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2017 Thesis Presentations: Ella Romero’s ‘There Once’

THERE, ONCE: Online blog, audio clips, multimedia installation

As a child, Rena Santillo had an active imagination inspired by the colorful heritage of her Filipino immigrant family, shared with her through the stories and art of her beloved grandmother. Her imaginary best friend, and even the demon most present in her nightmares, were parts of the world she created at home without fear of judgment. However, as Rena outgrows this safe bubble, she becomes ashamed of the stories and imagination that seem more childish than valuable, shutting them away completely to focus on her burgeoning architectural career.

The shock of her grandmother’s sudden death causes her childhood imaginary creatures to reappear and Rena panics, finding herself back at her family home and thinking she has lost both her career and her mind. Surrounded by objects, faces, and memories, not only embarrassing but now also painful, she begins to document her daily experiences in an attempt to regain control of herself. In doing so, she realizes the value of celebrating and sharing the memories she had once tried to bury.

Viewers can navigate Rena’s fragmented mental space alongside her by reading and listening to her blog, a mix of her own careful documentation, and unconscious—sometimes buried—memories. These become physical symbols collected and organized in Rena’s mind. The accompanying gallery installation draws inspiration from memory palaces and curiosity cabinets, inviting the audience to view Rena’s memory objects and form their own experience of her narrative.

Ella Romero is an illustrator and first-generation Filipino-American. There Once explores the traditions and idiosyncrasies of her family, its culture, and their e ect on her. It is dedicated to her late grandparents, Carmen and Rafael, and to her mother Rowena—from whom she learned to love storytelling.


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