In the upcoming M1 Singapore Fringe Festival 2012, Filipino artist Josephine Turalba transforms personal tragedy into a work of art comprising 4,000 shotgun shells.
By Yong Yung Shin
From Feb. 15-26, the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival 2012 will be showcasing an array of theater, dance, music, visual arts and mixed media performances and exhibitions by local and international artists. The theme for this year’s edition is Art & Faith. City News interviews one of the featured artists, Josephine Turalba from the Philippines about the concept and origins behind her entry, Mighty Ballistic.
Tell us about Mighty Ballistic.
Mighty Ballistic: Singapore Walk is a “guerilla” type performance that entails walking at a ritual pace at the venue, engaging people along the way. The bullet armor dress intends to first seduce and subsequently alarm, when the viewer realizes it is completely made of bullet casings.
What sort of response/ reaction do you hope to elicit?
Any kind of response is good—I especially love the impromptu reflections on current events that reflect violence. Most people are amused by the performance. Yet, many are touched by the poetic beauty of the performance, as it resonates with their own memories.
One of the most interesting reactions I received was in Muenster, Germany when one lady shouted across the plaza square saying that what I was doing was “not beautiful.” That encounter made me feel very sympathetic, as I wondered where she was coming from. What made her flail her arms so angrily, denouncing my work? Did memories from some trauma she experienced haunt her upon seeing my work? I wished she could have calmed down and shared her sorrow with me.
What triggered this piece of work?
It was triggered by a personal loss, when I lost my father to four bullets in 2007. As I processed my grief, my artworks evolved. Questions gnawed at me. How can a piece of metal that is less than one-inch long take a life? More than revenge on those who pulled the trigger, I was beset with issues of protection and destruction.
My work came as I explored the juxtaposition of the androgenic bullet and oestrogenic body. Then, my inquiries expanded to the function of a clothed body—the body, enveloped with gun shells, being a site for my work. When I finished weaving the sculptural armor dress, I knew I had transcended my grief, rechanneling the tragedy from a source of destruction into a genesis of creation.
In the process of creating this work, I learned to forgive the one who pulled the trigger on my father. I understood that the force which led him to do that act exists in all of us. As I questioned why I live to experience such grief, I remember the beautiful moments with my father when he was alive. The appreciation of those happy times came together with that traumatic one as polar opposites being interconnected and interdependent, one necessitating the existence of the other.
How do you think your personal experience with violence has influenced your outlook as a Filipino artist?
During the funeral, many stories of abuse and violent traumas surfaced. Countless violent incidents, both political and just plain personal, have continuously happened in broad daylight in my country since the beginning of our history as a nation—from colonial times to today. “Life is cheap,” said one of the audience members about my work in Manila. This reveals the obvious yet tolerated reality in our country. The Maguindanao Massacre in the southern province of the Philippines, where 57 people (including 12 journalists) were abducted, abused and killed, brings to the forefront the brutality of human nature.
As a Filipino artist, I see that there is much to be done with my fellow countrymen. I create works that bring critical reflections of our land and ourselves while questioning and constantly re-defining our identities.
How did you obtain the bullet casings and shotgun shells, and how many are there?
For Mighty Ballistic, I used almost 4,000 shells.
I found the first batch of empty bullet casings in an old box, as I was cleaning the storage room of our home. When I asked my husband about it, he instantly grabbed them from me, saying that they were waiting to be reloaded for his next round of practice shooting occasion at the range. This piqued my interest. Needless to say, the casings did not end up with the reloader.
Some of them came from a friend who is part of the National Skeet Shooting Competitive Team. After her team practices, she drops off a few bags of empty shells at my place. Previously, those once-fired shotgun shells were thrown away. Recently, though, people have found a way of reloading these and are now selling them.
With our new President (Benigno Aquino III), the government has tightened security and military-grade bullets that used to be sold in the black market to consumers are now being accounted for and sent back to their camps, resulting in a limited supply of these.
Did you weave them yourself? How long did it take for you to complete weaving one whole dress?
Yes, I wove Mighty Ballistic myself. It took me about a month to weave the dress and another month to solder together the headpiece. For the succeeding dresses, I trained an assistant to help me.
After all’s said and done, what do you hope to achieve as an artist?
I hope to be contagious in art-making, inspiring others to see life from different perspectives for a broader understanding of those different from ourselves. Being compassionate, for me, is a way to live in peace with another. This sentiment comes when one understands and empathizes with the opposite.
When one begins to see another way of perceiving things, the appreciation of opposites (that are not necessarily divergent) comes into being. In my little way of contributing to mankind, I hope my artworks can inspire compassion in others.
Josephine Turalba is an inter-disciplinary artist living and working in Manila, the Philippines. Mighty Ballistic is featured from Feb. 18-19, 6 p.m at the Esplanade Waterfront. Free Admission. For more information on the M1 Singapore Fringe Festival, log on to www.singaporefringe.com.