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Timeline of performance art?


Eileen Legaspi Ramirez: How did you transition into performance from traditional art production (2-D, 3-D), gallery-based work? What was your personal impetus for engaging in performance?

Ronaldo Ruiz: When I was in college, I have already been doing actions, but I didn't know I was actually doing performance art. During the 1992 annual foundation day in my school, we took advantage of the event to hold something that would draw attention to our organization. I performed with mud covering my body the Ilocano traditional ritual for spiritual cleansing called atang. When the security guards saw the commotion and came to the rescue, the performance had to end and I ran to the university gym to clean up and change into normal clothes.

R.R.: I only found out that what I did was a performance when the day after I got called into the office of Dean Florencio Concepcion. I thought that I would get into trouble, but instead I was told to research about performance art in the school library. The following years, my fellow students were already excited to see the performances that we would show, and it became an informal school foundation day tradition.

While I was studying art, I have always practiced painting and performance side by side. For me, performance was more free, spontaneous and instinctual. It started as something simply attention catching, but I realized over time that it was a better venue for self-expression for myself, for all the things I could not interpret through painting.

E.L. R.: For you personally, was/is the straddling between theater & other time/movement-based genre and visual art a conscious moving away from object-making?

R.R.: I think it depends on the performance artist, because some performance artists actually use the piece to create an installation, such as performance residue. Installation may also be a venue for performance art, the objects within may be used for the performance itself. I have also found that I can use performance material for my other works.

In TAMA events however, because we are working in public space, we have to make sure that the space we leave behind is cleaned up as consideration for the place and to other artists who are performing.

E.L. R.: Do you trace your creative lineage to a specific artist/movement/body/bodies of work?

R.R.: I consciously try to create my own path in art making, though I have had inspiration from Flemish Renaissance masters, Pieter Bruegel and the Dutch master Hieronymous Bosch. From these painting inspirations, I find performative stimuli.

E.L. R.: What is the particular attraction to you of working in the performance genre as opposed to less transient/ephemeral media? Was/were there specific advocacy concerns behind your performances? Conscious identification with work at the margins?

R.R.: Performance for me is a better medium for expressing sentiments and concepts. It is 360 degrees, up and down, inside out, vs. the four sides of a painting or the blocking, scripting and lighting involved in theater on stage. In performance I feel like I can control the conditions of my art making more. I started performance carrying themes of environmentalism and I practice this up to now. Also, because of my experiences as an OFW, for a while I was concerned with dissecting about my Filipino identity and the pain and home sickness involved in working abroad. Now I have gone full circle as you can see in my Camouflage Project, where I try to blend into my surroundings as I explore the environmental concerns and the issues faced by the world right now.

E.L. R.: Are there specific conceptual/thematic concerns/motifs/images which you feel/felt would translate better through performance rather than through other genres? Do/did you pursue work in performance exclusively at any point in your career? Why/why not?

R.R.: Because my artworks center on the environment, I usually get my performance material from what is existing on the surroundings of the performance space. It is adaptation that surfaces more as a thematic concern in these cases. When we hold our performance art festivals and join festivals abroad, that is when I exercise purely performance, but otherwise I continue to paint, do sculpture and installations.

E.L. R.: Where do/did you situate your work in relation to Philippine art production? Do/did you see yourself aligned with any particular tendency? How would you prefer your art practice be located within Philippine art history?

R.R.: My performance art and painting career, even if they occur at the same time, are distinct from each other, though they may draw inspiration or substantiating concepts from each other. I would prefer not to be identified with just a single genre, when I do many other things. I am a painter who does performance and installations, and I am a performance artist who does paintings.

E.L. R.: Did/do you purposely work toward lacing your work with a specifically Philippine/local inflection? How do/did you stand in relation to identity politics/essentialism/self-exoticization?

R.R.: I cannot help it because I am Filipino. Whenever I am abroad participating in an international festival, being a Filipino always shines through, because I bring my identity and culture with me. Even as I try to adapt myself to their culture, I have my own that still surfaces in every work that I do. In my earlier works I used the Philippine flag using Macario Sakay as inspiration, but that was also part of my identity and way of questioning history.

E.L. R.: How do/did you see performance in relation to the larger project of resituating art in the everyday? To you personally, was the use of performance a means toward a more empowering exchange between artist and receiver/viewer or was it merely one among many options in your creative menu?

R.R.: I think that my concerns with environmental issues are more powerfully expressed through performance because there is instant connection and exchange with the audience. As a personal advocacy I also apply it not only in my art-making but also in my life as an ordinary citizen.

E.L. R.: How did/does structure/narrativity, chance/random encounters figure in your work? Did/do you consciously employ/invoke theatrical devices/idiomsó(role-taking, Brechtian alienation/distanciation, Boal's forum theater, etc.) within your work?

R.R.: My performances are always spontaneous, and I make an effort to veer away from theatricality as much as possible. As a principle, I like to keep my actions and the objects I use real, like in one piece I use a real pig's heart instead of a cut-out piece of red paper. I do have very loose plans with my performances, but randomness is more at play in my pieces than structure and narrativity.

E.L. R.: Are/were interactivity/translation/transmission/readability prime concerns in your performances?

R.R.: The intention is always to get my concepts and advocacy across, but we cannot help it that sometimes there are obstructions to the conduction of the performance or the perception of the audience, so in the end the members of the audience use their own judgment to interpret the performance. From my first performances when I go to the audience to gather offerings using a coconut shell it has led to more recent pieces where I do actions with the audience. Most of the time I have performances that naturally evolve into interactive pieces, but it does not have to be the case for each performance.

E.L. R.: Was institutionalization/appropriation ever issues to you?

R.R.: No because it is still up to the artist whether he chooses or not to be governed by these definitions. Sometimes when a performance artist is given a budget, there will be a big difference as to making something big vs. something more artist-initiative driven. For me, even if performance is a site-specific genre, it is not my primary concern and it is a non-issue for me.

E.L. R.: How did/do you stand in relation to liveness and documentation, presenting traces/remnants of your performances vis a vis its innately experiential nature?

R.R.: I document my works as much as possible through photo stills and video and I compile them, because they might be of use to me someday for other projects, may it be an installation or another performance. At the time that I do performance sometimes I undergo some kind of a detachment to the piece because I am the one actually doing it, so I like seeing and keeping track of the documentation and traces of the performances in video. In case I am not able to set up documentation myself, I seek out other people in the event who were witnesses. I refrain from using professional photographers and videographers though, because for me it is also important for the work to be documented through the viewer's eyes.

E.L. R.: How does/did visuality/theatricality/spectacularization figure in your body of work?

R.R.: My works are very visual but in principle are still very anti-theatrical. I have often been asked how I can accomplish my performances using found objects in whatever the space is, I think it is more a gathering of the objects and creating something site-specific, the composition of the visual elements just come naturally from my training as a painter.

E.L.R.: What were/are your personal benchmarks for successful work? Were there any particular works which you felt were more accomplished than the rest?

R.R.: For me the success of my work depends on my personal feeling of accomplishment after it is done. The audience applause, documentation, or being lauded by art critics does not matter much to me. What is important is I released my ideas to the audience and I am satisfied with the way it was conveyed.

One of my most accomplished works is the performance I did in Canada for the Recontre Internationale Performance du Quebec where I grew my hair for four years and then let the audience cut it and shave my head. I also feel that my current Camouflage Project is one of my most extensive performance works for now because it is very global, imperative, highly adaptable and is now my continuing passion.

E.L.R.: Can you identify any theoretical/tactical shifts in your body of work? Would you care to elaborate on why you stopped working within the performance domain?

R.R.: None as of this time, because performance will always be a work in progress for me and I can see myself doing it as long as I am able.

E.L. R.: How much or how little did public reception affect the kind of work you were/are doing? Were you open/resistant to multiple readings; was indeterminacy/incoherence/subjectivity givens you readily worked with?

R.R.: I see to it that each performance piece is unique, based on the time, space and event, and the objects I gather for the work. I am willing to interact with the audience and even answer questions about my piece after my performance, but it does not really matter to me how the audience reads my work. Even as an audience to other performance artists, sometimes I like it that I do not know everything that is to know about their works because I know that eventually people just depend on their own judgment to interpret art.

E.L. R.: Do you perceive any continuities/discontinuities between your work and currently emergent performance/body art in the country?

R.R.: I think it still depends on the piece because even if it is not intentional to have continuities and similarities with works of other performance artists in the country, we all have an undercurrent of a shared identity which binds us all together. I guess it depends on the art critics such as yourself to identify and categorize the similarities and differences.

E.L. R.: How do you relate to current trends toward transboundary/transmedia work, collaboration, the use of video/text/spoken language or sound elements, the employment of game motifs, self-criticality, and the situating of performance/actions within overtly public/mass-oriented venues/contexts?

R.R.: I have tried exploring some of the other elements of performance but I find that I still go back to body centered works. I am open to collaboration but I want collaborations that are open and do not have a structured narrative so I can still be free to create my own actions. Since I was trained mainly in mass-oriented venues, I still feel that my works translate best in public. see photos