Manila

Judy Freya Sibayan, Performing My Self-archive, My Other Body: An Autobiographical Installation Art Performance, An Institutional Critique, 2020. Performance view.

Judy Freya Sibayan, Performing My Self-archive, My Other Body: An Autobiographical Installation Art Performance, An Institutional Critique, 2020. Performance view.

Judy Freya Sibayan

SILVERLENS

Over the course of her nearly five-decade practice, Judy Freya Sibayan’s interventions and performances have mobilized the human body as a means for reconfiguring the institutions of art. Sibayan, a former director of the Contemporary Art Museum of the Philippines, drew from her personal experience in dealing with such spaces. Founded in 1969, the Cultural Center of the Philippines Museum (as it was formerly known) was a bastion of modernist and international art during the Marcos dictatorship, and its first two directors, Roberto Chabet and Raymundo Albano, helped foster Sibayan’s career as an artist. Sibayan, who was appointed director in 1987, adopted a vanguardist vision for the institution that did not align with the push for populism in the postdictatorship era, leading to her resignation in 1989. Though only two years in length, her tenure would inform her subsequent experiments in institution building. For instance, the performance Scapular Gallery Nomad, which Sibayan first carried out in 1994 and reactivated from 1997 to 2002, established a mobile gallery in the form of a pouch that the artist wore around her neck. Sibayan was careful to replicate the operations of a traditional gallery, commissioning works to fit inside the pouch, producing a text for each “exhibition,” and attending to all the logistical requirements and paperwork a typical show might entail. Another of her projects, the Museum of Mental Objects, 2002–, saw others “installing” a work in the artist’s memory by whispering it into her ear.

In these initiatives, the body serves as the nexus for the gathering of a public: Scapular Gallery Nomad is triggered when an individual shows interest in the pouch or the work it contains; the Museum of Mental Objects, when Sibayan recites the work installed in her mind. Both projects can be seen as acts of institutional critique: In transposing the museum to the scale, flexibility, and mobility of the human body, the artist causes the stability of the institutional framework to give way to the contingencies of her performance.

This attention to the possibilities of such concerns as a conduit for critique framed “Performing My Self-archive, My Other Body: An Autobiographical Installation Art Performance, An Institutional Critique,” Sibayan’s most recent exhibition at Silverlens. The artist converted the gallery space into a makeshift office, with a map of the world and a die-cut wood silhouette of Sibayan wearing the scapular. For the duration of the show, the artist and her assistant continually sorted through boxes of archival materials spanning Sibayan’s career. Whereas a conventional archive is passive and disciplined, the reconfigured exhibition space provided a context to unsettle its governing structures, prompting a dynamic questioning of what constitutes an archive and its address—its motivation and its public. A vital aspect of this gesture was Sibayan’s reimagining of the artist’s talk. Rather than reproduce the traditional arrangement, with the artist positioned as the ultimate authority, she invited practitioners from varied fields to engage in small group discussions; the inclinations of the participants shaped the trajectory of these conversations.

For Sibayan, self-archiving and self-institutionalization are ways to expand the imagination of the institution and thereby to critique it. The distinction between the performance and the archive in her work is, for her, key to the criticality of the endeavor, particularly as it unfolds within the white cube. In this sense, the artist’s performance as author and animator shortchanges the institutional currency conferred to the archive, releasing it from its aloof bins and boxes.