Crossing Lines

On Tad Ermitaño‘s experiments with interaction and inclusion

Uwang, formerly called “Eye of the Storm”, was shown at the 2015 Art Fair Philippines in a section curated by Erwin Romulo. This image was taken from the artist’s blog: cavemanifesto (

“An art show should not be an insiders’ club,” [says Tad Ermitaño], alluding to over a decade’s worth of circulating within the local scene. “There’s just too much of that here. You always feel like you’re stumbling into someone’s clubhouse.”

Trained in film and video at the Mowelfund Film Institute—along with his studies in Zoology and Philosophy—Ermitaño is a sound designer by trade. Having mastered a broad range of digital and electronic technologies, he is able to manipulate both soft and hardware in his art. Aside from his multimedia installations, Ermitaño also performs as an audiovisual artist, both solo and as part of the experimental media group The Children of Cathode Ray. This interest in the aural was clearly represented in Deus Ex Machina, a series of new and retrospective work that was shown at 1335 Mabini, concurrent with the Art Fair.

The new piece he created for Deus… was Bell – a metal cylinder the size of a small room, named after the inventor of the audio speaker and the telephone, Alexander Graham Bell. Through this venture into sculpture, Ermitaño sees “an alternative future where speakers are not transparent conduits of sonic information, but architectural artifacts that generate specific experiences.” This first iteration of Bell (or Bell 1.0) had an electromagnet held in place by a metal armature or “clapper”. This electromagnetic contraption vibrated against the cylinder at the frequency of a household current, causing it to hum. When touched, the cylinder would sway and wobble, responding to human presence while affecting the sound experienced inside the cylinder, thus generating another cyclic entanglement and another form of call-and-response, similar to that of Uwang.

“A lot of the things I do that I’m happy about succeed on a sort of naïve level. There’s a sensuality,” a curious assertion, considering Ermitaño’s association with the conceptual and experimental – genres not easily identified for having anything to do with the sensuous and visceral. This also seems at odds with his educational background which forms expectations of an artist who is preoccupied with the theoretical and cerebral.

“Art has better things to do than illustrate theory,” he contends, before going on to share his joy at having seen audiences for Uwang jump out of their skin upon finding out they were listening to a nest of larvae. He smiles at the recollection of VCD vendors watching his sound collage, Hulikotekan v. 2.1 (2002), and asking him afterwards why it could not have been longer. “My work has received very visceral reactions from three-year-olds!” he exclaims, echoing the uniform delight he sees when guests interact with his pieces. “They can think about what it means and what it links to, but that sensuousness is what crosses lines.”

This was excerpted from a feature on the artist Tad Ermitaño, written for Art+ magazine, May-June 2015,