Tad Ermitaño experiments with interaction and inclusion.
On February 8, the last day of the 2015 edition of Art Fair Philippines, visitors were invited to witness and partake of an unusual harvest, in which it took two grown men to lift a kaong log off its plinth, push it through the parking garage turned gallery halls, and out to the decks, where a chainsaw was waiting next to a grill. Because it could only get stranger, the afternoon was spent sawing and hacking away at the wood, before rummaging through the core which, until then, had been a nest of kuok, or beetle larvae. The kuok were then fried and shared with willing guests, turning live grubs to savory grub, as affirmed by the few who delightedly proclaimed that what had once been a wriggling mess actually tasted “just like bacon!”
This concluded “Uwang,” an installation by Tad Ermitaño in a section of the fair curated by Esquire editor Erwin Romulo. A graduate of the Philippine Science High School, Ermitaño studied Zoology at the University of Hiroshima then went on to receive a Bachelor’s degree in Philosophy from the University of the Philippines: arguably a full education in what he calls the “wet, messy, and smelly” business of making life, and an atypical route to the even messier world of contemporary art. Yet, if anything, Ermitaño’s body of work thus far illustrates not a division, but a porousness of borders between the sciences and the humanities.
Take “Uwang”: named for the “Coconut Beetle” (in the dialect of Luisiana, Laguna), this two-part installation consisted of both material components and an interactive computer program. In the darkened room where the kaong log was displayed, Ermitaño could usually be found standing by, telling guests to wear a headset and scribble lines on a graphics tablet with an electronic pencil. While listening to the chirping and crunching noises made inside the log, every scribble was not only a means to visualize the kuok, but to create new sounds, fully complementing this otherwise unseen orchestra.
“The tree, the insect, its larvae, and humans are tangled in a cyclic web of eating and reproduction,” wrote Ermitaño in his blog, cavemanifesto. Returning to the web woven at Art Fair, it’s not hard to see how successfully he ensnared visitors into a fuller experience of his subject, by taking them beyond a recreation of the cave-like dwelling of the kuok, towards a playful call-and-response that would (or could only) end with cooking and eating.
Read the full article inside Art+ issue 38.