There Once is the multimedia, immersive narrative of Rena Santillo, a conflicted young woman who is having a special sort of mental breakdown.



Rena Santillo has molded herself into an isolated, cold workaholic whose fear of rejection and failure caused her to stamp out anything that would jeopardize her professional future - especially the imagination and family traditions that so inspired her as a child.

However, invoked by the traumatic news of her grandmother’s sudden death, visions of two imaginary beings from her childhood (her best friend Rafi and nemesis Agta) appear to Rena. Through this unique mental breakdown, they shake her out of her pragmatic, severely controlled lifestyle and force her to acknowledge and reevaluate her fears, emotions, and memories. Her reconnection with her estranged Filipino family and its stories, which inspired the creatures in the first place, aids in her emotional reawakening and rediscovery of the people and things that shaped her. 



As she is experiencing these visions and deciphering what they are trying to tell her, hyper-organized Rena begins to record her thoughts and discoveries via blog and audio diary clips, which allow her to sort and analyze her experiences in an efficient and effective way, and calms her.

There Once can also be viewed as an audiovisual and sculptural installation by Ella Romero in New York City in July 2017, as part of the thesis exhibition for the School of Visual Arts' MFA in Visual Narrative. In addition to accessing the blog and audio diary curated directly by Rena online, viewers can explore Rena's "memory palace", manifested as a collection of drawers, nooks, and objects imbued with the scattered (and sometimes, buried) memories formed throughout her life - an imaginary curiosity cabinet.

Ella's artist website

Ella on the MFA Visual Narrative website