Heavenly Bodies in the South: Rodel Tapaya

Every country with a long history has its mythology. This mythology is often more identifiable than that country’s modern society, which follows the same patterns as any other. We are familiar with Zeus and ancient Greece, and the Green Dragon and China. Compared to these celebrated “central” myths, the myth of the Philippines comes from its unique geography and living conditions. Heavenly bodies, trees, stones, and mountains become spiritual symbols in these allegories. In different ethnic groups, these myths have decidedly different incarnations, but their morals are extremely similar—ensuring good weather and bumper harvests for the area.

Born in the 1980s, Rodel Tapaya grew up with the unique mythical history and natural landscape of the Philippines. The stories he heard as a child were like seeds planted in the depths of his brain, and when they took root and sprouted many years later, they became the most important source for his work. For Tapaya, the value of these myths is twofold. On the one hand, these myths are the source material adapted in his work, while on the other hand, they are part of his memory, and a tool for seeing and understanding the world.

Whether he draws on myths or the local conditions in the Philippines, the story is the key theater of Tapaya’s work. In this theater, he layers the reality and myth, the past and future, the praise and mockery of the Philippines; in the form of an allegory or a fairy tale, he discusses the people and society of his home country. In different works, the theater change as the stories, settings, and forms change. In his massive Comedy, Parody, and Tragedy, this theater is a declining, chaotic building, with fantastical life playing out in every corner. In Curved Bamboo, the theater is a sea of plants, a confusion of time, space, size, and order. In many of his works, the theater could be a beach or a forest, a lake or the sky.

We can also access Tapaya’s work through nature and living things. Every de-centralized island does things in its way. Myriad magical things grow in the dense island rainforests, accompanied by many natural disasters. In his work, all types of nature and life appear in diverse yet ambiguous circumstances. They grow in many directions, each with their sunlight, rain, and heavenly bodies, but they come together in a dense profusion.

In Tapaya’s art, specific sequences and fixed criteria, whether social or religious, are always broken. He extols primitive civilization and localism, envisions the Philippines before colonization, and exposes his general stance on art, which centers on his reflections on monotonous modernity, doubts about atheism and rationalism, and critiques of anthropocentrism.

The exhibition showcases works from different series that Rodel Tapaya has created in recent years, presented in three parts. The first part displays his most recent large-scale work, an extension of his trademark artistic style. The second section presents three works—an installation with groups of animals, an animated video, and a painting with a composite space—that reflect his experiments with different media. The last part, serving as the end of the exhibition, showcases works containing a range of styles and elements that are densely populated with a rich diversity of mythological stories, historical resources, and real events.

On an island in the distant South Seas, heavenly bodies flicker in the night sky and a luxuriant profusion of living things populate the rainforest.