BY MADS BAJARIAS | Sometime in the 1990s I started seeing graffiti in the public areas of Manila signed "Salen-Ga." On the Megamall pedestrian overpass, for instance, was this message written by hand with black permanent marker:
Salen-Ga, A Filipino, discovered that the Electron is actually PositiveThis was flanked by drawings of the atom and it always made me feel better (someone's crazier than me!). As graffiti, Salen-ga's work was never threatening or posturing. They were just weird and fun with a (well-meaning but misplaced) nationalist bent. His graffiti was, um, positive.
What's remarkable is that I've since forgotten the stuff written in the many huge splashy billboards costing thousands of pesos to create and displayed outside Megamall, yet this hand-written assertion by Salen-ga will forever be etched in my brain.
In keeping with his "positive" vibe, a series of "win" writings that appeared one election period was attributed to him. The graffiti all had the word "win" in them.
I was told that his handiwork appeared more frequently near U-Belt. In another one I saw, someone had added "GO" after "Salen-Ga" to make "Salen-GaGO." Ack, a critic!
Because of Salen-ga I began paying closer attention to hand-written messages on walls everywhere. Once, in Quezon City I saw what looked like the signature of the Zodiac killer and immediately wondered if Salen-ga had done it.
Years passed and I forgot about Salen-ga as I stopped walking the Megamall overpass (the Q-Mart overpass near where I live has disappointingly uninspiring graffiti and is Salen-ga free, so far).
Then recently, I came across a blog by Seoph Martinez called "Pinoy Isulong."
Martinez wrote about his student days in Manila and how he used to see the Salen-ga street jottings on his way to school. Quite a few left comments on the site and one reported seeing (comment was left in 2006) the following in Quiapo:
The world is actually flat Salen-GaWhat's astounding is that Salen-ga posted comments in the blog. I don't know if it was the man himself but it sure sounds like him (a guy who's given outer space a lot of thought). Below is a message purportedly from Salen-ga and which was posted in Seoph Martinez's blog.
Salen-ga himself says:Since I know absolutely nothing about physics (except that the electron's negative charge was proven in the early parts of the 20th century by non-Pinoys), I don't know what to think about his eccentric interpretations on the nature of light.
the intrinsic coolness of infra red sunlight- i have discovered that
SUNLIGHT BECOMES HEAT ONLY UPON CONTACT WITH MATTER BASED ON TWO OBSERVATIONS WHICH I SUBMITTED TO D U.S. LIBRARY OF CONGRESS.
1.OUTER SPACE IS A VACUUM WHICH DOES NOT ALLOW HEAT TO PASS THROUGH. IF IT DOES,THROW AWAY ALL YOUR THERMOS BOTTLES.
2.THE TEMPERATURE OF OUTER SPACE IS SO COLD IT CREATES SNOW,MOUNTAIN ICE CAPS AND ICEBERGS IN THE NORTH POLE; SO STEEL HARD, IT SUNK THE TITANIC! INFRA RED OR HEAT RAYS AS SCIENTIST CALL IT IS INTRINSICALLY COOL (WITHOUT TEMPERATURE). GLOBAL WARMING ON EARTH IS LOCALLY MADE BY COOL SUNLIGHT! MALAMIG ANG SINAG NG ARAW.
But as street art, his work has a cult following and is, so far, memorable.
In the "Pinoy Isulong" blog, veteran street photographer JM Chua posted a link to his photo "Salen-ga." For me, this was akin to seeing a photo of Bigfoot. For a long time, Salen-ga to me was this semi-mythical madman who scribbled cryptic things on walls around Manila but no one ever caught him doing it. Yes, I've heard stories about how people have seen him ramble on about electrons on board buses and jeepneys but no one had ever taken a photo and posted them for the public to see.
In Chua's photo, taken during a huge anti-Arroyo rally, we see Salen-ga holding his hand-made placards and the seriousness of his expression is a measure of his self-belief. It tells us how resolute he must be in defense of his own wacky theories. There's something quixotic about such confidence in one's certainty. Such persistence in the face of ridicule.
JM Chua sheds some light about "Salen-ga."
Congratulations on the photo of the mysterious Salen-ga. Do you know of any other photographer who've taken his picture?
JC: I took his photo during a demonstration in Mendiola. There were a lot of photographers in the area during that time. I'm sure at least one other person could have taken his photo.
What kit did you use for this?
JC: It was a digital camera, a Fuji S6000fd.
How long have you been taking photos?
JC: I became interested when digital photography started gaining popularity some 5-6 years ago.
Is photography a professional thing with you, or a hobby?
JC: It's a hobby, although I do wish it can pay the bills.
Where can people go to see your work?
JC: Most of my photos are in Flickr. Sometimes, I also upload photos (usually events) in my Multiply page.
What photo clubs do you belong to?
JC: I'm a member of flickristasindios. This group is composed of people from all walks of life whose common denominator is the love of photography. There's really no structure and people are very open and tolerant when it comes to expressing ideas, and this lends dynamisn to the group.
I'm also an administrator for Street Pilipinas. This group is still in its infancy, but the goal is to have a place for Filipino street photographers to display their work.
What did you know about Salen-ga prior to taking his photo?
JC: I didn't really know much about him. To be honest, I thought "Salen-Ga" was a group of radical Filipino scientists.
What do you think of Salen-ga after meeting him in the flesh?
JC: I went "s'ya na ba 'yun?" I guess I was expecting the stereotype mad-scientist image of an old man with frizzy white hair wearing a dirty lab coat.
When I was taking his photo, he asked me if I was working for a group or an organization. I told him that I was just an enthusiast, and this prompted him to tell me that the local media wouldn't show the world his works, that everyone is conspiring to silence him, and that the North Pole is gay. In the short time that we talked I found him to be interesting, to say the least.