UNEASY PEACE solo exhibit of Eloisa May Hernandez
by Jaime Oscar M. Salazar
The ongoing lockdown in Metro Manila, dubbed GCQ, for "general community quarantine", belongs to a soup of initialisms denoting fluctuating degrees of restraint on activity that, although imposed ostensibly to curb the spread of COVID-19, are backed less by sound science than militaristic muck-up. Its initial form was hastily announced by the national government on 12 March 2020, for implementation three days later. The lockdown has earned the dubious distinction of being among the lengthiest in the world, and without the benefits that its accompaniment by broad and robust testing, contact-tracing, and case-isolation efforts would have produced.
One of the more palpable effects of such measures as social distancing and movement restrictions is the veritable desertion of spaces where dense concentrations of people were once considered necessary and desirable, a signal of vital flourishing. That the relative silence and emptiness of these spaces must, for the near future, endure, even as people have long been longing to gather in them again, is a tension that is navigated by Uneasy Peace, an exhibition of pictures of the University of the Philippines (UP) Diliman campus by Eloisa May P. Hernandez, taken using an iPhone X.
Hernandez began photographing the UP Diliman campus, where she lives and works, shortly after the declaration of the ECQ (enhanced community quarantine), the most restrictive level of lockdown, on 16 March—the exhibition includes 40 out of the many photos that she has shot since then. On her near-daily walks, often with her dog Arwen, an official UP Diliman emotional support animal, Hernandez usually followed the Academic Oval, whose circumference is planted almost all the way round with acacia trees (Samanea saman), and which embraces the green core of the campus. The practice of walking, along with that of picture-taking, enabled her, she says, to keep sane, amid the great uncertainty and peril engendered by the global pandemic.
Knowing that her students and fellow faculty members miss the campus, Hernandez made a point of posting the photos on her social media accounts—a gesture that this exhibition, being an online one, seeks to repeat and encourage. Her works, which feature sights intimately familiar to those who have traced the paths that she has trodden—streets, school buildings, sites of public art—may thus be best appreciated in the light of theorist Nathan Jurgenson's meditations on the practice of social photography. This practice, facilitated by the rise of networked devices and the ease of digital sharing, is oriented toward the everyday rather than the exceptional, and, within it, images are properly understood not as discrete objects but as evocative flows or streams that extend the possibilities of self-presentation, storytelling, and other forms of sociality. In a time when physical closeness in space is potentially deadly, the discourse that pathologizes digital connection as inherently contaminating and corruptive of our integrity as human beings can no longer be tenable. The social photo is not about snatching moments away from lived experience, but about inviting others to partake of the particularities of that experience, to dwell in co-presence that, however screen-mediated, does not depend on geographic proximity to provide pleasure or solace.
Uneasy Peace is presented by vMeme Contemporary Art Gallery from 18 December 2020 to 24 January 2021. Certain photographs in the exhibition are to be reproduced in calendars and other merchandise. The proceeds from the sale of such merchandise will be donated to Art Mobile Relief Kitchen, a volunteer group of artists and cultural workers that endeavors to feed the hungry in times of distress.