The question of a woman wanting. Lately, I’ve wondered, if not searched, how I might begin to maneuver the darkened corridors of my own desire. It’s hardly a personal enigma, there are other women like me, ones who grew up Catholic, careful, safe, who grew up with their plaid skirts dutifully one inch below the knee: a mother’s cherished pride. There’s a limited lexicon for a woman’s natural blossoming towards want. So much of it is yielded to lies, secrets, and silence. As a consequence of its suppression, there exists in our country only a scant number of songs, verses, and pieces of fiction, that devote themselves to the unfurling of female desire with unbridled rigor because like all else concerning our sexuality, shame comprises one end of that double-edged sword.
Gaze, installation projection of three images taken by the artist’s former lover (2022). Video courtesy of the writer.
Six years of enduring a misogynistic and macho-fascist president changes a woman. You grow spines, bark-like, neither porous nor delicate. This president in question was the one who addressed female police and army staff as ‘puta’, threatened to shoot female guerilla fighters in the vagina and admitted to sexually assaulting a maid. We’ve endured centuries of systemic and cultural sexism that such arbitrary notions have become embedded in our concepts of femininity and influenced the image-making of the Filipina, but when the mainstream conversations constantly spew and perpetuate that same evil —when we are so often blinded by anger and dissent — there is hardly any softness left for poetry, for dreaming, for the genuinely erotic. So what of a woman wanting?
From left to right: Furrawn (Pale Pilsen), Masshiro porcelain and ceramic stain with clear satin glaze (2022). When will I ever learn?, Masshiro porcelain and ceramic stain with clear satin glaze (2022). Furrawn (Ought to quit you), Masshiro porcelain, lipstick, and glass ashtray (2022). Image courtesy of the writer.
Pam Quinto in her latest exhibit ‘lonely is the room’ at Gravity Art Space in Quezon City is one such artist who has sought to bring the question of female desire to a wider audience. As an artist who works with ceramics, installation, and photography, Quinto has crafted a stage, a mise-en-scène that examines not so much the genesis of desire, but its particular aftermath. In a darkened space at the heart of the gallery, you witness this scene unfold, suspended in time. Here you will find: shards of broken beer bottles, a takeout box left to aerate, lipstick-stained cigarette butts, splayed negligee, erratically written notes, and overexposed photographs. Some are actual artifacts from Quinto’s life. Gaze (2022), an installation projection, reveals three photographs taken by her former lover. She shared, “In meeting the lover's gaze or recognizing the lover, I'm recognizing myself as the beloved.” In other parts of the exhibit, objects are printed on satin, made with stark-white Masshiro porcelain, the text engraved on it like a memorialized treatise, defying its very ephemerality. A reconstruction, perhaps, its verisimilitude exposing a familiar, domestic truth.
Left: Notes on Remembering You, Masshiro porcelain (2022). Right: Notes on a Performance for a Lover, Masshiro porcelain (2022).
One such text entitled ‘Notes on Remembering You’ is willfully imperceptible. Quinto shared, “As I didn't want the texts on the porcelain papers to be too legible, [it was] almost like the traces left on another paper underneath ‘the actual written text’”, which was a decision made together with the curator Carlos Quijon Jr. to create an impression of a secret confided with the viewer. As part of this furtive execution, the actual text was made available through a scannable QR code which then would play an audio recording of what was engraved. The narrator whispered:
I saw a video of Oriol Colomar sipping a latte, a woman's finger reaches out for his lips, to wipe away foam left on them. And he proceeds to take her finger in his mouth. He reminds me of you. Perhaps because his gaze is the same as yours, or perhaps because of his eye for color and light that I'm similarly in awe of. Or perhaps it's that gesture of taking in a finger. The same way you would my thumb or my forefinger. I penetrate your mouth as you penetrate me. I feel your tongue as you feel my warmth enveloping around you. At this time when the world is starved for touch, I find myself giving in to the idea of you.
Of thoughts of you and I, my body with your body.
I don't want to want you again. I mustn't.
It would seem that I’d been led to trespass at a crime scene. Was it an act of passion that led to its almost desolate air? No body, no crime, as they say. There was no body, only remnants of longing, the exposition of a woman’s desire filling the air with a palpable weight. At the far north of the exhibit is a lightbox projecting an image of creased and dented pillows on both sides of an empty bed, intimating heads that once would have laid down for respite through undisturbed dreams.
Nextness and Nearness, Lightbox (2022). Image courtesy of the writer.
In another text entitled ‘Notes on a Performance for a Lover,’ the narrator mused,
I would very much like to undress before a lover, to reveal an accoutrement that borders a piece of jewelry and lingerie, made of baroque pearls, and the thinnest golden chains and strings almost invisible against my skin. It will only form an outline of a bralette, triangles that frame breasts
And if it so happens that a string breaks during the throws of stroking, grinding, grabbing, scratching, then let it be so.
Let him find one day, a pearl wedged between the wooden slats of his bedroom floor and another in the shadows underneath his wardrobe. I shall be that tiny gem that has burrowed deep within his memory, that living thing cracked open. Let him remember that night that tasted like seawater, and the woman dripping all over with pearls.
Left: Performance for a Lover, freshwater pearls and gold, stainless steel (2022). Right: I’m right here, satin print (2022). Image courtesy of the writer.
The accoutrement in question was made from freshwater pearls and gold and hangs delicately in a corner, across from it a black couch, where a satin sheet had been cast over the seats with black negligee printed on the surface. How have I always pictured a woman’s desire? Certainly not in pearls and lace undergarments. If I were to exhume my own memories, there would be in my mind’s eye a different scene: a bloodstained sheet, the refrain of gossip, the white-hot hand of shame. Not this. This reclamation, the utterance of passion and tenderness where there used to be only the story of a body’s defilement. These are secrets, unbeknownst to those whose only quest is to possess and parade a woman’s body like hunted game —secrets that through Quinto’s re-staging, though mired by loss, have been divulged. Quinto says: here it is, our desire, luminous. Like a mirage on a river, a mirror reflecting light, or a silvery snake. It is transient, elusive. In the wake of such wanting, there is madness, chaos, and the breaking of strings. It is delicate, violent. We were beside ourselves with want. That precise abandon reminds me of what French philosopher Hélène Cixous in The Laugh of Medusa said: I, too, overflow; my desires have invented new desires, then as well a poem written by the Filipina poet, my professor Marjorie Evasco entitled ‘A Time For Body Prayer’ which ends with:
In the noon-hunger of our eyes
I have known madness and daring
Like lover’s swift limbs flung
Upon a bed of butterfly wings.
lonely is the room continues at Gravity Art Space, located in J2JC+QP9, Mo. Ignacia Avenue, Diliman, Quezon City, until May 27.
Zea Asis is a writer, a contributor for CNN Philippines, and author of the zine, Strange Intimacies: Essays on Dressing Up and Consumption. Tap here to buy her a coffee.