Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Wide Open School, Hayward Gallery

The Hayward Gallery at London's Southbank Centre is running what they call an experiment in public education, inviting 100 artists from all over the world to present workshops. I was still in the Netherlands when Jompet Kuswidananto (b. 1976, Yogyakarta, Indonesia) gave his tour of the Great Post Road of Java. But I managed to attend two other sessions - one offered by Japanese composer and musician Makoto Nomura on group composing and musical notation (which used the Southbank's portable gamelan set, illustrated above) and another by Filipino film-maker and performance artist Kidlat Tahimik which involved the screening of one of his autobiographical films interspersed with comments, performances and a small-scale installation. (See picture below.)

Makoto's workshop involved screenings of a number of his compositions (the most interesting probably being an improvisation he did with pigs), demonstrations and explanations about his melodica techniques, and the use of gamelan essentially as a found musical object. Makoto is actually a dedicated gamelan player and composer - but I wasn't able to attend a session he ran with the Southbank Gamelan Players where he directed a small ensemble of about 8 players in some of his notated and improvised compositions. The workshop was very interactive, and I enjoyed chatting with both Makoto and the other participants, who came from diverse backgrounds.

Kidlat's presentation, in contrast, was much more didactic and performative. The film maker took on various personages, changed costumes a number of times, offered anecdotes about his life and philosophy, dropped the names of Important Cultural Figures. He was introduced by someone associate with the gallery (maybe even its director?) who quoted from a memory a quote about Kidlat's work by Susan Sontag. Kidlat turned 70 this year, and his work feels like it comes out of a different era, filled with righteous anger against the colonizers, intent on reclaiming native symbols, exotic and shamanistic. He urged us to embrace our inner duwende, shed the cocoon of culture that limited our self-expression and sprout wings and fly like the butterflies in one of his films (which we did not see). 

We saw only the first part of a three-part film he made with his son (also named Kidlat) over about 10 years in the 1980s, which documents political change in the Philippines and their travels to film festivals and family life. What I liked best about it was that it reflected a choice he made to prioritise family life over film making. Kidlat tells his students that if you learn anything from me in this class you will learn that I am a father first, a film maker second. I have also tried to integrate my role as father with my professional career - incorporating my daughters into my shows and theatregoing - and so found resonances with my own conceptions. Kidlat's choice also evoked some regret in me that I had to spend much of the last year apart from my daughter.