Unbecoming and becoming

Alain Zedrick Camiling

‘From destruction, comes a new life.’[1]

Like sunrise and sunset, various cues from the mundane remind me of unbecoming and becoming, that there would always be something in transit; in store or ongoing whenever something is propitious or something is ebbing away from the ideal or projected. Perhaps Agnes Arellano’s Carcass-Cornucopia (1987) is a cue for this unbecoming and becoming, the mundane realities that we usually see with our naked eyes. From a fall, rises another beginning, a prompt to renew — a budding or a rebirth.

The work is a sculpture hung upside-down using abaca rope knotted on a maroon-painted metal pane, attached to slaughterhouse hooks from both her feet. It is an off-white headless female figure, hooved, and with two arms extending to the ground showing a gesture of surrender and powerlessness, with open palms. From the ground, you can see a serpent’s upper body covered with unhulled rice and scattered egg-like figures coming out of her slashed abdomen, with visible skin flaps on both sides of the body. The serpent extending to the ground, from the stomach of the hanging body, tangles the neck of a seated Lordling Bulul[2] posing as if it’s guarding the body and the objects on the ground.

The work is indeed a cue of such unbecoming and becoming, perhaps another layer of it, as this was included in Inscapes: A Retrospective by Agnes Arellano at the Ignacio B. Gimenez Ampitheater at the Arete in Ateneo de Manila University (October 2019 to March 2020). Here, the artist displayed her works that look back to her artistic practice and process for the past 36 years which is something reflective of her struggles and healing — about “illness, love and loss, from her early motherhood to mid-life crisis.”[3] Carcass-Cornucopia is indicative of this unbecoming, as it was displayed in different locations[4], and of a becoming, as for its most recent mounting in Arete after a span of ‘transition’ through the years.

Arellano’s works have been born through themes entwined with femininity, eros, yin and yang, mythology, and psychology.[5] Its own becoming always consumes me, constantly with a feeling of suffocation, but in a good way. Seeing her works, I find myself wallowing in an uncanny yet prepossessing state, perhaps an indescribable period of reflection.

I see Carcass-Cornucopia as a cue for unbecoming and becoming from my everyday life; it’s admittedly one of my favorites from the artist’s body of work. What makes it more admirable is how the artist used a cast of her body for the sculpture. For me, this adds another layer to the visceral. Arellano adds a touch of her personal life to the work by imparting parts of her, indirectly. As part of the audience, it leaves me a feeling of uncertainty, perhaps an entanglement with something destructive that triggers an unbecoming, towards a becoming. With it being nude, it resembles full surrender, perhaps being unprotected or in a state of extreme vulnerability.

Though ‘carcass’ may have many meanings, I see it more as a dynamic temple, perhaps an emblem of the many stages of growth in relation to the sculptural, it complements a cornucopia of pleasures — that after the many stages, it all leads to a state of a better being, perhaps a new beginning. This emerges from a rebirth where the serpent comes out of her slashed abdomen like a two-bladed sword, as it has been linked with rituals and mythologies serving as either good or bad, suggestive of such binary opposites. However, since the work posits birth and/or rebirth, a becoming, this leans more towards an abundance, perhaps as reflected in the Lordling Bulul and the unhulled rice.

Arellano’s Carcass-Cornucopia mirrors both sunrise and sunset, birth and rebirth. This transition from day to night, and vice versa, is a cue for transitions of the self and the world to seemingly fervent changes. Viewing the inscape awakens me, it is a trigger to wallow in an uncanny yet prepossessing state, a period of solitary reflection. It is a multi-sensorial immersion into another dimension. It triggers much ado about unbecoming and becoming not just of the artist’s journey and struggles, but to my own vulnerability to such sensibilities.

[1] Carcass-Cornucopia (1987) forms part of Arellano’s 1987 inscape, Myths of Creation and Destruction Part I, where it was presented with Music for Making the Sun Rise, male skulls filled with and buried in coarse sand and arranged on the ground, perhaps a Zen-inspired landscape, as if they were musical notes which also comes with music recorded on cassette tape. Agnes Arellano, Myths of Creation and Destruction Part I, accessed 12 May 2020, http://www.agnesarellano.com/works/myths-of-creation-and-destruction-1.

[2] An anthropomorphic sculpture representing a rice deity from the Northern Philippines (Ifugao, a landlocked area in Cordillera Administrative Region). “Figure of a Male Rice Deity (Bulul),” The Met Museum, accessed 12 May 2020, https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/626371.

[3] Author’s interview with the artist, October 2019.

[4] One of which was at Fukuoka Asian Art Museum in Fukuoka Prefecture, Japan. Retrieved from https://artsandculture.google.com/asset/myths-of-creation-and-destruction-i-agnes-arellano/rQF8yMDC-zr4rw?hl=en, accessed 13 May 2020.

[5] Ibid.

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