23 C
Thursday, May 23, 2024
Home Art and Culture “No Pain Like This Body”

“No Pain Like This Body”

“No Pain Like This Body”
Lani Maestro’s art installation, “No Pain Like This Body,” 2022, which was commissioned specifically for the Vancouver Art Gallery Offsite. Photo: Lui Queaño

(This article appeared in The Philippine Reporter on March 10, 2023)

While visiting Vancouver to look for an apartment for my son and his family, friends in Vancouver recommended that I stop by the Vancouver  Art Gallery Offsite. My son was accepted to study at one of Vancouver’s universities, and he’s bringing his family with him.

At the intersection of Bute and Thurlow streets, No Pain Like This Body*, a neon light installation by artist Lani Maestro is currently on display at Vancouver Art Gallery Offsite.  It snowed that night I visited the Offsite, but I’m still glad I made the trip.

There was something so unusual about reading those words on the building’s facade that it made viewers pause mid-breath and look again. Maybe it was more about identifying with the concept of agony. While standing in front of the art installation, I had the sudden thought of asking myself if I was hurting.

These ideas struck me as I stood in front of Maestro’s neon art installation. After the recent passing of a dear writer friend, I began to question whether or not my physical body could withstand the emotional toll of such a devastating loss. Pain dawned on me thinking about the friends and comrades who gave their lives fighting for the rights of the oppressed masses, and I couldn’t stop feeling the pain inside. As the intensity of my emotions grew, I found myself confronted by Maestro’s installation artwork and wondering if I deserved to be in pain.

But if there’s one thing I know for sure about pain, it’s that grieving the loss of loved ones is an agonizing experience that never fades.

However, while these are all introspective, Maestro’s art also addresses the political dimension of suffering. Injuries sustained as a result of wrongs imposed by those in authority. Her email response to my inquiry into her creative practice -“So, my use of text is somewhat subversive. I guess it is like listening to the news and learning how to read between the lines because what we  receive are information/words constructed/ construed in a way by people in power or whose  interests are not ours, people who own the media to make us believe or support their current  political agenda. These are big things but I try to bring them into intimate experiences of daily life.  For what? perhaps, so people may remember who they really are. That they have power, that they  can be empowered, be independent, that they have native intelligence and that they can preserve  their humanity, keep the “ethics of care” intact.”

“The viewer owns this text. anybody who is moved or touched… is probably because they recognize the “feeling”. it can also be internalized violence as anyone who is abused or colonized physically, historically, begin to act their violence out to themselves, to others…we can become our worst oppressors in this case.”-Lani Maestro (Photo: Lani Maestro)

Though I have never met Lani Maestro, if I did, I would make it a point to tell her how much her work has meant to regular folks like me. That’s how profoundly impactful and influential her art has been on me. The most beautiful thing about writing is that it causes pain, multi-awarded writer Ricky Lee once told me in one of our scripwriting sessions. The experience is identical to standing in front of Maestro’s neon light installation.

Many days have passed since my trip to Vancouver, but the impression made by Maestro’s incisive neon light installation art remains. It was a painfully beautiful experience throughout.

(* The Offsite  can be found in the heart of downtown Vancouver on West Georgia Street between Thurlow and Bute Streets. It is directly west of the Shangrila Hotel. It is being organised by the Vancouver Art Gallery on behalf of the Public Art Program of the City of Vancouver, and Makiko Hara is serving as the guest curator. This exhibition is a project that was organised by the Institute of Asian Art at the Vancouver Art Gallery.)