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Yason Banal

In town for the opening of the Hong Kong iteration of his performance exhibit, “Untitled/Again (Marienbad),” Filipino multimedia artist Yason Banal speaks to Leanne Mirandilla about touring the globe, mixing performance art with photography and using sedatives as a sculptural material.

By Leanne Mirandilla | Oct 13, 2011

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  • Yason Banal

HK Magazine: Why don’t you talk a little bit about your
current exhibit?
Yason Banal: When I first saw the film [“Marienbad,” a 1961 arthouse film exploring the nature of truth and memory], I didn’t really like it, because for me it kind of represented something so antithetical to contemporary practice. It was so iconic of high modernist cinema—very formal, almost pretentious in some ways. But when I watched it again, two years ago, I thought that something in the film’s formal aspects is still quite significant now.

The film explores repetition and memory. Such a simple premise, but it’s become a landmark in cinema. I became interested in the notion of Marienbad as a place, as a specific place, but also as something that can be transported to different cities. So, for the [first] performance in Hong Kong… I record the performance, I photograph it.

Then I move to Singapore, and then the exhibit [there] is the Hong Kong photographs, so it becomes layered. And then there’s a Singapore performance, and in the background is the Hong Kong documentation. I like that notion of déjà vu. The performances have similarities, but are also very specific to a certain city. Like in Hong Kong, we served dinuguan [pig’s blood stew], which is a Filipino delicacy, with [the performers wearing] very couture clothes, and then in Singapore [we] explored restriction, so [the performers] were in bondage—leather and collars—and [we had] animals like pythons, fighting fish… so while the garments stay the same, the performance and the actions have variations.

It went to six different cities, the last of which was in London. For the closing, we’re working on having one performance from [each of] the different cities to come for a final performance. We’re doing a book also.

HK: We read somewhere that during the performances, the performers take sleeping pills?
YB: I always make sure that we have an M.O.A. [Memorandum Of Agreement].
I just make sure that [the performers] agree to [taking sleeping pills], and
I respect if someone doesn’t want to. And that’s why the performance is not theater, because they don’t fake it. Most of the time they are in control. I’m
not really keen on doing the performance like a play. It’s more like sculpture,
[with the] materials being alcohol, or time, or sedatives—instead of something like wood.

HK: You’re mostly a video, installation and performance artist, but do you ever use other media?
YB: I think the idea dictates what kind of materials you’re using. I really like [visual] artists who watch theater and films and are not just contained in visual arts. Because what is visual arts, anyway? It’s how you observe what’s around you.
I feel that these categorizations are so frustrating. If you’re a performance artist you can only do performance, or if you’re a painter you can only do painting? I think the artists who are really inspiring [are inspiring not just because] of the amazing work, but the lives they lived. [Cuban-born visual artist] Felix Gonzalez-Torres, he was a citizen, he was an activist, he was a thinker, but he was also a lover.

HK: What led you down the artist’s path?
YB: I studied film at the University of the Philippines, and then I studied art at Goldsmiths [College] in London. I grew up in Manila, then I left. Right after undergraduate college, I lived in Baguio City for two years, up north from the capital. After the two years I went back to Manila and put up this artist-run space called Third Space, and then I left for London. And I think those things, whether it’s teaching or running an art space, they’re all part of art practice. Growing up in the Philippines and then traveling around and being exposed to different things, you obviously see differences in systems, but you also see some kind of suppressed association. That’s what I really appreciate about critical art practice, or even imaginative art—you can see connections between the Catholic religion and black metal music in Norway, earthquakes in Tokyo and typhoons in Manila.

Catch “Untitled/Again (Marienbad),” which runs through Nov 11 at Osage Gallery Kwun Tong

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