Studies in Reality with Dutch-Filipina Artist Martha Atienza

Jennifer Baum Lagdameo
May 21, 2015 12:10AM

Dutch-Filipina experimental video artist Martha Atienza has crossed the Atlantic Ocean on a cargo ship, spent time on a canal barge transporting coal from Rotterdam to Cologne, and helped fishing communities in the Philippines set up bio-intensive farming and marine preservation areas, documenting every step of the way. Her art projects—an exploration of her cultural background and environment—often read more like NGO initiatives than artworks. The idealistic young artist, who has exhibited throughout Europe and Asia, grew up between the Philippines and the Netherlands, and is equally at ease in both worlds. 

Her first solo show at Silverlens in Manila, “Study in Reality No. 3,” is an extension of two ongoing community-based art projects. The award-winning My Navel is Buried in the Sea (2011) is a three-screen video installation of a dialogue around the social, economic, and environmental issues affecting a fishing community on Bantayan Island. Located off the northwestern tip of mainland Cebu in the central Philippines, the film is set in her father’s hometown, the tropical island where Atienza currently resides. Para sa Aton (“For Us”) (2013–ongoing), which grew out of the issues examined in My Navel is Buried in the Sea, was originally based on the goal of creating a utopia and documents the community learning to work together and help themselves.  

In the current exhibition—Atienza’s first departure from video—elements of a storm become a metaphor for the issues she has been grappling with in these two projects. “I wanted to have some control over how things really are and how we try to manipulate them,” explains Atienza. “That is what I have been doing with my ongoing projects on the island. I have a vision of how we are going to do things, but in the Philippines things just work out differently. Real life situations are part of it. This is a study of dealing with the reality.”

Tropical storms are a reality on Bantayan Island. In December 2014, when Typhoon Hagupit ripped through the Visayas region of the Philippines, Atienza and her mother evacuated their home and spent two days in a garden shed in the middle of the island. She filmed the experience through a peephole—a visual perspective that is translated in this installation as a seven-foot-long sliver of mirror-like stainless steel. Three uprooted trees, their roots wrapped in burlap, have been placed on platforms and attached to a motorized mechanism that alternately sways and forcefully shakes them in synchrony to an almost ambient audio track—the sounds of the storm extracted from Atienza’s filmed footage.  

Martha Atienza, Study In Reality No.3_2, 2015. Courtesy Silverlens.

Atienza was just announced as one of the awardees of the prestigious 2015 Thirteen Artists Awards from the Cultural Center of the Philippines, given every three years to 13 artists under the age of 40. “Martha is an artist’s artist. Her nomination for Thirteen Artists is very exciting. To have an artist working with communities and the environment, recognized critically by curators, and appreciated by audiences is a big deal.” says Isa Lorenzo, co-owner of Silverlens. It’s confirmation that Atienza’s is an exciting presence in the Manila art scene.

Jennifer Baum Lagdameo

Study in Reality No. 3 | MARTHA ATIENZA” is on view at Silverlens, Makati City, Manila, May 7–Jun. 6, 2015.

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