Sunday, August 1, 2010


The Art of Perception

By Gabby Fernandez

Perceive - \pər-ˈsēv\, transitive verb 1: to attain awareness or

understanding 2: to become aware of through the senses

– Merriam-Webster Dictionary, 2009 Edition

Montelibano’s latest installation, ≥∞ (Greater than or Equal to Infinity) is nothing short of an exploration of the processes that go into human perception. More specifically, it challenges the audience’s understanding of perception. Do we really perceive things as they are or do we merely assume to perceive them? Can we say that what we absorb through our senses truly reflect the actual stimuli, be it a sound, a scent or an image? After all, rarely do we experience stimuli for what they are. Rather, we process stimuli through our brain which then attaches to these various meanings, connotations and connections depending upon many factors such as age, race, culture, historical perspective, education, previous experiences and memories. For example, to generations of Filipinos who grew up in the early part of 20th century, a drawing of an apple would automatically mean the start of the alphabet, or A is for apple. But to this generation it merely means an unfinished logo of a Mac or an Ipod. When we perceive then how much do we owe to cultural and educational brainwashing and how much is ours as individuals? Furthermore, are we still capable of perceiving stimuli for what they are instead of perceiving them with meanings preconditioned by our experiences?

≥∞ (Greater than or Equal to Infinity) is a multi media (video and sound) installation that focuses on the alteration of an experience by modifying the elements of stimuli that go into perception and understanding.

Our lives are defined by experiences, and we interpret them through neurophysiological processes as seen from the prism of our existing knowledge. Everything we know, everything we have learned or experienced pass through our senses. This barrage of stimuli is processed automatically in light of many pre-determined factors: language, cultural signposts and education among others. But these mental impressions often come to us in a blur due to the speed of stimuli coming from different directions and sources. The essential parts are sometimes lost or misinterpreted. The onslaught of information and sensory input automatically results in “meaning” and logic but do we really experience the basic stimuli as it is, on its own terms? When a person talks for example, we process it as conversation, words and phrases that constitute “understanding” or logic. In the process, do we really experience it for what it is: basic units of sounds and aural stimuli? Are we even aware of the timbre, rhythm and pitch of a person’s voice when he talks?

Greater than or Equal to Infinity is an installation that stimulates some of your senses and challenge you to go deeper into the structure of information as interpreted by you and your personal history.

The installation is composed of multi-channel video projections and a progression of recorded sound loops played in real time and a progression of loops. This may seem normal enough. However, the difference is that these sounds are marred by pauses, repetition, varying speeds, to create a new sound that modifies perception. Thus this forces the audience to experience the sound at its most basic level: sound not as part of a context but sound merely as sound.

Birds chirping, moans, prayers, a telephone ringing, a person’s greeting, a Formula 1 car zooming past, a Jet flying overhead, a phrase from a speech of a dictator, a dying man’s last breath, a clock ticking, a heartbeat, and other such emotionally-loaded audio clips are edited into its wave form to capture a specific sound.

The video component will show the source of the sound but will be marked by the same disruptive treatment used in the sound component. The projections will show real time visuals going into decreasing speeds, falling into single frame loops and eventually turning into a negative image.

This combination will result in the visual and the aural sometimes matching but often going into different modes of disruption wherein the sound becomes divorced from the visual. In the process this compels the viewer to deal with the visual stimuli for what it is and not as part of a larger context. In other words, it is seeing for the sake of seeing, as opposed to seeing for the sake of understanding.

Furthermore as the visual becomes divorced from the sound, context is lost and the result is an experience that forces one to deal with the basic elements of the stimuli.

Clearly, Montelibano is a formalist, wielding the tools of video and sound and grappling with these media. This is not surprising given his extensive background in film. His interests lie not so much in subject matter or content but rather in exploring the various ways of manipulating the medium in pursuit of eliciting a reaction from the audience. There are no pretty pictures here though there is a certain jagged beauty to the whole experience. Neither is Montelibano after some social relevance in his work. Rather he goes deep into the heart of the matter: the essence of stimuli and how it is received. His installation is not meant to be a soothing experience either. It is meant to disturb, to agitate, to jar you even. In the process of this mental and sensorial shake-up, questions arise that confront long-held beliefs in the way one experiences life. Seen from this perspective, “Greater than or Equal to Infinity” is, at its basic level, a visual and auditory experience that challenges one’s comprehension of “reality”.

Gabby Fernandez is the Chairman of the Production Design Dept of the School of Design & Arts De La Salle-College of St. Benilde. He is also Festival Director of “Cinema Rehiyon”, the flagship project of the NCCA Committee on Cinema.

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