Michelle Dizon’s “Perpetual Peace,” an eight-channel video installation at the 18th Street Arts Center, tackles an enormous subject—globalization in the Philippines—with stirring conviction, even as it stumbles occasionally into sentiment.
Born and raised in Los Angeles to parents who left the Philippines during the Marcos dictatorship, Dizon is at her best in the conscientious juxtaposition of image and fact. The installation is dominated by a large and beautifully tranquil image of a cloud-skirted Mt. Pinatubo, a volcano whose 1991 eruption hastened the evacuation of a pair of nearby American military bases, as we are told in one of several voiceovers. Fragments of footage on the other screens, meanwhile, subtly outline the social, economic and environmental effects of neocolonialism. We see young girls studying within the bullet-riddled walls of an Islamic school; workers processing bananas at a Dole factory; a cemetery swarming with crowds on the day of the dead; and US AID signs demarcating development projects “constructed with the assistance of the American people.”
Less persuasive are those moments when Dizon reaches beyond the images for poetry. Over the Mt. Pinatubo footage, she intones: “I ask the clouds for guidance and they reply, stand close to yourself, ask the contours of time to evolve.” What exactly are the contours of time? How are likely are they to “evolve” at our request? In the attempt to temper fact with lyricism, she succeeds only in scattering an otherwise powerful narrative with vacuous tidbits. The facts speak lyrically enough for themselves.