Jed Gregorio

January 24th. Ramon Afable has a two-man show with Regina Reyes at Mono8 called Whale Fall. It is here that I first saw Afable’s video installation Passover (2020, video, color sound, 2 mins 38 secs). The title alludes to when, in the Exodus, after the plague of the firstborn, God explains to Moses the rules for a new festival that “for the generations to come you shall celebrate.” God said, “On the same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn — both men and animals — and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt.” In the wake of the Passover, Pharaoh finally allows the Israelites to leave Egypt. He says, “Go, worship the Lord as you have requested.” After a failed attempt at securing three-for-two shawarma wraps, some friends and I retreated to a Chinese restaurant. We had dumplings in a spicy broth, xiao long bao, and an onion pancake. We said that the last of the odd-numbered xiao long bao should go to Afable, because he’s the one who just had an exhibition opening. We congratulated him on his success.

February 23rd. Afable and I agree to meet at the Art Fair, to talk esoteric business, in particular applying to an artist residency in Leipzig. There is an intricate story about Afable’s sister having his entry pass, and so a sophisticated switcheroo must be orchestrated, all this accomplished within a timeframe of our mutual convenience, so I said, Whatever, I’ll just meet you outside. We had coffee at a McDonald’s. The truth is I haven’t slept, and I’m still wearing clothes from the night before. My hair is greasy and I found every patch of light too bright. I tell Afable that my brain isn’t working just yet, so I just made him read notes that I wrote about an earlier work, The Incomplete Rock Catalogue, which was going to be remounted in a group show in Art Informal, opening the following week. I told him that that work is fundamentally about the attempt to create a new world, starting with its very foundations, and how you’d need a bogus infinity for it to work. We talked about Passover, and I think it may have been the first time that I understood it, although “understand” is a word that Afable and I would probably reject in contexts like these. We talked about contemporary art, the ethnographic turn in contemporary art, and other artists, all of them minor artists, that is to say, not Warhol or Bacon, none of the poets, not Federer or Nadal. We talked about having a BFA. I think I wrongly quoted to him the lyrics from the Hozier and Mavis Staples song, but here is the correct one: Power has been cried by those stronger than me / Straight into the face that tells you to rattle your chains / If you love bein’ free. We talked about our chains. After, the both of us successfully enter the Art Fair without paying. Thank God for the Load na Dito booth, where Gerome Soriano’s installation allowed you to nap on a futon. For most of the day I hung out there, singularly the fair’s best offering. Afable, meanwhile, still had the energy to engage with Issay Rodriguez’ virtual bees. I asked him how was it, and he said it did give him a little joy. Actually he didn’t say “a little joy,” but “kaunting saya,” which could be something else entirely. Some weeks will pass and I will still think about this joy that is other than joy.

March 7th. The day began elsewhere — on the edge of a forest, where I wondered if going inside the forest was the way to go, and I didn’t, perhaps thinking that I will only get more lost; who knows for sure what one really thinks on the edge of forests? — but at midnight we all end up at Limbo, my friends, all of them artists, in this place where we couldn’t see or hear each other. (The others who preferred this indulgence were outside on the street, and they bought beer at the Ministop, where it is cheaper, and the hungry among them bought either fried chicken or cigarettes.) Inside, I was shout-talking to Afable and two other friends, one of them a prodigious painter, and it must be said, a very nice guy, who bought me a couple of beers, and so that night I was drunk AF, and therefore I was very happy, and also incredibly sad. Before then Afable and the prodigious painter had not met each other. Who are you? said Afable to the prodigious painter. Who are you? the prodigious painter said back. I am no one, Afable said, and the prodigious painter said, I am no one, too. Both said they were glad to meet each other. The other guy, not the prodigious painter, although you could say that he is also somewhat of a prodigious painter, said that he found the bartender cute, and I said, Does your girlfriend know about this? which was of course a rhetorical question, and we laughed. We said his girlfriend’s name, although I forget it now, many times, like an incantation, ultimately referring to an incorporeal being that symbolised many things at once: faithfulness and our better judgment, our weaknesses as the weight of the world presses down our shoulders and that of our fathers, and other women that do not bear her name. When it was the right time, we talked about the beginning, the middle, and the end. The prodigious painter asked if I believed in God, and I said, Yes, I do. He asked Afable, too, if he believed in God and Afable, too, said yes. Which one? the prodigious painter may have asked, and so a longer conversation ensued after this, one that was laced with talk of narcotics and adventure. The prodigious painter and I shared a taxi on the way home. In the taxi we talked about exhibitions we were doing, about the samurai who gouged his entrails with a bamboo blade, about Tarkovsky’s Nostalghia and the scene at the fountain, and about the depth of time. We did not talk about God, but, like gentlemen, we circled around it. Instead we talked about death, which is a polite way of talking about God. The prodigious painter said that he himself has long been dead.

March 8th. Afable and I planned to meet in Quiapo. He was looking for a repairman for his binoculars, and I needed some supplies for my work for Art in the Park. Afable was dressed like he was going on a hike. At midday we were looking for a place to sit and have a drink. We went to a dimsum joint in Ongpin where I knew they served syphon coffee with evaporated milk. Afable had sugarcane juice. We talked about the Leipzig application and ideas on showing video work. We talked about sorghum spirits, the apocalypse, the usual stuff, but somehow wider and deeper, and about an art-criterion we called immediacy. We stated, although unceremoniously, that we belonged to the school of the Immediate Arts, art that requires no intellectual mediation or arduous fluffing for optimum efficacy, immediate like an intravenous shot of heroin. We did not agree on humor, which Afable believed to be universal.

March 20th. On lockdown for about a week now. Afable tells me that the Leipzig deadline is moved, probably because of the coronavirus outbreak. I shared with him an open-call for another residency program about performative arts. Afable said he doesn’t really see himself as performative, but that maybe now is his chance to be. I joked that I had an idea for an essay, the working title for which is “Have We Ever Been Performative?” (I was thinking about Bruno Latour’s We Have Never Been Modern.) I said, Is all art performance art? Is authorship fetishistic? That is to say, if a fetish object is a thing believed to have a soul, does the act of authoring something therefore the act of transferring one’s soul? And what are the implications of this on the immediacy that we talked about? Is an immediate work one that is imbued with an immediate soul? I sent him photos from my camera roll: Leash for large dogs, a cleaver, and cans of WD-40. I told Afable that I’ve been thinking a lot about Image and Function and all the possible planes these two things intersect or overlap, about the Use of art and everything ever lost upon its asking, and what if the ghosts of all dead ideas were to assume form? Afable said immediacy of the process is not required to create immediacy. He spoke of “a manufactured, artificial immediacy.” He also said he has the exact same cleaver as in the photo I sent. We talked about knives and weaponry. Afable said that all recent military rifles released in the past decade or so are modular, interchangeable barrel length and caliber, everything is covered in accessory rails. Modularity is my religion, he said. Afable linked me to a documentary on Youtube about Hans Talhoffer’s Fechtbuch (combat manual) of 1459, a mysterious and colorful manuscript about judicial duels and warfare engineering. Afable said his favorite part is the diving suit, a contraption that supposedly enabled a medieval warrior to breathe underwater.

March 29th. I posted Suicide’s “Dream Baby Dream” on Instagram Stories. Afable replied, saying that for the longest time he had been wanting to get DREAM BABY DREAM tattooed. He linked me to Black Tambourine’s cover, released in 2010, by which time the original had been in existence for three decades. For another decade it survives. I imagined the words reverberating in the earth all those years.

Dream baby dream
Dream baby dream
Dream baby dream
Dream baby dream

April 17th. While reading Mark O’Connell’s To Be a Machine, a book about transhumanism and, by extension, the resurrection of the dead, Afable’s Passover sprung to mind. I scribbled the following notes (digitised here) about Passover on my notebook:

tractions is a group writing experiment based in Manila