the region: the fabled Mexican battle cry “Green go home!” towards the supposedly green-uniform wearing American military during the Mexican-American War; the song “Green Grow the Rushes, O” sung during the same war; and the experience of foreign exploitation of nature in Brazil expressed in the phrase “green and go”. With this term operating at its center, the exhibition narrates, evokes, and echoes protests against localized issues, under the light of the stealthy global phenomena which fuel them, such as neocolonialism, fascism, and populism.

In reckoning with this motivation, the juxtaposition of the printed black-and-while images of foreign personalities with local ones in the large-scale installation would make sense. The image of the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thích Quảng Đức, known to have burnt himself to death as a sign of protest against the Buddhist persecution by the South Vietnamese government was placed within the group of images which includes the one of Filipino Catholic Cardinal Jaime Sin, renowned for his instrumental role in the People Power Revolution. The title of the exhibition, in large all-caps format superimposed on these historically-charged images, evokes the intensity of the battle cry “GREEN GO HOME,” but this time, towards the larger world-encompassing neo-imperialistic forces. What is curious however is the inclusion of Gloria Diaz and Manny Pacquiao, marketed to be bringers of (arguably emancipatory) pride to the country in the international scene, but in rather ideologically problematic platforms—the beauty pageant, and the boxing ring, respectively.

What the exhibition in the Vargas Museum most notably adds to the dialogue of this series of international exhibitions is the symbolic performativity of the gesture of drawing, which reflects the performativity of social action. The images of protest are being cast on the walls during—not prior—the period of the exhibition. Also, the presence of art production implements, resembling an open studio, hints that the artists are still working in progress. These suggest that similarly, the movements for a more humanely inclusive country is ongoing, still unfinished, thus open for discussion and participation. The gesture of enlarging the images based from newsprints, made more visible by the contrast with the white wall, may be seen to allude to the need to expose issues and to make them and the corresponding advocacies more apparent to the greater public to, in some way, ignite involvement.

Witnessing the symbolic way this performativity unfolds may prove to be a double-edged sword however, specifically in the context of the images’ ephemerality and the fact that it is presented in the exhibition format. The images of the movements may literally be smudged or erased, especially if looking at Renz Lee, Jo Tanierla, and Archie Oclos’ works in pencil and charcoal. Moreover, all these sketches will be egressed at the end of the exhibition, seemingly hinting on the transience of revolutionary consciousness, and of memory. Unless the artists, collaborators, and curators are essentially aware of such significations, this fading out or wearing down pose a challenge to continued remembering, to continued involvement.

In addition, being situated in a white cube setting may fundamentally diffuse the idea of seeing the drawings on the walls as graffiti. Graffiti finds its revolutionary potential from the act of undermining the rules promulgated by the same system which facilitates the injustice it is trying to speak about—this is the reason why they are done in public spaces where graffiti is not allowed by law. This is most probably the reason why the exhibition never referred to these drawings as graffiti in the first place. Perhaps instead, it attempts to present the drawings merely as memorialization of the advocacies that the movements represent, in parallel with the memorialization of the other revolt actions performed in the past, as displayed by the timeline formed through the research initiative. As alternative then—although it may already be passé to some extent—the exhibition may ground itself on the specificity of the white cube in this museum of the university known to be the reputable bastion of revolutionary ideals and progressive minds. 

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The exhibition will run from the 13th of October to the 18th of November 2017 at the University of the Philippines Jorge B. Vargas Museum in Diliman, Quezon City.


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