“Earth is crammed with heaven...” -Elizabeth Barrett Browning

The art of our time is noisy with appeals for silence. A coquettish, even cheerful nihilism. One recognizes the imperative of silence, but goes on speaking anyway. Discovering that one has nothing to say, one seeks a way to say that.
- Susan Sontag, The Aesthetics of Silence

Inspired by Ikebana, the Japanese art of arranging flowers, an Easter art project involves arranging flowers, plants, and other objects to be installed on the altar of the online mass of Radyo Katipunan/Jesuit Communications PH "Keeping the Faith: Daily Mass for Difficult Times." The arrangement appropriates Ikebana's principle of using three main lines that represent heaven ("Shin," the tallest, most central stem), man ("Soc," middle), and earth ("Hikae", ground). In the Japanese tradition, floral offerings at the altars started in the 7th century.

Taken from 4 QUESTIONS: Jason Dy, SJ

Load na Dito sent 4 questions via e-mail/messenger to artists working and living in the Philippines during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

1. What was the first thought that occurred to your mind when you woke up this morning?

After my morning praise and quiet meditation, I thought of the rare tropical plants and flowers I would be collecting for the online mass of Radyo Katipunan 87.9. During this pandemic, I have been arranging flowers, plants, weeds, and tree branches to be installed on the altar table to enliven the liturgy since the Easter Vigil in the time of Enhanced Community Quarantine. Each day, I explore the garden of the Jesuit Residence and the grounds of Ateneo de Manila to scout for possible flora to be included in the floral arrangement.

Today, I’m particularly interested in arranging unusual tropical plants like the sea anemone-like, pinkish-red blooms of the bromeliads, the yellow-brown beehive ginger sprouts that have been growing inside an abandoned styrofoam icebox, and the hairy, curled up fresh leaves of the large anotong (mountain tree fern). Though these plants were introduced in the campus as ornamental plants as part of the university and residential landscaping programs, it’s interesting to observe how human intervention could positively impact and transform a tract of land filled with cogon grasses during the post-war times into a green campus with mini-forests, varied flowering trees, vegetable plots, diverse flora and several birds inhabitants subsisting as an ecosystem. Now, I’m harvesting the fruits of the interaction between human settlement and nature, and offering them back to the divine maker through humble ikebana-inspired floral arrangements.

3.     Is the current situation affecting your practice and how?

The lockdown has disrupted many things but also showed some possibilities. An art project of installing enclosed terraria in a derelict, unused space in Escolta with Micro Galleries was canceled because of the worldwide crisis. The exhibit was part of Micro Galleries' micro-festival in March 2020 in partnership with 98b Collaboratory. The memorial service of the late artist Ben-Hur Villanueva in Baguio was aborted. But the eulogy I’ve written and prepared was published online by Art Plus Magazine. In-classroom sessions were suspended but learning sessions continued at the ADMU Fine Arts Department. I had difficulty shifting to an online mode of instruction. Live masses with communities were called off. Now, I help out in the online masses at Radyo Katipunan 97.8 and set up floral arrangements each day.

I don’t have a proper studio but working with plants and flowers has expanded and deepened my interest in nature as organic materials in my own creative practice. The garden in the Jesuit Residence and the campus in the Ateneo de Manila have become some sort of studio, or perhaps, an eco-field laboratory. Like the traditions of the land artists in England and the ikebana masters of Japan, arranging flowers and plants into words, floral offerings, or botanical collages make me more sensitive to nature’s rhythm of life—seeds sprout, plants grow, flowers bloom, fruits rot, and leaves fall. As we learn from nature, human beings are not determined by nature’s laws. With creativity, intelligence, and freedom, human beings can positively impact the environment. The same is true with human greed, indifference, and abuse that destroy nature. Hopefully, we decide on the better option of caring for the earth and transform it to sustain all of life.