By Nickky Faustine P. de Guzman

ARTIST Mark Justiniani’s latest installation, called The Settlement, invites the audience into a mirrored room where 90% of what’s inside is an illusion.
But there is more to his art than meets the eye, figuratively as well as literally.

The experiential artwork requires one person at a time to stand in the middle of the three dimensional box of mirrors. Stepping onto the center of the glassed floor requires courage, because below one’s feet is what looks like an inescapable black hole. Mr. Justiniani’s smart placement of lighting and mirrors evoke the nauseating feeling of a free fall. The 12x15x11-foot piece is not quite finished yet — Mr. Justiniani told BusinessWorld during a visit on Feb. 7 that he will still add a bed of flowers below.

“Imagine you have flowers at your feet, how are you feeling? What does it remind you of?” he said. The intention is for the audience to feel like they are stepping on a grave — specifically, the grave of former President and dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos, who was recently buried at Libingan ng mga Bayani amid great public protest.


The artist was commissioned by the nonprofit organization Center for Art, New Ventures, and Sustainable Development (CANVAS) to touch on something about Martial Law. Mr. Justininani’s box uses social and political references to send messages about Martial Law, the roots of conflicts, our notion of nation, and the challenges we face as a people. The artwork is a clever play on philosophy, physics, and politics.

On the left side of the box is a small figure of revolutionary hero Andres Bonifacio and tools like a hammer and jigsaw. On the right side is a simulation of the Malacañan Palace hall where cabinet meetings are held. The artist said he was surprised to learn that it is called Aguinaldo Hall, which has layers of meanings, he said.

The country’s first President, Emilio Aguinaldo, ordered the execution of Bonifacio and his brother Procopio, claiming that they endangered his life and the ongoing revolution against Spain. Although he wasn’t in the same level as Mr. Marcos, Aguinaldo was a scheming leader, a dictator, and eventually, a Japanese collaborator. With the help of lights and mirrors, both sides of the glass box should reflect each other when you look at them — Mr. Justiniani said he wanted the ghost of Bonifacio be reflected inside Aguinaldo Hall. The result is eerie.

Meanwhile, when you look ahead, you will see your reflection and an illusion of an infinite bridge. “What does the future bring?” Mr. Justiniani invites people to reflect.

“We are encouraged to take the risk and cross the bridge,” he said.

To be set up outside Makati’s Ayala Museum from Feb. 13 to 19, the artwork during BusinessWorld’s visit was still in the process of finishing and editing. “I’ll add more objects,” said its creator — he plans to include a ticking clock to signify that time is running out. It may also suggest that something is about to explode. He will also add a mystical creature, which he calls “Manananggol,” which will be placed opposite Bonifacio.

He was still pondering over things and is afraid that it might get too overwhelming.

“That is a concern every time I do art. The challenge is to go beyond the initial amusement and shock,” he said when asked of the dangers of artworks that initially surprise and challenge the viewer’s curiosity — they may fail to move an audience to deeper thought.

“While the others will get the meanings spot on, but for this work, I think not, because they are dared to cross the bridge. I’m not sure, but I hope that they think of the issues. Because now you are in the middle of conflict, and we need to cross this period, so we can go ahead. I think that people will get it since you wont see the ghosts unless you stand in the middle.” He said in a mix of English and Filipino

“This is the hope. I am not sure. The danger is they may just be amused,” he said.

But then again, the art installation, gives many clues to its meaning, and we should also give credit to the audience.

After its exhibition at Ayala, The Settlement will be relocated at the UP Sunken Garden where it will be open from Feb. 22 to 25 to coincide the commemoration of People Power Revolution.