ACMI + Asia TOPA Commission
Ex Nililang is a cumulative performance video project by artist collective Club Ate, founded by Sydney-based artists Justin Shoulder and Benji Ra.
Drawing on the artists’ shared Australian-Filipino ancestry, the Ex Nilalang project explores queer mythological figures from the Filipino diaspora and seeks to transform existing Filipino mythologies that were once used to demonise queer identities by colonial powers. ‘Nilalang’, which means both ‘to create’ and ‘creature’, describes the work’s transformation of existing mythologies and its imagining of future folklore. Using intricately crafted costumes, prostheses, masks, movement and sound, the artists transform their bodies into fantastical otherworldly creatures. The first three episodes, Balud, Dyesebel, and Lolo ex Machina, were commissioned by Queensland Art Gallery / Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane for the Asia Pacific Triennial 8 2015-2016, and the fourth episode, titled Ex Nilalang, was commissioned by ACMI and Arts Centre Melbourne for Asia TOPA.
Ex Nilalang presents a contemporary adaptation of the Filipino myth of Maganda and Malakas, which tells the story of the birth of the Philippines. For the commission, Shoulder and Ra worked with composer Corin Ileto, video artist Tristan Jalleh and costume designer Matt Stegh to create a virtual realm called ‘Skyworld.’ Inhabited by newly-imagined representations of Maganda and Malakas – depicted as male and female in the original myth – this realm appears as a future world in which the symbolism of the past has been deconstructed and reconceived. In this world, time, space, gender and identity are as fluid as the atmosphere in which they exist.
Ex Nilalang is supported by the KMATS Endowment Fund and Arts Centre Melbourne for Asia TOPA.
Asia TOPA is a joint initiative of the Sidney Myer Fund and Arts Centre Melbourne and is supported by the Australian and Victorian Governments.
About the creators
Justin Shoulder works in live performance, photography and video and is particularly known for his spectacular performances based around his highly developed 'Fantastic creatures', invented beings and alter-egos based on ancestral mythologies intersecting cultural and queer lineages. His practice has its roots in nightclubs and underground live venues and still retains the collective energy of these spaces.
Bhenji Ra is a dance and installation artist whose work also has a foundation in clubs and alternative spaces. Her work explores identity, otherness and representation, with a focus on practices that have emerged outside Western, patriarchal, hetero-normative systems. Benji studied dance at the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance in NY, and completed a Bachelor of Dance at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts.
Public programs manager Natasha Gadd interviews Club Ate masterminds Justin Shoulder and Bhenji Ra.