writings, projects and exhibitions of Clarissa Chikiamco

Friday, April 27, 2007


So sorry I haven't posted in a while as I've been so busy writing. The next Metro Home issue will feature 5 pieces from me (3 galleries, 1 on Tata Montilla who does faux finishes and 1 on a lecture on Philippine Muslim Art at Lopez Museum) plus I'm working on a piece for Metro Society too (Leandro Locsin).

The Larasati Auction catalogue is OUT! :) I wrote the section on Philippine art, the collection organized by Artesan Private Limited headed by director Roberta Dans Thomas. I haven't been able to get my hands on the catalogue yet but I will during my trip to Singapore this weekend. Exciting!

Please visit the Larasati website to see the pieces for sale: www.larasati.net. Auction bidding is on 30 April 2007 :) Bid and support Filipino artists!

And for those wondering, I was paid a flat fee just for writing and no, I'm not dealing in art :)

Monday, April 2, 2007

The Plight of Photography as Art

Page E-1 of today's Star! :) http://www.philstar.com/philstar/lifestyle200704020501.htm Link will be active till Sunday, 8 April 2007.

For those looking for my recent articles, please note I still have to post my Preview March 2007 Art Scene piece on Geraldine Javier as well as my column piece last November, "The Miracle of Dorothy Hale," on a painting by Frida Kahlo. Also, there is no Art Scene for the Preview April 2007 issue but Art Scene returns with a feature on sculptor Ovvian Castrillo in May! :)

I've also got two articles out in the recent issue of Metro Home (one is on Possible Islands, a non-profit organization based in the Philippines led by German curator Johannes Schoen, and the other is on Ralph Walker's lovely art collection). For professional reasons, I will not be posting these pieces till the n
ext issue comes out after a few months.

The plight of photography as art

ARTICIPATION By Clarissa Chikiamco
The Philippine STAR 04/02/2007

For many of us working in the culture industries, we can only dream of a day when a large majority of the population takes an interest in the arts. And while only a tiny percentage actually wield paint brushes or genuinely even look at the various exhibits held at the malls, millions of Filipinos own and carry a medium used by a number of artists today: the camera.

No other medium has taken off to incredibly popularity as photography. Unfortunately, however, the number of camera-owning people has not translated into an equa
l number of people interested in photography as an art. In reality, the camera’s mass appeal has become like a curse on photography-based art as it has become less valued than art of more traditional media like painting and sculpture.

As Robert Quebral, one of the owners behind Blacksoup Project Art Space, an independent venue that shows photography, puts it, "Every Tom, Dick and Harry can shoot and print photos nowadays."

Tom, Dick and Harry may shoot and print and may even call themselves photographers but for those like Wawi Navarroza, the title "photographer" simply isn’t enough. Preferring the terms "artist working with medium of photography," "artist with camera" or "photo-based artist," Navarroza, who has staged solo exhibits at Blacksoup and Silverlens and is off to Russia in June to teach at the Fotomasterskie Petersburgskie School of Photography, is quick to point out that not all photographs can be called art. "The problem is oftentimes people forget that the words ‘creative’ and ‘artistic’ are two different things. The word ‘art’ is not a cosmetic you can apply to anything that happens to look ‘good’ or was superbly done." Navarroza also differentiates between commercial and art photography: comm
ercial as being made inherently for the purpose of making you buy, while art "makes you question things, to think, to feel, to be in touch with what is ‘human’ in you. Contrary to commercial goals, art doesn’t sell you bottled dreams and aspirations; it actually smacks you in the head and wants you to wake up and be aware."

Silverlens Gallery, the result of owner/photo-based artist Isa Lorenzo’s inability to find a gallery in Manila which understood the photography medium and process, is one of the few venues solely committed to showing photography
as an art form. Lorenzo shares, "I think that people in the Philippines have gotten used to seeing cliché images of sunsets and kalesas and understand those as ‘art photographs.’ In their way they are, but the photos we at Silverlens show are images that go beyond cliché and are really about a body of work with a strong idea and shown with curatorial cohesion." Seeing a further need, Lorenzo has set up the Silverlens Foundation, a grant-giving body that is offering critical support for photo-based artists to finish bodies of work and that is providing the backbone for a collection of contemporary Philippine photography.

Aside from Silverlens and Blacksoup, the only other venue this author can think of that exclusively shows photography is the Alcove at Filipinas Heritage Library with the three spaces each defining themselves distinctly. Silverlens banners being the only museum-quality space dedicated to photography and photo-based art; Blacksoup, as an independent art space, offers a more laidback setting and is ideal for quirkier work (such as the lomo exhibit last year); Alcove sets itself strictly for black-and-white photographs. Other venues which have developed a special focus for photography are Lumiere and One Workshop Gallery, although both places also show more traditional art forms, too.

That there are so little venues for photography-based art is testament to a very small market for this art form. The art industry is driven largely by the exclusive nature of pieces — of that one prized artwork unlike any other — which the very quality of photography defies. As a print, it can be continuously reproduced and while the artist only prints a select number, the easily replicated aspect, especially precarious in the age of the digital camera, can be rather a turn-off for art collectors. It "doesn’t sound seductive at all," Navarroza admits. For a living, many turn to event and commercial photography while only occasionally being able to show their photo-based art. Lorenzo smiles at this, saying, "Fortunate is the photographer who gets paid to do personal work."

While photo-based art is a long way off from being essentially appreciated as art in the Philippines (especially by those with antiquated ideas of what art is), there are signs that its recognition as an art form is increasing. A few years ago, a number of these spaces focused on photography didn’t even exist. Silverlens only launched in 2004, Blacksoup opened in 2005 and One Workshop only commenced its gallery and new studio last year. And while most photography exhibits in malls are commercial, cliché or tied to celebrities, a recent exhibit at the Mall of Asia, "Large 8," which featured photo-abstract works blown up to staggering scale, appears to herald a growing appreciation of photography as art.

Navarroza says, "Appreciating pictures for their sheer pleasurable aesthetic value, yes, we do have a lot of those. We all enjoy looking at pictures. But appreciating pictures further for their mental/spiritual/sensual/artistic implications or as critical mirrors to provoke thinking is few and far between. It requires a certain sensitivity of thought and depends on the viewer’s willingness to see beyond the 2-D image."

Appreciating at deeper levels? Seeing beyond the image? It seems that the plight of photography as art is the plight of art, indeed.
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Silverlens Gallery is at 2320 Pasong Tamo Ext., Yupangco Bldg., Makati. Blacksoup Project Artspace is at Marikina Shoe Expo, Araneta Center, Cubao. The Alcove is at Filipinas Heritage Library, Nielson Tower, Ayala Triangle, Makati Ave., Makati. Lumiere Gallery/Café is on the ground floor, LV Locsin Bldg., Makati Ave. corner Ayala Ave., Makati. One Workshop Gallery is on the ground floor, 2241 La Fuerza Plaza ll, Sabio St., Makati.
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The author may be reached at letterstolisa@gmail.com. Visit http://writelisawrite.blogspot.com.

Death of an Independent Art Space?

This piece was published on 29 January 2007, Monday, on page F-3 and F-4 of The Philippine Star. A couple of days later during the closing party of FP and Chunky Far Flung, I was told that the article became the talk of the town (or at least the talk of the Cubao X community, I guess!). Not exactly sure what they talked about since I only heard tidbits here and there!

Death of an Independen
t Art Space? by Clarissa Chikiamco

Independent art spaces are vital elements of a thriving art scene that allows unfettered creativity, unhampered by commercial aims. These spaces, being (nearly always) artist-run, pass the reins of control to the artist, who at times is at mercy to the other members of the art community (such as gallery owners, art critics, curators and collectors) and their pressures or demands that his/her – the very creator’s – potential and power to create seems mechanized or diminished in the process. While full control is not without its pitfalls as many artist-art managers have discovered, these spaces are still vibrant beacons of promise where many of the young in the art scene gather to support young artists, to brainstorm and concretize ideas or simply to experiment and produce something together.

Autonomously, an independent art space has its own value. Yet, when these spaces converge together in one location, it constructs an art community that magnifies the significance and sincerity of each space’s vision while furthering appreciation for the different kinds of art they provide. Manila has one such jewel, Cubao X or the historic Marikina Shoe Expo in Araneta Center, Cubao, which, amidst the shoes and an authentic Italian eatery, has several art spaces and quirky shops that complement its alternative offering. Events at this place for the past two years, ranging from exhibit openings to film showings to poetry readings to indie music playing, have been mainstays in the Manila cultural calendar, particularly for the fresh-faced (most who go here are in their 20s and 30s). A key contributor to the energy of Cubao X is Future Prospects, an independent art space founded by artists Louie Cordero, Cocoy Lumbao, Gary Ross Pastrana and Japanese curator Mizuki Endo.

But all of this is about to come to an end. Marikina Shoe Expo is under new management this year (it is now back to its original owners as the lease to the shoe shops who managed the place for several years has expired) and with this change is an increase in rent, the closure of Future Prospects along with some other art spaces and ironically, perhaps an attempt to market the place as an art venue. It’s like locking the barn door after the cow’s been stolen only this time, I think the cow ran away.

Apparently, the management seems to be under the impression that the spaces at Marikina Shoe Expo actually make money otherwise why would they increase the rent of Future Prospects from an estimated P18,000/month to P25,000/month – a nearly 40% increase?

Others at the Expo protested over Future Prospect’s rent raise as FP, as it is often called, really doesn’t earn money, played a large role in calling attention to the place and is often the one responsible for bringing a large crowd to the Expo, a benefit to the other spaces who do manage to make some sales. Dawning on the landlord how intrinsic FP is to the place, a counteroffer was made but alas, too late. The artists behind this central space had a firm wake-up call and have decided to pack up. This month is their last month in the Expo, much to the dismay of many of us who often attend their events. Unfortunately, FP isn’t alone. Also closing down at the end of the month is Chunky Far Flung, an exhibition space that sells figurines, comic books and other collectibles. Kukuada, a gallery owned by Dr. Joven Cuanang, has already closed along with Bespoke furniture store. Pablo, an art gallery and retail store that offers stylish home décor items designed by Manila’s cutting edge graphic designers, may not be far behind as co-owner Yo Garcia cites “communication problems with the present management” as making them open to the idea of transferring to a new location.

Maybe the new condominium being built around the corner is the reason why the rent is being jacked up. Perhaps they’ll market Marikina Shoe Expo (it wouldn’t be right to call it Cubao X anymore, I think, with so many fundamental spaces that made it Cubao X leaving) as a quaint Soho-style area with art and cafes, something like a bohemian Serendra? Not quite sure how that will turn out as someone recently said to me, “Have you been to Cubao [X] lately? The owner totally killed the place. Tsk tsk tsk.” The magic of an art community can’t be contrived. The moment it tries is the moment it’ll never get there.

In fairness, the initial higher rent and new management aren’t the only factors which have led the artists behind FP to reach their decision. Pastrana reveals FP’s closure as mired by the usual issues that surround independent spaces. The main issue, of course, always boils down to funding. FP held a raffle last year to take care of the rent. About 25 raffle tickets were sold for P10,000 each, guaranteeing each ticket holder an artwork from one of a promising roster of artists. The artworks were available for viewing during ticket sales then raffled during FP’s anniversary party. (Yet, 2-3 ticket holders didn’t pay up, which was rather inconsiderate.) With the raffle money going mainly to the rent and the hired tagapagbantay, the artists sometimes found themselves digging into their own pockets for the expenses in putting up their events because FP simply doesn’t earn. Artworks and other items at FP are rarely sold while drinks are given for free most of the time since it’s both tricky and awkward to ask FP’s friends and patrons, most probably struggling in the arts themselves, to pay.

Pastana also mentions the difficulties in having no staff, no office (no computer) and equipment problems. There’s also the do-it-yourself symptom that affects all those in art projects flailing for funding – taking on multiple roles because well, of sheer necessity. The artist becomes manager, curator, writer, designer, installer, invitation disseminator (via email/text) and even caterer. Unsurprisingly, artists have a tough time practicing their art while managing a space. The administration or day-to-day takes up a lot of the artist’s time that might otherwise be spent in a studio. Pastrana acknowledges the help of friends such as Buboy Cañafranca, Lena Cobangbang and Erick Encinares in running and managing FP.

Though is it really the death of FP yet? What are Future Prospects’ future prospects? Pastrana says they may open again in another location after a break of some months. He floats some ideas: one being to not be space-bound or site-specific but to create projects in different venues; another being having a shared space with a shared staff with 5-6 project directors – each director being assigned specific months to take charge of the space and to spearhead a project. Yet, there’s still nothing definite and, even if keeping the name of Future Prospects, the space (or non-space if they do decide not to anchor themselves somewhere) will probably emerge a different animal. It doesn’t mean it won’t be a great animal or an even better animal, just a different one.

No one expects an independent art space to last for a long period of time. Yet, for those of us who go to these spaces, we can’t help grieving a little when it comes to the end. As one door closes, another one opens, they say. Yet, we can’t help feeling that when that door was open, it was very, very good indeed.

Future Prospects is holding their closing party on 31 January 2007, Wednesday evening.

Taking It From the Streets

"Taking It From the Streets" made it as cover story of Preview's January-February 2007 issue! :) A follow-up to this article: Pilipinas Street Plan recently held their second exhibit at Cubicle Art Gallery, Stella Maris St., Maybunga, Pasig. It opened last February 2007.

Taking it from the Streets

By Clarissa Chikiamco

Early man’s innate urge to write on surfaces is evidenced by the cave drawings he’s left behind. It seems though that, despite the passage of thousands of years, the giant leaps of progress, the advent of technology and the movement to the modern and the postmodern age, some things never change. This primeval itch to decorate, to enhance, to brand and to recreate space is still flamingly present in 21st-century man.

While we can credit all forms of visual art to this pining, its closest descendant today is probably none other than graffiti or street art. Modern graffiti, which began in the late 60s in Philadelphia and New York and erupted full scale in the 70s and early 80s, has become a worldwide phenomenon. Street artists are tagging (writing their handles or pseudonyms) and bombing (marking as many surfaces as possible) in all corners across the globe and, thanks to technology, reaching more audiences and forming collaborations across borders.

The launch of Street Plan: Street Art Manila Expo at the Store for All Seasons last September marked the first time Filipino street artists gathered together to show in one venue. Finally united under an art collective called Pilipinas Street Plan, the artists will continue to present their ideas in public venues while aiming to educate people about their form of expression. Often regarded as vandalism, works of gangsters and signals of pathos in the city, street art struggles still for acceptance and due recognition despite already being exhibited in galleries and museums abroad. Boyagimat, who thought of the exhibit, notes on their group’s intentions, “We just want to bring back the streets to the people, [that] it’s a public space and not a corporate space… We are fedup with advertising and political images on the streets – monstrous billboards of cellphone companies, mayors and congressmen: we are being manipulated with these images.” This anti-commercialist bent is an outright refusal to capitulate to the powers that be, even if it seems as miniscule as slapping on a small sticker on the MRT while whizzing past a million and one signages thousands of times bigger.

Noble? Yes. Illegal? Yes. Filipino street artists have cops, tanods, MMDA and dogs at their heels, compelling them to select a designated lookout in group works to prevent any run-ins. Individually, they must work quickly or risk getting caught (and some of them have) and, equipped with their spray cans, markers, posters and stickers, should be ready to strike at ripe opportunity. Pictures are taken of the finished work as a permanent record due to its ephemeral nature (might be taken down, painted over or be subjected to eventual deterioration due to the elements). The artists however are not averse to doing traditional paintings on canvas – indeed, most started out this way – but it’s the street that beckons to them, asking them for something – not just anything like some random, meaningless scribble – that can change her and make passersby sit up and take notice.

This sentiment is obviously shared by street artists around the world, creating a communal bond strengthened by the ability to instantly share works and ideas through the internet. In fact, 45-60 international artists from North and South America, Europe, Asia and Australia answered the Street Art Manila’s open call for an international wall of stickers and posters with Oneday from Malaysia and CAML from Australia going the extra mile to be at the exhibit in person. The enthusiastic response has led Pilipinas Street Plan to arrange for more projects next year involving the international street art community.

Boyagimat muses on the local context of street art, “Most Filipinos never have a chance to go to museums or galleries and are intimidated to enter such venues. So by doing street art we show a different perspective of art viewing and appreciating.” So expect to see some art coming at a street near you.

Graphic Details

This piece, featuring artsy products to give as Christmas presents in Preview's stunning December 2006 issue, was so fun to write! I wish we could have featured more but some weren't able to have their products photographed by deadline plus there really wasn't enough space as well. I've recommended to Power Plant Mall to do a Christmas bazaar of all this kind of art-related products. It will really make your special someone's Christmas or birthday or day (for any occasion!) special! Plus there are a wide array of products for different budgets.

Boston, Avellana + Duemila


The piece below was the exhibition text for the Ilusyonada exhibit of Mica Cabildo, AJ Omandac, CJ Robles and Ray Zapanta at Chungky Far Flung, Marikina Shoe Expo, Araneta Center, Cubao (Chunky is now closed. Please see my piece "Death of an Independent Art Space?" published last 29 January 2007) in November 2006.


Virtual (adj.) – near, practical, effective, fundamental, essential, implicit, cyber

– actual (antonym)

(adj.) – fake, replicated, pretend, imitation, virtual, computer-generated

– genuine (antonym)

(n.) – realism, actuality, authenticity, truth, certainty, veracity

Ilusyonada is an examination on the virtual reality of the 21st century society. Advancements in technology have created new pathways of communication, altering social interactions and modes of relations while depreciating physical contact and tangible exchanges. It is a world present human civilization is becoming increasingly dependent upon and engulfed in, threatening to absorb the susceptible into its folds of codes (or rather, its emoticon embrace?).

Filipinos have particularly latched on to it because of their non-confrontational nature (text over calls have made the Philippines the texting capital of the world). But on a global scale, those especially taking on to the cyber network are the young who easily adapt to and mold their own language. The youth, who are also in the midst of questioning and forming their self-identity, use technology to create, define and enhance their individualities (Friendster, Myspace, Multiply, blogsites, etc.). Some use it to hide behind masks, to create and present themselves in a way they wish to be perceived in face-to-face encounters while others are able to reveal their true selves in the absence of peer pressure and physical bias.

Technology has frankly become the system by which people today create and broaden their space, without having to leave the house or the internet cafe. A few clicks open users to a whole network: to online communities with shared interests and shared purposes (dating anyone?), to instant news and information (subscription to newspapers have been declining as more people read up online), to worlds of fantasy and desire (RPGs, MMORPGs, RTS, CORG, porn), to simply keeping in touch with loved ones abroad and next door (or in the next room). Does technology isolate or augment? What has become dominant? Man or machine?

It is in this context that AJ Omandac, Mica Cabildo, Ray Zapanta and CJ Robles use traditional art media to scrutinize the culture of new media. Inappropriate? Maybe so. Yet, both virtual reality and the painted image are a veneer to something esoteric and multi-faceted, with meanings general and personal to creator and audience. Technology is bringing so many means in which to communicate. But behind the sleekness, the faster-than-whippet quickness, the shimmery glaze of the screens is the mirrored truth: that reality is simply what we make of it.

Form and Fragmentation

Here's a piece I did for Metro Society last year on Luis Leon Lasa, a Spanish-Filipino caricaturist.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Photo Finish

Preview's November 2006 Art Scene focused on Poklong Anading, who is not only brilliant in my opinion but one of the nicest artists too :) He will be setting up a video-installation in the Ateneo Art Gallery this April in response to his visit to Australia last year as the Recipient of the 2006 Ateneo Art Gallery Sydney Studio Residency Grant. The exhibit is called "Between Intersections" and it opens 18 April, Wednesday, at 6 pm. I am also the writer for the exhibition catalogue :)

Building Blocks + Creative It List

Artscene of Preview's October 2006 issue is on artist Karina Baluyut. The piece is called "Building Blocks." Also in the same issue is Preview's Creative It List, of which I wrote the pieces on Marina Cruz, AJ Dimarucot and Maxine Syjuco.

*I have to apologize though for the colors. I can't seem to get the colors right from my scanner, especially for the cover of the issue. It's always best to just buy the magazine anyway :) Preview is a gorgeous magazine, kudos to the creative and art directors!