× Shop Archive About about contact jobs magazine advertising terms & conditions privacy policy Follow Instagram Facebook

Not an answer, but a sense of future: meet Joshua Serafin

Meet the creator of PEARLS, performing June 11-12th at Frascati for Holland Festival

This year, Holland Festival is inviting us to the enchanting performance of Filipino artist Joshua Serafin. A fusion of dance, singing, and theatre, PEARLS is the third part of the Cosmological Gangbang trilogy, where Serafin explores a pre-colonial state of the Philippines where bodies lived without binary ideals. PEARLS is not just a performance; it is a healing exercise for the performers Joshua Serafin, Lukresia Quismundo, and Bunny Cadag, aiming to rewrite history and speculate a possible future by conjuring reveries where the body transforms into the divine. We had the chance to catch up with Joshua, chatting about what it means to be a creator, the making of PEARLS, and what it means to perform such a piece at Holland Festival. A true MUST-SEE, PEARLS is an essential performance sparking conversations about pre-colonial bodies, nature, and healing. Performing on 11th-12th June at Frascati, don’t miss the chance to experience PEARLS live!

Hey, hey, how are you today?
I’m good!! I was just in Venice last week and now I’m in Austria. So from a very busy place to a super quiet one, I am slowly adapting to the contrast.

So busy! I want to know a little more about you. So you graduated in the Philippines, then you moved to Hong Kong, and eventually Belgium. Can you talk to me more about the experience of spending your formative years as an artist in all sorts of different places?
I left my hometown when I was 12. I attended the Philippine High School for the Arts, which was a boarding school, so I have kind of always been on the road. Then after I graduated I started travelling, kind of understanding what I wanted to do, and ended up in China for a dance and martial arts workshop. Later on, I found my way into Hong Kong where I studied contemporary dance, moved to Brussels to study dance in PARTS, but then I went back to the Philippines for a year during COVID and later on finished my bachelor’s and master’s in Fine Arts at KASK. I would say that this movement, this migration, this being in different spaces, translates into the practice that I do, which is a body that is constantly displaced. You know, not belonging to one cultural identity, but engaging in and adapting to different cultural entities and identities. It allowed me to have a bit more global sense of what is in the East and also what is in the West.

And with all these roles you’ve seen and experienced, where would you place yourself in this scene now?
It’s all very complex but also incredibly resonates with my work and my identity, being in between, being fluid. So I would say that there’s a hybridity of ideologies that I have gathered on different landscapes and definitely different cultural backgrounds.

And of course, there is some level of adapting, but also accepting, you know?
Yeah, it’s a lot of letting go. I mean, living in the Philippines and going into Hong Kong made me understand what Filipino identity was. Then, moving to Europe allowed me to understand how formulated I am in an Asian society and what kind of ideologies I am shifting myself into, being in the Western landscape, which is specifically Brussels. So when I had just moved to Europe, I dealt with a huge artistic question which was like, how do I liberate myself from systems that have been placed upon me?

And did you find the answer?
I mean, we never really escape. One of my teachers in PARTS told me that you can’t liberate yourself from systems. And I was like, but “I want to, at least to try”. But then you realise we can to a certain degree. Proposing different acts of liberation from systems became quite a question. I hope we can, but we really cannot, unless we do something very radical about it.

For Holland Festival, you’re performing PEARLS, which is the final piece of a trilogy called Cosmological Gangbang. Take me through this trilogy.
It’s a piece where I try to define all the practices that I have accumulated, and inspirations and images that I’ve gone through as a person, as an artist, as a human being. But this is all based on a history of the Philippines, very much inspired by indigenous practices and the pre-colonial narratives. We have shamans, known as Babaylan and many other names based on the region in the Philippines. They are both spiritual healers and the physical healers of the community and can communicate with higher and non-physical beings. They are capable of leading the community towards a certain kind of direction. But also knowledge about healing. Life and nature and spirituality, these ideologies are very much linked within the Filipino landscape, especially outside the city. 

Going back to our Babaylans, throughout history these figures have been third-gendered or gender-neutral entities. So binary identity or binary thinking has been placed because of Western ideologies. And for this cosmology, it hopes to propose a world that is beyond the binary system that is in place. Trying to be in a state of undefinable. The otherness, which queer identities have always been navigating. Posing the question: “if the Philippines, and all communities had time to develop our own cultural histories and identities and kept our religion and kept our practices, what would that have been now?” Because the West had time to develop their own culture, I mean, their society. And I guess for me, the inspiration is, what if we had our own time? What if it wasn’t disrupted into something else? And what PEARLS is proposing is not an answer, but a sense of future.

You said you’ve been working on this trilogy for a long time. Was it always meant to be one, a trilogy? Or did you build it from your first work?
Yeah, the thing is, my first work MISS was about the queer identities in the Philippines, in relation to beauty pageants. I was trying to deconstruct gender, what it means to be a woman but also subjecting myself very much into the representation. In MISS I wasn’t conscious about how my body is seen in the space, especially as a brown performing body. For PEARLS and Void and The Soul of Cosmology, I wanted to make a work that goes beyond my physiology, goes beyond what is immediately seen, and make a work specifically for my people. For example, there was a clear choice not to translate to English if we were speaking Tagalog and Hiligaynon on stage. If you want to fully understand, study our language. We were always accustomed to adapting and learning English. In PEARLS there was a resistance to do that.

Cosmology was always meant to be a trilogy, but it really started from a personal anecdote, as it came from a very huge pain in my life. During COVID I was not in a good place mentally and I was going through a not-so-good relationship and I think for me to be able to survive that very dark period was to go back into my history myself. And as the year went by, I started going to therapy, I wanted to talk about healing, and I discovered that even the darkest things in the darkest spaces are also a space of creation. So I turned that kind of energetic pain into something a bit more beautiful. Also with Bunny and Lukresia, my collaborators. We share the pain.

As a healing exercise, PEARLS presents a lot of elements from nature and it’s a very spiritual healing exercise. How do you see these three elements interact when you perform?
With this performance, we really try not to perform it. Half of the creation was made in the Philippines, and during our rehearsals, we would start our day with the sea, we’d go to the beach, and stay in the sun. Then we’d go to the studio and work a little bit. We also visited the Manobo-Talaandig tribe in Bukidnon, which is an indigenous community that have kept their practices for the past centuries. We were invited to their space and we came and we saw, we felt, but we didn’t come there to just learn their story, but we came there to feel how it is to be in the presence of the community. Because gender, spirituality, body, and nature is one thing within the community. There is this deep feeling and sensation being in their ancestral land. It’s not so easy to describe, but you know that there are powerful energies living there and you can feel it. That experience and sensation is what we try to carry when we perform.

I find it also interesting how much your work is about researching and going through different archives and really trying to research the history. So I want to ask you about the title because PEARLS comes from both Spanish missionary Delgado’s “Perla de Oriente”, referring to the Philippines, but also from “Perla del Mar de Oriente,” which is the verse of a poem from José Rizal, a Filipino national hero. So there’s kind of this duality in the title. Plus the fact being that a pearl is a natural resource.
I mean, first of all I love pearls ahah. It’s more about the historical context. The Philippines wasn’t really a country. It was all separated islands with their own sultanate. Then Spain came and made it the Philippines, calling it Pearl of the Orient seas. But for me, it’s really the image of a pearl. Pearls are made from the breeze of sand that enters an oyster or a shell that protects and coats itself from the alien going inside it and forming into a very beautiful organic thing. And it’s my same ideology, how this work was made. How humans convert all of these pains and struggles in forming something beautiful and organic. It is a calcification of materials that shouldn’t be inside that becomes something beautiful.

You mentioned how with PEARLS, you want to kind of give back to your communities. I mean, you’ve done research, and there is a history of the Philippines that you want to share, as a way that, to my understanding, is portrayed to liberate from or reclaim a past. So how do you think that PEARLS interacts with these communities?
I really try to propose these bodies, which are queer brown trans bodies, and locate them in places we haven’t had access to. For me, it’s about putting these bodies in spaces that were taken from us. But at the same time, we shifted away from using queer or trans as wording because it also creates this violence by subjecting these bodies to certain conditions. As a maker, I am very aware of creating a work that doesn’t only subject what these bodies are, but goes beyond to see what stories and capacities these bodies have experienced and what we want to say.

Absolutely! And that also kind of ties with the idea of not just performing, but exercising and experiencing…
It’s a lived experience of these bodies who are in a certain space, but also a lived experience of many people in the world who have these kinds of bodies and narratives.

What do you hope the audience takes away from the performance?
It always goes back to awareness. Awareness of a certain narrative that is maybe beyond the narratives that we have. Learning about our own equalities and injustices that are happening beyond our cities, beyond our countries, beyond a continent. And to acknowledge our own positionalities, basically. But most importantly, it’s to care actually. To care a bit more.

So beautiful! And are you excited to perform it at the Holland Festival?
I’m so excited. I love Amsterdam!

Do you have any exercises to put you in the headspace before you go on stage?
We have our own practices. We light incense, we sing together and send our prayers to entities that are not in the physical realm to guide us into the performance.

Are there any upcoming projects that we should be on the lookout for?
I’m writing a new trilogy. But I’m taking my time in 2024 to really research and also 2025 to slowly research, but I’m still figuring out how I want it to be.

Super nice. Is there a question that you wish to be asked more? If so, what would the answer be?
Oh my god, that is such a hard thing. I don’t know. Actually, if someone just asked me on a date, that would be great ahaha.

Such a perfect answer!! Lastly, what are your hopes for the future, for yourself and for the world?
We want a kinder world. We want a world that gives justice to bodies, not just to one kind of body, but for all kinds of bodies. And I hope people would speak up, you know? What I hope for myself is a bit more space to dream and to surf. And to rest!

But also hopefully I’ll be able to arrive in a space where I can offer more to the community.


Words by Agata Villa
Holland Festival
June 11th-12th @ Frascati
Find tickets here