The Philippine Star

Not a re­quiem

- zoetrope JUANIYO ARCELLANA

Past noon Tues­day text mes­sages and so­cial me­dia broke the news of the death of Car­los Cel­dran, the per­for­mance artist who el­e­vated guided tours to a kind of street the­ater, in Madrid, which is six hours be­hind his beloved Manila. He would have turned 47 in a few weeks, the re­ports went.

Cel­dran had been stay­ing in Spain since start of the year, an ex­ile by choice af­ter up­set­ting some pow­ers that be in­clud­ing the Catholic Church, as he had been sen­tenced to one year, one month and 11 days in prison for “of­fend­ing re­li­gious feel­ings,” based on a pro­vi­sion in the Re­vised Pe­nal Code, for his “Da­maso” stunt in Septem­ber 2010, when he held up a plac­ard bear­ing the name of the an­ti­hero in Jose Rizal’s novel in the Manila Cathe­dral while bish­ops were in congress.

He also ruf­fled some Mar­coses with his per­for­mance mono­logue Liv­ing La Vida

Imelda, which lam­pooned the ex­trav­a­gance of the nona­ge­nar­ian from a by­gone era, as well with sug­ges­tions dur­ing his guided tours that the Imeldific’s first­born was of a dif­fer­ent spawn, gos­sip from nine­teen-ko­pong-ko­pong that old-timers knew only too well and spoke about in hushed tones dur­ing mar­tial law. The skit was also banned in the UAE for not pass­ing prior scru­tiny by Arab po­lice.

For all his ir­rev­er­ence and rib­ald an­tics, Cel­dran was ac­tu­ally funny, and get­ting un­der the skin of au­thor­i­ties seemed to be a nat­u­ral vo­ca­tion.

Yet, his guided tours of Manila (par­tic­u­larly In­tra­muros), were one of a kind and be­came the talk of the town. In­deed “If These Walls Could Talk” was im­pos­si­ble not to no­tice, es­pe­cially for ba­lik­bayans and generic tourists want­ing a dif­fer­ent take on the Walled City. It was re­ally im­prov the­ater, which again may have rat­tled some peo­ple who thought the guide should have bet­ter kept his opin­ions to him­self. This led to au­di­ble gasps from the au­di­ence and walk­outs as well as at­tacks on so­cial me­dia, but at least the guy was never bor­ing. He gave new mean­ing to the term “un­just vex­a­tion.”

Now the obits and trib­utes are all out, and we read of how he got started as a teenage car­toon­ist con­tribut­ing strips to the late great Nonoy Marcelo first at Busi­nessDay near the corner of EDSA and Que­zon Ave., later to Port Area where Bos Mya­wok was head of the Manila Chron­i­cle art depart­ment and was putting out on the side the Ptyk news­pa­per, in broad­sheet for­mat but com­posed wholly of comic strips, spot cartoons, as­sorted car­i­ca­tures, the lone text be­ing the ed­i­to­rial writ­ten in street Taglish.

Car­los was the youngest of the Ptyk gang, and the story goes that it was in the Chron­i­cle art depart­ment that the young car­toon­ist first en­coun­tered weed hid­den in a match­box of Marcelo, the medic­i­nal stuff part of a reg­u­lar drop-off by the po­lice reporter com­ing from raids by the pre­de­ces­sors of ninja cops. He was look­ing for a light for his Philip, which he bought by the stick dur­ing his com­mute by jeep from univer­sity in Dil­i­man.

A cou­ple of years in Rhode Is­land School of De­sign must have blown his mind, and his ex­pe­ri­ence there cou­pled with a fine arts de­gree from Univer­sity of the Philip­pines laid out the path for Car­los whose art al­ways de­fied clas­si­fi­ca­tion.

He did his Manila tours for more than a decade, earn­ing for him in the process a “Men Who Mat­ter” ci­ta­tion from Peo­pleAsia mag­a­zine, which early on rec­og­nized his con­sid­er­able tal­ent to el­e­vate the noble and ever-loyal, why, he could per­form the en­tire Mass of St. Sylvester all by his lone­some straight out of Nick Joaquin’s sto­ry­book. It was a glar­ing omis­sion that he never got the Gawad Manila given to the city’s fa­vorite sons, not from any of its re­cent past may­ors now hope­fully gone the way of the di­nosaur.

He ap­peared in El­wood Perez’s Eso­terika: Maynila as a fic­tion­al­ized ver­sion of him­self, an­other shot from left field.

Then last year might have been his crowning achieve­ment, the Manila Bien­alle, which lo­cated var­i­ous in­stal­la­tions in In­tra­muros where art stood cheek by jowl with the lumpen and hoi pol­loi, ef­fec­tively re­al­iz­ing the mav­er­ick artist’s dream of com­mon spa­ces.

One of the last shorts on Car­los Cel­dran is the doc­u­men­tary Da­maso done by a trio of film stu­dents, part of the om­nibus Madrid Sto­ries. It de­tails his life in Madrid ex­ile, do­ing the dishes and shav­ing his head, strolling along the streets and sketch­ing in the park in broad day­light, a dog hov­er­ing nearby. The film ends with the artist vo­cal­iz­ing in the wind tun­nel, space be­tween build­ings of his apart­ment com­plex, a home­sick Caruso singing the blues away.

* * * Be­fore Car­los Cel­dran died, he was em­bark­ing on new tours in Madrid re­trac­ing the steps of Rizal. Con­do­lences to the Cel­dran fam­ily in­clud­ing his elder sib­lings, the news­caster abroad David, and the former jazz singer turned res­tau­ra­teur Anita, whose band Mother Earth once set to mu­sic Joyce Kilmer’s poem “Trees.”

 ??  ?? Car­los Cel­dran ruf­fled some Mar­coses with his per­for­mance mono­logue “Liv­ing La Vida Imelda,” which lam­pooned the ex­trav­a­gance of the nona­ge­nar­ian from a by­gone era.
Car­los Cel­dran ruf­fled some Mar­coses with his per­for­mance mono­logue “Liv­ing La Vida Imelda,” which lam­pooned the ex­trav­a­gance of the nona­ge­nar­ian from a by­gone era.
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