Manny Montelibano Calculates Greater Than Or Equal To Infinity

Manny Montelibano, "Pamunti", video still

Several years ago,  in the early 1990s, when Manny Montelibano first started his involvement with VIVA-EXCON (Visayan Islands Visual Arts Exhibit and Conference), he had a hard time convincing the organizers to let him mount a video installation.  This biennial event, now a prestigious coming together of visual artists from the Visayas, had then concentrated its efforts on showcasing paintings and sculpture, pretty much mirroring the inclinations of the rest of the country’s art community at that time.  But Manny, with his background as a filmmaker who worked with the likes of Peque Gallaga and Eric Matti, managed to convince them otherwise.  His forays into video and sound installations stemmed from his association with the Black Artists of Asia, the group of  visual artists from the Bacolod headed by Charlie Co and Dennis Ascalon.

What a difference two decades make to a country’s cultural landscape!  When Greater Than Or Equal To Infinity opened last week at the Nova Gallery in Makati, Manny welcomed an audience eager to sit down and savor his four film installations and sound loops.  I myself wanted to make sure to catch this solo show as I had always regretted missing Manny’s Escabeche, at Galleria Duemila, in July of last year.  I did not make it to Manny’s opening either, but I managed to find time to

Manny Montelibano, "Girls Talk", video still

drop by to see this show this week.

If there is any gallery in Manila perfectly suited for watching videos, it would be Nova.  Its cozy size, the absence of any sources of natural light, and its second-floor loft, made it perfect for navigating Manny’s show.  At first, I felt a bit disconcerted at the barrage of images and sound bites that confronted me as I entered the gallery’s main space.  But since I had the gallery almost all to myself (save for a couple who left soon after I arrived), I slowly found my bearings, and was able to focus, segregating which sound went in tandem with which video.

Manny Montelibano, "Up A Head", video still

Manny’s videos show uncomplicated, simple scenes that I found easy to appreciate, especially when viewed with his sound choices.  The two films on the gallery’s two main walls, Girls Talk and Up A Head, were filmed with live sound.  Both show three different scenes that when put together, blend to feel like one.  Girls Talk deals with the emotions of three different women.  Manny leaves it up to the audience to interpret this as they will.  I thought it was about a woman recalling a lost love.  Up A Head showed the butchered carcass of a pig, a close up of oil bubbling as food fried, a fly buzzing on some slaughtered pork, then, of all things, a live cow in a pasture.  Again, the unrelated scenes may or may not make up a story.

On the gallery’s second floor, Manny mounts the other two installations. In Panilag (Observe), he plays around with a market scene of caged chicken and ducks, and a dog that lolled about between the two cages.  He transforms the images into negatives, then into abstract patterns, like that of a kaleidoscope, with sound that mirrors the cadence of the changing images.  He even dubbed a recorded

Manny Montelibano, "Panilag", video still

speech by Idi Amin to go with the close up of the dog.

The last video, Pamunti, is the one I enjoyed most.  Manny filmed a man fishing beside a highway in Negros, then transformed the image into one of high contrast, turning it into a black and white blur with only a spot of color. He runs the film in extreme slow motion, yet chooses to accompany the images with the sound of a Formula 1 car going at top speed.  The vroom of the vehicle contrasts sharply with the unhurried exertions of the man fishing.  Here you have two disparities—that of the image’s high contrast lighting, and the incongruous pairing of the film’s sound with its subject’s movements.

I recommend Manny’s show to those who have half an hour to spare, and relish freeing their minds to take in sights and sounds that don’t require too much to derive pleasure from.

Another video still from "Panilag"

Greater Than Or Equal To Infinity runs from 6 to 27 August 2010 at Nova Gallery, Warehouse 12A, La Fuerza Compound, 2241 Chino Roces Ave. (Pasong Tamo), Makati.  Phone (632) 392-7792 or visit