PEARL UBUNGEN Reviews
“Selected Notes, Sources & Acknowledgements” to DOVELION: A Fairy Tale for Our Times by Eileen R. Tabios
(AC Books, New York, 2021)
Working with the constraint of reading the notes to Eileen Tabios’ recently published DoveLion, without reading DoveLion, I approached the notes as a whole body, not an appendage. Letting go of their limited identity as notes, separate but attached, released the temptation to imagine how the notes might be relating to the text, giving spaciousness for this study.
Right away, a whole world opened up. The notes evoke richness and drama tones, and are full of color, forming an intricate, detailed world. I began to consider the notes as a primary source that might offer some glimpses into the inner life of Eileen Tabios. Not so much her “private” life but more peering into the suppleness and flow of her creative/thinking mind.There are so many gems mentioned along the way. A few come to mind: Tabios’, reference to the Dorothy Parker quote, “what fresh hell is this?” while revealing she had formerly attributed the quote to William Shakespeare, the use of the names of her “real life furry babies”, poetry inventions, words at play, and a full spread of seemingly disparate enticing material including high-heeled shoes, pepper torture, Malevich’s black square and money dancing. Going from note to note, some with website links provided, is a kind of raucous journey where starkly distinct geographical, philosophical, mundane and fantastic locales meet at an 14-page crossroads in kaleidoscopic fashion.
Grounded in research mode and considering the notes as primary source, I took time and contemplated the artifacts unearthed. Sometimes a grouping of notes would feel disconnected or distant from one another. Other times entries are so dense and moving that they were their own powerful vignette, stealing the show. One such passage, “Rapunzel, Enrapt” appears on p. 293 and is followed by “Against Disappearance” on p. 294. The notes tell us both are “Rapunzel poems” excerpted from poems in Tabios’ Reproductions of the Empty Flagpole.
As with the Rapunzel poems, notes that referenced Tabios’ writings have a lasting impression. On p. 299 the first four notes refer to previously published works: an edited version of the poem ”The Wire Sculpture”, Tabios’ first book published in 1998, a quote from Tabios’ “Faith in the Time of the Coronavirus” and a last line from Tabios’ poem “I Forgot the Logic of Amnesia”. The revisiting of past writing felt like ceremonial harvests, across time and space. These recurrences dipping back and dreaming forward were captivating and illustrated a vast quality brought into focus through detail and interconnection.
Uncovering the innovation of the form “Hay (na) ku” and the chained reverse hay(na)ku poem “The Significance of Perfume” were among the most treasured treasures. But amidst all the enticing bright moments that twist and turn there are the many references to the Philippines. Tabios’ first note that tells us DoveLion comes from Tabios’ “love for the Philippines…that I refuse to define as loss.” Woven throughout the notes are many entries related to the Philippines, cultural, political, artful…like the name Gabby Slang from Gabriela Silang, and the inversions of lumad and garuda. Some are short like where the adobo recipe came from. And others, like the one taking us into the meaning of kapwa reverberate throughout the body of the notes.
Maraming salamat, Eileen Tabios! These notes feel like kapwa.
Sacred City | pearl ubungen
Occupied Yelamu | San Francisco
10 Noviembre 2021
pearl ubungen began her arts training and performance career with the late, great master artist Ed Mock and was a principal dancer in his last company before Mock’s death of AIDs related causes in 1986. She has also studied ballet with Alonzo King, founder of LINES Ballet, and the late Augusta Moore. Born and raised in San Francisco, Ms. ubungen is a fourth generation Pilipina American, who grew up in San Francisco’s Fillmore and Richmond districts.
During the nineties, Ms. ubungen’s investigations of place/site/memory reinvigorated the field of community-based arts, re-negotiated the boundaries and critical space between activism/art-making/and community engagement, and placed cross-cultural/ intercultural work at the center of the art-making process. Ms. ubungen created many works stemming from her experience of subsequent waves of Pilipino diaspora and her interest in ethnic studies, social history and community engagement. Ms. ubungen founded her company Pearl Ubungen Dancers and Musicians (PUD&M) with Roberto de Haven, saxophonist and minister of the St. John Coltrane Church in San Francisco’s Fillmore district.
Ms. ubungen continues to evolve an embodied artistic praxis called “Diamante” that integrates the view and practice of meditation with improvisation and composition. ubungen is desirous to find/create/support balance between the academic rigor, textuality and extremes of “higher” education with the provocation of lively embodied practices and broader questions of access, mobility/fluidity, and the often times oppressive infrastructure of the built environment.
Ms. ubungen's current collaborations are called: SACRED CITY | pearl ubungen and manifest outside of and occasionally along the fringes of recognized art and performance circles. SACRED CITY | pearl ubungen’s current projects include: Blues Suite, in response to the Atlanta Killings, and Khata: Offering at Lands End, as well as occasional Thursday evening improvisations at the Mercury Cafe with brilliant live music led by percussionist/composer Dave Mihaly.