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How an Artist Under Lockdown in Las Casas de Acuzar Is Finding Creativity Amid Uncertainty

Artist Ronyel Compra finds himself quarantined in the historical buildings of Las Casas in Bataan.
IMAGE Ronyel Compra
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What to do when all your ongoing projects are suspended indefinitely? Ronyel Compra is an artist in residence of the Bellas Artes Projects (BAP) in Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar. Arriving on site in mid-March, just a few days before the Luzon lockdown, he began creating pieces to be displayed in Las Casas and Metro Manila, with upcoming exhibitions in The Drawing Room gallery and the Mono8 gallery.

The BAP Artist Residency Program invites visual artists from around the country to use the facilities and workshops in the historical buildings of Las Casas, a collection of restored Spanish-Filipino houses in Bataan curated as a center to promote and preserve Filipino heritage. The contemporary artists on the program have the chance to experiment with traditional Filipino building and craft techniques.  

The current crisis has dealt a crippling blow to the arts and creative industries. Art fairs, galleries, festivals, and exhibitions in the Philippines and around the world have been shut down for the foreseeable future. Many artists today are uncertain of what the future holds for their work.

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Compra is based in Cebu and is unable to go home. He has remained under lockdown on the BAP site, working on art installations that he is not sure when, where, or if they will see the light of day. It can be difficult to produce creative work when you are cooped up day after day, night after night, on your own, trying to find the motivation to complete a project that might not be exhibited. But Compra is finding new creative inspirations amid the uncertainty.

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Luta of a grandmother's house using cloth imprint (2015, early version)

Photo by Ronyel Compra.
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Scarcity breeds creativity

“Aside from the fear and the anxiety that’s been triggered, many thoughts are being activated as well,” says Compra. He is seeking to concretize ideas and feelings in response to the crisis, as the confinement is forcing him to consider “responding to the urgency to create art, to do something relevant in this time, the little things that can be acted upon.”

On a practical level, life under lockdown means artists will find it difficult to source the materials for their projects and must work with what they have in their physical vicinity. “It pushed me to be resourceful,” says Compra. This situation has compelled him to embrace a mindset of minimizing excess and making the most of the materials within his reach.

Capiz window (2018)

Photo by Ronyel Compra.
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A response to the crisis requires the artist to utilize native materials easily sourced in the local area. One of the projects Compra has proposed to the BAP foundation is an art installation using mojon (boundary markers), a piece about “territories and the politics of space,” as he describes it. “It will be fictionally and virtually imagined space. I like to link my work also with time, exploring the concept of time, going back and forth, and getting lost within the weave axis.” Comprised of found objects, his artwork conceptualizes the nature of space (moving in and around space), land (being permitted to pass through land), borders and checkpoints, and boundaries and restrictions. 

During these abnormal times, Compra has been thinking about “how the vast majority is trying hard to make sense of all the vast sensory experiences.” In keeping with the slower pace of life under lockdown, the artist finds himself experimenting with less laborious crafts, such as sewing and textiles work, techniques and activities engaging with the tactile experience.

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Luta of a grandmother's house using termite soil on rafia (2019 Ateneo Art Awards)

Photo by FACEBOOK/ ateneoartgallery.

A moment for reflection

In periods of crisis, when people are trying to survive and make sense of the great disruptions to life as they know it, artists throughout history have had to up their game. Just think of how many influential movements of modern Western art arose during the aftermath of the First World War a century ago. In the 1920s, Dadaist artists in Europe were experimenting with mass-produced readymade objects to critique their warmongering industrial societies and cultures of excess and mass consumption. At the same time, surrealist artists were taking introspection to a new level, as they depicted repressed fantasies and nightmares, subconscious desires and anxieties. 

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Kite series using found objects and indigenous materials (2013-2014) 

Photo by Ronyel Compra.

Photo by Ronyel Compra.
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How will artists of the 2020s grapple with the dramatic changes in our lives today? Perhaps it is too soon to tell, but artists will keep on striving to find the inspiration to reflect and create a vision for the future. Compra sees this period of reflection as a time to think about what we want our world to become after we emerge from this crisis. He says that “everyone can have the chance to reset and re-engineer the world that we longed to be experienced.” 

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Ira Lee
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