“That was one of the happiest moments of my life,” 75-year-old Junyee recalls of the day he, as a college student at the University of the Philippines, took nearly every one of his earthly possessions and set them all on fire. “I felt so liberated!”
It marked the start of a creative awakening, for it was also around this time that he came up with his first installation on the school grounds, followed by an outdoor exhibit at Luneta Park. This was back in the 1970s, and no one had yet introduced installation art to Southeast Asia—as such, Junyee has been hailed the Father of Installation Art in the country. Now, his groundbreaking work has been detailed in a new book titled Installations: Wood Things, his first published compendium in a career that has spanned more than 40 years.Another area in which Junyee is a pioneer: his inclination toward minimalism. From that fateful day when he burned almost everything he owned, he has maintained a rotation of just three pairs of pants, three slippers, and three shoes. T-shirts, he does own a few (many of which are corporate giveaways), but he never shops for clothes and even eats with restraint. “I eat for sustenance, not gluttony,” he says, claiming that he takes after his mom, who likewise adhered to a simple life. He opens up about the wisdom behind embracing a minimalist lifestyle and, judging by the bright and lively glow in his eyes, it’s easy to believe he has found the secret to true happiness and success.
Less stuff, less stress. “All the things that you own have strings attached to your soul. That’s why modern people are so tense, so stressed, because they have many strings attached to them—cars, properties. I have very few strings, and I use a very small amount of energy being concerned and worried about those things. I’m a free soul. I don’t have ’yung, naiinggit sa iba. I’ve never had that. Naiinggit ako kapag may isang artist and ang ganda-ganda ng work niya, but other things, it’s okay with me.”Think necessity, not pleasure. “I have no email, no Facebook, nothing. It’s a bother to me. Also, eating is a bother for me. Even with food, I am a minimalist. I eat anything, but in moderation; basta busog na ako, okay na ako. If you are a rich man and you can afford to buy 10 cars but you only need one, please buy only one, because what’s the use of nine more cars? It’s because you want—want is endless. Just take what you need.”
It’s not a trend. “I think I was the first environmentalist, long before environmentalism was a fad. But I’m not doing it as a fad. I am doing it because I’m comfortable with it. If you are aware of what environmentalism is, you will reduce everything. Clean living is respect to Mother Earth, because everything you buy or use came from this world. There’s no other planet except this planet, and most of our resources are finite. You are treating the world with respect, and you are contributing to maintaining the environment, which is good for human beings.”Remember Henry David Thoreau. “‘And then I let it lie, fallow, perchance, for a man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.’ That’s a quote from Thoreau, one of the earliest environmentalists. I cannot express minimalism better than that. For me, it’s a natural tendency. I am not a lecturer; I don’t convince people that they should do this kind of thing. All I can do is tell them that this is a better way of living. It’s very personal to me, and it makes sense, really. If everybody would just reduce their needs and live simply… I’m not saying live ugly, you know. You can be beautiful with simplicity.”
Produced by Alyssa Castillo
Photography by Renzo Navarro
INSTALLATIONS: WOOD THINGS IS ON A LIMITED PRINT RUN OF 500 COPIES, AND IS AVAILABLE AT SOLIDARIDAD BOOKSHOP, PADRE FAURA, MANILA; 254-1068.