Estrangement and Queer Creatures
Art makes me feel estranged. It makes me feel confused and sometimes even frustrated. As humans, it is natural for us to find or make sense of everything around us from the very mug we choose to use every morning to our favorite pair of shoes we would like to wear every day. Objects have meanings. We load and infuse significations and affects to the objects as we experience and encounter them every day. Same with art, whether painting, sculpture, transformed space, fashion, or food, we find meaning in them by attaching affects onto these objects. This is what I felt with Leeroy New’s installation of Aliens of Manila.
Aliens of Manila: New York Colony by Leeroy New was installed last 2019 at the headquarters of Pintô International in New York’s East Village. The said installation tries to animate aliens inhabiting in a transformed space using different plastic kitchenware materials like food cover, sponge, fly swatter, funnel, and dipper. Through these materials, the exhibit produces creatures and transforms the space into an extraterrestrial dimension that evokes a feeling of estrangement or alienation for its spectators. While the title itself already speaks about displacement, analyzing the feeling that the installation conjures also explains how someone can make meaning from art. And to be honest, looking at the details and materials used in the installation already reminds me of Manila, these objects will always remind us of the texture of a Filipino kitchen. Further, New’s brilliant mind takes it or us into another dimension by displacing these objects, by destroying their felicitous relationship with meaning, using these objects not for their original purpose rather employing them to different art forms, suspending their meanings, reimagining their purposes; thus, estranging us.
The title itself also suggests estrangement and displacements. As one would most likely feel estranged when he or she unexpectedly encounters extraterrestrial beings in a crowded city space like Manila. Displaced, on the other hand, because of objects and creatures inhabiting and living in what becomes a new world. Aliens of Manila, as creatures, are strange and displaced. And this exhibit invites its spectators to feel the texture of its forms and to navigate within this space that invokes different feelings. Mine, however, is purely estrangement from the level of the materiality of the art to the aural projection of the exhibit. This feeling of estrangement has also somehow made me weirdly recall some essays I have read before.
Similarly, to perceive texture is to know or hypothesize whether a thing will be easy or hard, safe or dangerous to grasp, to stack, to fold, to shred, to climb on, to stretch, to slide, to soak. Even more immediately than other perceptual systems, itseems, the sense of touch makes nonsense out of any dualistic understanding of agency and passivity; to touch is always already to reach out, to fondle, to heft, to tap, or to enfold, and always also to understand other people or natural forces as having eﬀectually done so before oneself, if only in the making of the textured object. (Eve Kosofky Sedgwick)
[T]he feelings I examine here are explicitly amoral and noncathartic, offering no satisfactions of virtue, however oblique, nor any therapeutic or purifying release. In fact, most of these feelings tend to interfere with the outpouring of other emotions. Moods like irritation and anxiety, for instance, are deﬁned by a ﬂatness or ongoingness entirely opposed to the “suddenness” on which Aristotle’s aesthetics of fear depends. And unlike rage, which cannot be sustained indeﬁnitely, less dramatic feelings like envy and paranoia have a remarkable capacity for duration. If Ugly Feelings is a bestiary of affects, in other words, it is one ﬁlled with rats and possums rather than lions, its categories of feeling generally being, well, weaker and nastier. (Sianna Ngai)
Spongy Life Forms
The significance of SpongeBob SquarePants to contemporary gender norms, I believe, cannot be overstated; while earlier generations of boys and girls were raised on cartoon worlds populated by cats and mice, dogs and rabbits chasing each other across various domestic landscapes, this generation has come of age to an animated mythological universe populated by characters with eccentric and often simply weird relations to gender. And so we take SpongeBob SquarePants as our guide, following the hedonistic and cheerful sponge whose body, as he reminds one chap who sits on him, is also his face, in looking for fun, in mistrusting people who only want to make money, and in tracking down treats made with peanut butter. (J. Jack Halberstam)
From a distance, the installation looks like aliens who are made up of viruses and bacteria. The spongy creatures of J. Jack Halberstam challenging structures through living and performing oddity. Meanwhile, estrangement — a kind of weird feeling toward an object, subject, or phenomena, the unfamiliarity through displacement — happens once someone starts to navigate in this space. Estrangement is a negative affect like ugly feelings, a feeling hailed through proximity; affect and distance; distance and emotion. From a closer look, one will see how the repetition of objects creates texture and how each of the objects as well recall a specific cultural aura producing layers and meanings of displacement.
Aliens of Manila by Leeroy New arouses different feelings and meanings. Whether the exhibit looks like a venereal disease comes into life or a place somewhere in Bikini Bottom through its animatedness, the exhibit successfully makes us reflect on queerly beings and queer space. However, other than odd creatures, aliens can also mean migrants just like how New imagines the series as his family life as Overseas Filipino Workers. Aliens who are made up of Filipino texture. The extraterrestrial migrant domesticated workers who are always categorized by their texture, estranged by their difference, and displaced through their bodies.
All images from pintoart.org.
JP Sarce is a teacher, graduate student, and Ru Paul Drag Race fan. Most of his works focus on queer theory, medical humanities, postcolonial, and critical pedagogy.