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There are no narratives in Martha Atienza’s work but rather propositions of narratives and questionings of unexplored terrain. Like the fishermen and seafarers in her 2011 three-channel video Gilubong ang Akon Pusod sa Dagat (My Navel is Buried in the Sea) — who skim and sink into the ocean— Atienza asks us to immerse ourselves into the precarious and unfamiliar phenomena that surround our social lives.

Steady hand. A soft, phantasmal mist. Her work for the fair is a gripping image of the sea diffused in a gentle haze. It is the infamous and seductive Atlantic crossing that once tied together territories: plum to power, slave to master. As we gaze into the slow but certain movement of froth and ripples, we are given a sense of the bigger story, the moments of victory and tragedy that have marked the surf. Dense and unyielding, the water has seen all these and looks on.

For the Dutch-Filipina artist, water is germ and pivot but also, ultimately, survival. It is the fantastic and fearsome wellspring of the people of her hometown in Bantayan Island in Madridejos, Cebu. Water, too, is the elemental agent that shaped the Netherlands, a small country borne of sediment and flood with its residents famously conquering the latter through technology and conjectures of the earth’s future stirrings; it is also Atienza’s other home.

The immensity of the sea vis-a-vis our physical and emotional relationship with it remains a constant obsession for the artist. She is attentive witness and patient chronicler of the people of Bantayan whose lives revolve around the ocean’s bounty and temperament. Through sound and the moving image, Atienza carefully weaves their stories together and turns them into a strange and palpable confrontation with the magnificence of the sea.

Her work reminds us that the Latin root of the word “record” is re-cordare meaning “to recall”, literally “to return to” or pierce through the heart. We see this as she expands her role as recorder to becoming part of the community she represents. The artist— a blend of two cultures obsessed and dominated by the sea— is merely returning to familiar dwelling after all, a prescribed space within the heart.

Deeply committed to social engagement in her practice, Atienza initiates long-term projects through a combination of art and ethnography. She continues the discussions initiated by her video and sound installations and extends them further to actual interventions. These engagements seek to address collective aspirations: a sustainable source of livelihood and approaches to wrestling with disasters, both natural and manmade.

Her documentation, thus, isn’t really just a recording of events and doesn’t really end once recorded—- it transmutes.

Gilubong… has now spawned Para sa Aton (For Us), a gathering of people from the area who maintain a research and development platform through new media and group dialogue. This in turn has generated Aton Isla (Our Island), a group of young filmmakers who have acquired training and equipment from the Para sa Aton workshops.

Through these actions, life and art become inextricable for Atienza. They bloom and coalesce, carving out mutual dreams, moving together—steadily— towards a safe berth.


Martha Atienza

Fair Isle 59°41'20.0"N 2°36'23.0"W