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The Heron’s Secret: Maxine Syjuco as a Performance Artist

by Danny Castillones Sillada

 Maxine Syjuco

“Surely all art is the result of one's having been in danger, of having gone through an experience all the way to the end, where no one can go any further.”

~ Rainer Maria Rilke 

When a heron walks before sundown on the rice field during summer, it is like a mythic figure that glimmers from a distance. The heron's dainty steps, delicate white plumage, well-defined long neck, and tapering bill emanate mystical elegance, as though a goddess walks down from her celestial garden to greet the mortals. 

Gentle and placid, the heron will tiptoe to meet the king of the rice field – the carabao or water buffalo. Slowly, she will woo the farmer’s best friend that wallows on the sludge to let it perch on its back and pick the pestering insects on its mired skin. After completing a seemingly choreographed ritual, the heron will take off and flail against the wind, then return later to perform the same ceremony until the carabao ascends from its muddy pool to masticate the grass on the rice paddies.  Then the heron will fly away and disappear from the rice farm without a trace. No one will know where it goes or hides – a stealthy act that only the heron keeps to itself. 

Maxine Syjuco has an inexplicable secret as a multimedia artist of outstanding accomplishment. Like the mystical presence of a heron, Maxine epitomizes amiability, gentleness, and elegance. At times, she can be girlish, sweet and naïve. But behind that seemingly fragile persona is a complex Maxine – bold, unpredictable, compassionate, and highly creative and intelligent. 

Her presence, as either a witness or a performer to any art gathering, evokes an iconic image, a class by herself that needs neither sycophancy nor embellishment. She simply exudes wherever she goes, and she fashions her art as though no one could ever create it but herself. When performing in front of the audience, she unleashes her creative power with grace and elegance – suave, sophisticated and electrifying. 

For instance, in her entrancing performance at the CCP (Cultural Center of the Philippines) organized by the TUPADA (literally means “cockpit”), she performed her poem with her band  “Utakan” with husband and wife duo Aegee Syjuco on lead guitar and Mica on the synthesizer and a Filipino abstractionist Egai Roxas on the percussion.Maxine at Tupada

Clad in sleeveless white shirt, necktie, checkered miniskirt with dangling red feathers around her waist, and white boots, Maxine delivered a powerful poem with a sword, literally, as if a Joan of Arc engaging in a battle, albeit in a live performance in front of the audience. Titled “Guantanamo Love,” the performance piece is an allusion to the Guantanamo Bay prison camp in Cuba, a US military prison infamous for allegedly interrogating and torturing its prisoners without fair trial. 

After delivering her poem, Maxine waded out into an open space surrounded by the audience, clutching and flailing a fencing sword with panache. In one corner of the CCP hall is a glass panel and in the middle, are balloons attached on printed dart circles.  At the other side of the panel, are Maxine’s collaborators, some TUPADA members, standing and anticipating for her ritualistic fencing movement.  In a flamboyant gesture, she intermittently pierces an array of hanging balloons that contain red liquid. One by one, they burst and splatter like blood on the floor. 

Her spellbinding performance mesmerizes the audience and fellow performers from France, Germany, Singapore, Japan, and the Philippines.  

She just created a riveting symbolic act, which is analogous to the execution of the prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay. In the form of the balloons, she stages a mock play by stabbing them one by one with the slender sword in a random manner, thus revealing a heinous reality, extant at the other side of the world, to be pondered upon by the audience. 

Filipino writer, poet and fictionist Alfred “Krip” Yuson described that particular performance as “a combination of fresh, dynamic text with theatrical flair in bold delivery to reward us with unique, cutting-edge art in transcendent awareness. She pushes the envelope with her conceptual approach to expressing her ideas in motion.” 

Equally compelling is the performance that she did during this writer’s one-week art event at The Podium in Mandaluyong City in 2006. Based on her poem titled “In a Box,” she collaborated with this writer with no prior rehearsal; we only communicated through text messages on what to do during the presentation. Unbeknownst to each other, we respectively planned a secret performative act that we would be unveiled later in the midst of our performative acts. 

Danny and Maxine

In a Box, live art performance by Maxine Syjuco with Danny Castillones Sillada, photo by Marge Francia.

As the series of our actions heightened toward the end, I held her delicate left hand and slid it slowly through the black long-sleeve of my right arm.  For a while, that particular moment seemed timeless amid the silent crowd that breathlessly anticipated our next move. Maxine, who was blindfolded, was not aware that I hid something inside my sleeve. 

Slowly and steadily, I pulled her hand with a red flower that suddenly appeared like magic. After I removed the blindfold from her eyes, she realized that she was holding a fresh rose in her hand. Then, in an instinctual segue, Maxine surprisingly put the rose inside her mouth, pulled the stem with a relatively harsh force, and spit out the red petals into the air that fell like coagulated drops of blood on her naked feet. To the audience’s delight, they applauded with mesmeric and gratified look on their faces. 

Our action was unrehearsed from the beginning, yet our unified act surges with seamless spontaneity toward the climatic end of the performance. The poetic act that she created leaves a cathartic effect on the viewers. It was like a cleansing ritual, casting away the “busaw” (evil spirit) that lurks between the audience and the performer by letting the positive spell of the mana’og (Mandaya spirit god) reign against the negative forces of evil. 

Conversely, the substance of her art, particularly her live art performances, sums up the “katharsis” of the Aristotelian principle on aesthetics. Maxine’s art, in general, is a dialectical process of purification, allowing the audience to sensually experience its metaphysical symbol and meaning, and then come up with an aesthetic resolution toward the end to be relished and reflected upon by the same audience. 

Maxine's Art

(1) Photography, (2) Mixed-Media, and (3) Sculpture by Maxine Syjuco

Born in 1984 in Manila to the famous artist-parents, Cesare A.X. Syjuco and Jean-Marie Syjuco, Maxine R. Syjuco carved her own niche as a published poet, musician, photographer, and conceptual, installation and performance artist. Her father, a literary iconoclast, is a highly acclaimed Filipino multimedia artist, a prizewinning painter and poet, and art critic in the earlier period of his artistic and literary career. 

While her mother, Jean-Marie Syjuco, a painter, installation and conceptual artist, and an active performance artist in the 1980s, is behind all the Cesare A.X. Syjuco art events, organizing exhibits with regular live art performances that are participated by poets, musicians, and performance artists. 

It was during the regular art events of her parents that Maxine honed her talents and began to shine as a multimedia artist. At a very young age of eleven, she started her career in music as the drummer of FAUST, a famous teenage band composed of the Syjuco siblings in the early 1990s. Gifted with beauty, artistic ingenuity, and intelligence, she is also a commercial model appearing in numerous glossy magazines, fashion and situational photo shoots. 

Like the reticent heron that vanishes without a trace after performing its avian ritual on the rice field, Maxine disappears into her secret lair, after an art exhibit or live performance, to hatch and create again the varied forms and mediums of her aesthetics. Then, out of nowhere, she will reappear and shine again with the mystical allure of her opulent creation. 


Danny Castillones Sillada is a Filipino multidisciplinary artist, philosopher, writer, and art critic.


Published in Manila Bulletin, June 18, 2012, Lifestyle Section (Arts & Culture): p. E1-E3. 


Posted by Danny C. Sillada on 6/18/12 | tags: digital photography modern conceptual performance installation mixed-media abstract painting danny sillada art review Maxine Syjuco asian art art in the Philippines sculpture mixed-media performance

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