The Covenant Monument: A Representation of Nature, Unity and Renewal
The Covenant Monument, by Professor Emeritus Nestor Vinluan, was erected in 2016 within the grounds of Quezon Hall in the University of the Philippines. Etched on its plaque is its reason for being: as a symbolism of the covenant of leaders and citizens with the nation and the world for renewal, unity, peace, and prosperity.
The Covenant occupies the space beside Quezon Hall. Nearby edifices are the College of Music, the Film Center, the UP Theatre, the Carillon, the Ampitheater, and the College of Mass Communication. It is accessible and visible from the street fronting the College of Music. As you traverse the concrete street towards the grass covered earth and into its space among the trees and bushes, you can see spheres strategically placed to depict the colors and flag of the Philippine nation — three spheres: one in red, one in blue, and the other as the sun is in yellow; and three white crossed circular forms to represent the stars. As these forms define and mark the space of the nation, the experience of reality and awareness of spatiality however becomes transforming the moment you walk inwards. Once inside, you enter the space of the transcendental, an abstraction of reality as we know it.
The use of abstraction in The Covenant to depict reality of the natural world —the elements of water, earth, and sky — are in the shape of biomorphic forms and lines such as the spheres and wavy lines. Art historian Ruben Cañete wrote in article that the sphere and mandala have been the recurring themes used by Prof. Vinluan since the 1970s. He has used biomorphic forms to allude to the natural world, and geometric forms to allude to the metaphysics and the mystical. But here, in The Covenant, Prof. Vinluan has achieved a unity of the biomorphic forms with the purposiveness of the mandala, but without the mandala’s clear borders and sharp lines.
From the base, which is reminiscent of the flow of water spiraling downstream towards the earth, you walk up towards the highest level, and inwards to the center of what seems to be Vinluan’s re-presentation of the sphere, a somewhat layering of white spherical form that depict either sky or earth, or maybe energy or an aura in motion that is resonating, reverberating, radiating, expanding outwards. The sphere is opened quadrantal to expose its inner core. By standing at the center, it gives you a feeling of ambivalence of both seclusion and exposition, of calmness and awakening. The four quadrants loom high enough, extending from the ground and its base to almost 8 feet tall, placed at certain angles which conceal you, as if protecting you from the outside world. While at the same time, the re-presentation of the sphere as an opened form has allowed access of view from the inside looking outward, and vise versa which exposes you from the gaze of the outsider and yet exposing the outsider from your gaze as well. As for the feeling of calmness and awakening, could it be because of the whiteness of the quadrants that reflects light stimulating sight and awakening, making things visible; and calmness because of their relative dimension that speak of stability, fixedness and constancy?
The Covenant has invited, even gravitated, people to a place maybe as a rendezvous, a place for conversation or for play. It is also maybe used to momentarily escape from the everyday, or maybe to frolic either alone, with a friend, as a couple or as lovers, or as a group or family. Sometimes, group of students would hold meetings inside the opened sphere. Most times, there would be children frolicking, playing tag or hide and seek, while their parents or guardians watch them, taking selfies and simply enjoy sitting under its shade. The space is almost always never without a mortal creature, even at night when darkness befall its surroundings. It has itself remained well-lighted, as well as the street, and provides flaneurs with benches to lounge and whilst away time. Being erected amidst the trees and breeze of natural air, the Covenant has given the people a public space and an opportunity to immerse in one’s own thoughts or with the company of others while experiencing nature — to be outside and to once again be enchanted, be awoken, and to find our place in the cosmos — an experience that many may find wanting in the urban jungle.
The Covenant also seems to entreat us to re-examine our perception and our senses; to renew our experience sensorially especially now in our contemporary society where we are being bombarded with a multitude of stimuli that dulls our senses. As Susan Sontag says, “What is important now is to recover our senses. We must learn to see more, to hear more, to feel more.” And what better place could there be to escape the noisy, vacuous, faux-stimulus of the digital world but outside with nature? And what better way of conversation could there be but an actual, physical, live, face-to-face communication and interaction with others and with nature? With that reflection, Vinluan, through The Covenant, succeeded in conveying his vision on unity and renewal, and to an extent even an experience of the divinity. As the Convenant Monument gravitates people to itself, it has harnessed its energy to promote harmony and goodness that steep, percolate, and perfuse in nature and humanity; and, a sense of wholeness, comfort, fulfillment, hope and peace that we can find from within our “self”, and amongst us as a nation, with the world, and with nature.