writings, projects and exhibitions of Clarissa Chikiamco

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Today's Curator: The Ever-Evolving Multi-tasking Machine

I wrote this for one of my classes in university and decided after the semester was over that it would be good to publish it in my column. When I tell people I'm studying curatorship, the reaction is either 'oooooooooooooooh!' with this awestruck face (which led me to mention the sorcerer bit) or 'Curator? What's that?' haha :D

Published in The Philippine Star, 21 July 2008

Today’s Curator: The Ever-evolving Multi-Tasking Machine

What does a curator do? Who is a curator?

A curator, it seems, conjures up the image of a person surrounded by precious objects with locked up secrets—to which only he/she has the key. Not unlike a sorcerer of some sort, a curator is ostensibly someone of great wisdom, shrouded with a kind of mystical quality and from whom people seek to learn more in a specialized area. This is the attitude encountered in those outside the art scene who are faced with the word—or even more so the person who is—curator.

Yet, while there is a degree of truth to how the public perceives curators, there have also been substantial developments that have changed the curator’s role, attitudes and even his/her position in an institution.

A curator is no longer someone of absolute knowledge whose views go unquestioned. As Tomislav Sola wrote in ‘Museums and Curatorship: The Role of Theory’, ‘…they are not in possession of the truth.’

Today’s curator is expected to admit his/her bias and is more and more keen in engaging in dialogue and participation with others in the art scene and with the public in a local, national and international scale. Rather than presenting exhibitions from an all-knowing voice, curators are now slanted to be more open-ended and present their ideas in exhibitions as evolving with room for discussion. Public programs like curator’s talks and artists’ talks which allow the public to ask questions and give their own input imply a shift in the balance of power. Curators are now more conscious of their exhibition’s visitors, which is reflective as well of the change in the philosophy of museums and their increasing accountability to the public.

What hasn’t changed is that the museum curator is still someone of highly specialized knowledge in an area of the institution’s collection. He/she is expected to conduct research on the collection, keep the collection in prime condition, recommend acquisitions that enhance the collection, develop exhibitions that make use of the existing collection (in whole or in part of the exhibit) and possibly have temporary exhibitions that are in thrust with the vision and mission of the museum.

While a curator’s role mainly circles around the objects of his/her specialty and the collection in which he/she is entrusted, a curator is more than a researcher or a caretaker. He/she is a harbinger of ideas. Yet, the lack of understanding of this as a curator’s role has led to a denigration of its meaning. Jane Kessler, in ‘The Role of the Curator: What are the Criteria by which Every Exhibition Should Be Judged?’, laments that curating ‘has come to mean the process of selecting and exhibiting. In too many cases, that’s as far as it goes….a curator makes a statement. There is a thesis, an idea that will be given tangible form through the selection and display of objects (or in some cases, nonobjects).’

Given that they are open-ended and like pots of liquid where ideas bubble forth, curators nowadays are more like scientists, especially, as Dorothy Spears writes in ‘Curators Wanted: Must Love Art and Travel’, in the global rush to acquire works and discover the latest international superstar. They explore the world for new discoveries (new talent) and experiment in their ‘laboratories’ with new ideas and for new formulas. They present hypotheses and arguments with evidence (artworks and research) to support it. They engage in discourse and are open to views that question or are even directly opposed to their work.

Yet, the curator is responsible for more than just ideas, research and collections with curators easily being the busiest people in the museum. They are plagued with mundane administrative tasks, with answering public queries and with attending a multitude of functions for networking and in support of their colleagues and institution’s patrons (and perhaps in a bid to nab that loan from that frisky collector). In museums overwhelmed by funding problems and in smaller museums with few staff, a curator has to do more if not all of the work such as painting, constructing, packing, installing, designing and writing. The title of the article on curators written by Grace Glueck in The New York Times captures it well: ‘The Job Description Reads, “Do It All”’.

Curators need to expand beyond their usual roles or risk being bypassed for the plum position of the organisation—the director. With funding dwindling and demands increasing, museum trustees look for someone versed in business and management skills to run the institution, hiring businesspersons rather than curators, as Benjamin Genocchio writes in ‘Boot Camp for Curators Who Want the Top Job’. In America, the Center for Curatorial Leadership was started in 2006 to address this problem by training more curators in these areas. Curators, now more than ever, are expected to be efficient art managers that are able to fundraise and brainstorm plans for sustainability or risk a rare chance to advance. Being a director after all doesn’t necessarily mean giving up curatorial duties as some positions carry the title (and responsibility of) ‘Director and Chief Curator.’

Ethical obligations and time also limit what a curator does beyond the institution he/she’s connected to. Any other art-related income and activities should be clarified with the museum with art dealing not even an option as it poses a conflict of interest. In ‘The Museum Curator and the Public’, an early twentieth century article published in Bulletin of the Pennsylvania Museum, Fiske Kimball stresses that this conflict of interest is something the curator must keep in mind as his/her role is very much one of public duty even if the institution he/she works for is a private one. The curator must even be ready to answer general queries from the public gratuitously as part of a public service.

Today’s curator may not even be attached to an institution at all and subsequently may have no permanent collection to take care of. Independent curators have risen as the art scene saw the increase in number and importance in biennales around the globe. Yet, all curators, even independent ones, have to deal with institutions and collections in their everyday.

Yet, those aspiring to simply be a curator are sure to find out that it isn’t so simple. In an article on becoming a curator, June Cheong writes that the field’s recent professionalization means curators must now usually come armed with relevant degrees (a master’s at minimum and commonly in art history or curatorship) and practical experience often beginning with unpaid volunteer work. And those who find themselves curators must be prepared for it. Margaret Birtley, then Director of the Cultural Heritage and Museum Studies program of Deakin University in an interview said, ‘There’re lots of long days followed by after-hours exhibition attending, which together with the low pay (means) people have to have that strong sense of vocation.’

So, who is a curator?

Today’s curator, it seems, is that ever-evolving multi-tasking machine: that idea generator, that dialogue exchanger, that collection custodian, that passionate fundraiser, that world traveler, that library rat, that mad scientist and that efficient public-minded administrator—to name just a few. A curator isn’t some mystical sorcerer. But, indeed, a spell of passion for his/her work appears to be needed to enable him/her to step into all these roles and accomplish the many things that he/she needs to do.

Fine Print

Preview May 2008 - My article on wonderboy, Andrei Salud! As mentioned in my previous posts, I curated a solo video art exhibition of his in Cubicle last January. View his videos at youtube.com/masarapmatulog. Picture of the article thanks to Andrei :)

Fine Print

Most visual artists in Manila come from either three universities: University of the Philippines – Diliman, University of Santo Tomas or Philippine Women’s University. Yet, Andrei Salud, a quietly emerging artist who is a graduate from the Mapua Information Technology Center in Makati, is showing that creativity can breed no matter what school you come from.

Not being formally trained or associated with any art clique, Andrei is making work that refreshingly lacks the heavy and complex academism and theory which usually inform other artists’ works. Themes he likes to tackle are with the familiar. Says Andrei, “I like working with popular subjects/objects that people can relate to: a face, dreams, toys, Imelda Marcos, seafood… I get ideas from everyday things, like shrimp or postage stamps, and even paper bills (money).”

Pero minsan spontaneous naman pag malaking project or elaborate siya, I draft out a plan on my notebook. Nandun yun workflow at yun schedule ng work hours ko and rest time. And I give myself deadlines also.”

Andrei’s choices of media are prints, clay, video and street art, his works often cheeky pieces with his particular brand of humor. His forays into art started with making t-shirt prints, even having his own t-shirt line, “Sell Out Shirts,” with girlfriend Sheina Tobias, that led onto making bigger prints that could also be used in the everyday (sofa, bed sheet, etc.). He started probing into video as well, having learned how to edit in Mapua during his Visual Communication Management studies. So far, even without an art crowd to call his own, he has staged two solo exhibitions, both at the independent art space Cubicle Art Gallery, and has joined a few group exhibitions as well.

While the informal training has certainly had an influence in keeping Andrei’s aesthetic unique, Andrei does wish he had gone to a mainstream school for the basics at the very least. “I still wish I could have been able to take up fine art sa UP kasi bumagsak ako dun eh. Importante pa rin yun pag aral ng foundations of art and design.” Seeking to learn more, he undertook a Personal Enrichment Program at the Academy of Art in San Francisco last year, taking silkscreen, color and design classes amongst others.

Asides from visual art, Andrei also does a bit of work in graphic design. When asked about it, he sassily replies, “I'd rather work for myself and give me a promotion every weekend!” His future projects and plans? “Secret.” Hopefully, just like the artist, not a secret for long.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Recollections Recreated

Marina Cruz-Garcia, who is seriously one of the most talented Filipino artists among the young set, asked me to write the catalogue text for her exhibition, Recollections, that was held at Art Informal last 1-18 February 2008.

I gladly did so and also published the text in my column in Star (published on 18 Feb) because I really do believe in giving artists exposure. A lot of the media have picked up on the "art thing" since the Philippine art scene has never been more exciting and it's a bit hard not to notice once you start going to openings and feeling the energy. Yet, most of the art coverage is limited to magazines. Space for the arts in the papers is very limited. I'm very grateful for my column in Star which allows me to reach a wider audience.

Anyway, please check out more of Marina's work here. She shares a website with her husband, Rodel Tapaya, who is also another talented Filipino artist and who has recently been working with acrylic on large-scale canvases (usually he uses burlap) and I absolutely LOVE it.

You may also want to check out an earlier write-up I did of Marina for Preview's Creative IT List 2006. And click here to see the outstanding work she submitted in the Philip Morris Art Awards last year. I'm usually very hesitant about "declaring things" but her work at Philip Morris was, in my opinion, undoubtedly the best among the finalists.

Recollections Recreated

In the exhibition Recollections, artist Marina Cruz-Garcia once again explores the theme of memory. She delves into poignant but jettisoned memories of her relations, recreating them on canvas with new and realized significance to deliver an intimate contribution in family history. Each piece retells a story through Marina’s perspective. Whether lonely or charming, sweet or bittersweet, the records Marina narrates become shaped into her own. Tinted in a brown glaze that induces an air of nostalgia, the works offer an expressive disclosure of reminiscences that touch upon Marina’s circle of loved ones.

The piece The Roots of the Ancestral Tree depicts the paternal grandmother of Marina. She is sitting down on a chair that, along with her legs, molds down into a thick trunk with a multitude of roots. Her eyes are undefined, its shapes filled with pure dark color, her emotions hidden. The background is filled with green patches of an undulating pattern, implying the branches of a tree, the depth of a forest or multiple masses and divisions of land.

Such a foreboding appearance or presence is only fitting knowing the immense weight of the grandmother’s position. While it is not an unusual role to be a mother, Marina’s grandmother was amazingly matriarch to a multitudinous sixteen. The irony that, in all those numbers, the grandmother now resides alone does not slip past Marina. The Roots of the Ancestral Tree is indeed her homage to her grandmother, a way of recollecting her lola’s central role in establishing the foundations of the large family that Marina is a part of.

Roots finds resonance in You Said We Will Sit Here When We’re Old. By a rocking chair is the faceless figure of a distant relative of Marina, who was widowed several years ago after being married for nine years without children. Though she later adopted, she is, not unusually for a widow, continually revisited by the memory of her husband and her husband’s promise to sit together when they are old. But as age has come and the promise remains unfulfilled, Marina fittingly presents her standing by a rocking chair as if waiting, the door behind her carved with the image of his oath and left open as if anticipating his return.

Loss also imbues The Nighttime of Our Day on Our Master’s Bedroom. The painting features Marina’s maternal grandparents from a wedding snapshot, the image cut and tilted by Marina to lie on the bed the couple used to sleep on. Marina’s grandfather passed away long ago and her grandmother has since moved out of their old room, leaving behind there not only the picture of their celebrated nuptials but a feeling of pervading absence as well. Marina re-cherishes the memory of the event in her re-placement of the newlyweds on the most intimate space a couple can share. She adds details of flora and an outline on the wall of a pair of birds perched on branches, sweet reminders of the then blossoming love of the young couple, regenerating life into the abandoned room.

Marina’s maternal grandmother is also the subject of This Will Look Good on You. In the work, the outline of her grandmother, then young, sits at a chair by the sewing machine, a small piece of fabric in her hands. It is a remembrance of her grandmother’s sewing days, and sewing not just any little thing but elaborate dresses for her precious twin girls, one of whom is Marina’s own mother.

The fruit of the grandmother’s labor is seen in Twins’ Posing Pause which uses as source a photograph that candidly captures the then four to five-year old girls as they begin to wane in patience posing for the camera. Standing close to each other, they both awkwardly hold up one side of their fanciful dresses, spreading them like butterfly wings. The appearances of the twins and their dresses, which while not mirror images echo each other all the same, are resonated by Marina’s use of a lace runner mat pattern as backdrop, a double imprint that mimics the dual likenesses. The piece actually picks off from Kambal, a painting Marina did for an earlier show of the same title, illustrating the artist’s consistent forays into family memory and history.

In Souvenir of Our Performance I and II, the twins are now in their 20s and, not having outgrown the penchant of dressing alike, wear identical pink shirts. They sit with each strumming a banduria, a folk music instrument, together with their guitar-playing music instructor. The photograph Marina used as resource had the words “souvenir of our performance” scribbled behind it, which was a label that would prove to be so apt later on. The twins’ music instructor sadly grew deaf, losing evidently his ability to instruct with the photograph of a time gone by truly becoming a memento of sorts. Recreating the photograph into paintings, Marina refashions the memory as an elevated souvenir, instilling it as a kind of melancholic homage to a teacher in a treasured age before being renounced by his field.

I Used to Sit Here with My Dog is a rare work of Marina which projects into the future. The piece though is still marked by the past. On the left is a black Labrador, the current dog of Marina which she comprehends she will sorely miss when it has passed away. By the chair is an old lady that somehow morphs in part into a little girl. The old lady is no relative of Marina but is the artist herself as she imagines herself to be in the future—sitting at her chair and reminiscing of days yonder when her beloved dog was at her side. The parts of the little girl that peek out are Marina’s visual signifier on how a memory can transport and transform while the painting’s heavy texture is Marina’s parallel with time and character, believing that the more the former passes the more the latter is developed.

Marina’s engrossment with the past is attributed to her late maternal grandfather, who a day before her fifth birthday told her he had a present for her. But the next day, he died abruptly, leaving the young Marina forever wondering what his present was or if there was even really a present at all. Her continuing search for her fifth birthday gift bore a fondness of looking at old objects and unearthing stories and nearly forgotten memories.

As one of the promising young artists that lights away a brighter future of Philippine contemporary art, Marina Cruz-Garcia is singularly motivated by the past. The search for her lolo’s gift continues but, while it may not yield the actual present of her grandfather, it bears in abundance the fruits in the artworks and exhibitions she produces along the way.

Saturday, May 31, 2008


I wrote the exhibition write-up for Ranelle "Rain" Dial's show Withering, which was held at West Gallery last 25 March to 30 April 2008. I was really happy that Rain asked me to write! :) Please click here to see the installation shots of the show in West Gallery's website and here for pictures of each work in Rain Dial's multiply.

“It is like a random archaeology of the not-too-distant past, the almost-present.

The medium itself is poised to become a thing of the past, a memory.

Particular technologies do not just become associated with certain periods and places; they are an integral part of a particular period and how it is experienced.”

-Geoff Dyer

Ranelle Dial’s solo exhibition, Withering, gathers together varied images of mailboxes from all over the world. The Philippines, US, Japan, Australia, Canada, Ukraine, Germany, England and Spain-these are only some of the places in a global phenomenon where the mailbox is increasingly becoming a defunct entity in the face of faster and more accessible communication systems.

Dial brings together these images of mailboxes and paints them in an act of observation, preservation and collection. While the mailbox fades into a thing of the past, the exhibition shows that its shape, design and color have been just as pluralistic as the messages it contained. The mailbox, as Withering points out, is reflective not only of the passing culture in which it was shaped but had been adaptive to the specific societies it found itself in.

People are finding more creative ways-albeit unsanctioned ones-to use mailboxes as they diminish in importance. Mailboxes have become receptacles for trash, unwanted mails, legal office notices-even, humorously, human excrement. For the others that can’t seem to find such secondary uses, it seems that a destiny to languish away as unnoticed relics of a time gone by awaits them.

Yet, the artist has noticed. And, in Withering, she attempts to recall the history of this object and its once-upon-a-time relevance amidst its current threatened reality. So while the mailbox may be losing its vitality, through this exhibition at least, it is granted some renewed vigor.

Images: Courtesy of the artist.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Love, Diaries, Tears and Sighs: Welcome Back, Ronald Caringal

Love, Diaries, Tears and Sighs: Welcome Back, Ronald Caringal was published in my column in The Philippine Star last Monday, 12 May 2008 . Please visit this link to see pictures of all the works in the Commitment reIssues show and visit here to see the works in Sigh. The links are to albums in Ronald's multiply.

Love, Diaries, Tears and Sighs: Welcome Back, Ronald Caringal

The painting I Love You seems appropriately titled enough. A girl in a white-and-pink polka dotted dress leans submissively on her guy’s shoulder. The words “I LOVE YOU” float from her lips like a sighed declaration. By the guy’s side in much smaller font is the text that responds and punctuates it all.


Well, welcome back, Ronald Caringal.

Ronald Caringal is someone many young ones in the Philippine art scene are familiar with. The owner and Director of Cubicle Art Gallery, an independent art space in Maybunga, Pasig, he and Cubicle curator Clint Catalan have given starting artists multiple opportunities to stage exhibitions and events in the past six years since the gallery has been in existence.

Yet, Caringal, a young artist himself, hasn’t staged a solo exhibition in quite a while. The last ones were I Hardly Recognize You and Fuck Art, Sex Sells and The Science of Body Language both in 2005. That is until COMMITMENT reISSUES, Caringal’s exhibition at Utterly Art gallery in Singapore last February (of which I Love You was the signature image in posters and invites) and SIGH, his latest exhibition that just closed last 23 April.

COMMITMENT reISSUES used images from fashion magazines—the painted models likened to paper dolls with dashed lines running around their figures on the canvas. Text is then added to offer a humorous but insightful intake on the nature of relationships and commitment.

In Need, a woman in an elegant white coat and gold sandals states, “I don’t need a man to be happy.” The man in a trench coat and black pants retorts, “Me too. Just women.” Stay offers the same witty verbal exchange. The man: “Please stay.” The woman: “I will. You go.”

He Wears/She Wears alludes to the fashion magazines the models came from with more of the same clever commentary. The text on the stylishly dressed couple in the painting reads, “He wears: charm, humor, right choice of words. She wears: grace, wit, right choice of men.”

The use of fashion models with their posed stances are particularly fitting for the exhibition as it suggests the role play and projection of appearances that are inherent in many relationships. Yet, the models’ artifice and the texts of truisms boil down to a sincerely personal level.

The works in COMMITMENT reISSUES are, as Caringal puts it, “a few pages of my diary.” They reflect Caringal’s actual experiences from past relationships with the white background on each painting designed by him to yellow over time, alluding to pages of a diary and the gradual aging of his memories. They are the artist’s heartfelt offering of an intimate glimpse into his private life.

Indeed, all of Caringal’s works refer to something experienced firsthand. He tells me on his work, “I take something that is objective, tear it apart and merge it with my understanding, experiences and inclinations. Then I reconstruct it as I see fit and make it subjective…. At the moment, I use people as subjects but I also paint robots, dinosaurs, words, and pornographic images so everything is done with a purpose. I deal with human relationships, experiences, my outlook in life, things I fear, believe in, and the things I love. I believe that what one has to have is neither inspiration nor motivation but rather the undying and relentless need to pursue what moves him.”

This is evident as well in the exhibition Sigh, which shows a series of women after shedding their tears. “I made my paintings cry on my behalf,” half-jokes Caringal, the show a starting capsule in his own struggle to finding reprieve or acceptance in his personal hardships. “I wanted to capture the moment after one has cried. The few seconds you gasp for air, pacify a bit before you once again plunge into the thought of what took you there in the first place. I believe that moment is wherein we are taught to find peace within our struggle.”

The works in Sigh, like in other paintings of the artist, uses Caringal’s method of breaking down and rebuilding his subjects with lines and colors as vehicles for his thoughts and emotions. The effect is more computer graphic rather than expressionistic as colors sit next to each other and go unblended. This is due to Caringal’s process of questioning the construction of images if it were to be done by a machine, printer, monitor, robot and other technological devices of the age.

The artist says of the instant he tries to portray in Sigh, “It’s the turning point wherein we get the chance to face what lies ahead.”

It seems like a major turning point for Caringal as well, with COMMITMENT reISSUES and Sigh ending his three-year absence in solo exhibitions that was caused by the perennial grapple in making ends meet and keeping the Cubicle afloat. But just like his weeping women in his canvases, Caringal is facing what lies ahead. And I hope he is reassured that whatever it is that lies in his future, it will surely be something promising.

Visit The Cubicle Art Gallery at C. Raymundo Avenue cor. Stella Maris, Maybunga, Pasig, telephone number (632) 641-6700. See more of Ronald Caringal’s work at ronaldcaringal.multiply.com and keep updated on The Cubicle Art Gallery activities at thecubicleartgallery.multiply.com. Email the author at letterstolisa@gmail.com.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Who is stupid?

Last September 2007, Costantino Zicarelli asked me to write the text for his solo exhibition, I'm with stupid, I'm not with stupid, which was held at his residence in October.

Cos basically placed exhibition labels for many and multiple ordinary items in his house.

View the pics from the exhibition

Exhibition text:


Costantino Zicarelli’s solo exhibition I’m with stupid, I’m not with stupid questions the very idea of art and who says what art is. I’m with stupid, I’m not with stupid fuses everyday household objects in an ordinary residence with the formalities of the art arena – an exhibition title, exhibition duration, title tags, invitations, guestbook, guests, opening with food and drinks, curatorial notes, even an artist. Yet, are these formalities enough to establish these objects as art? Is it even art to the artist himself?

The whole exhibition is inspired by the artist’s own experience. Sitting around, doing nothing and just really minding his own business, Zicarelli was surprisingly applauded for his unwitting “performance art” piece. This non-art art—or art non-art—incidence spurred the thoughts that eventually led to I’m with stupid, I’m not with stupid.

Yet, who is the stupid one anyway? Perhaps it is we who believe this is art when it’s not. Perhaps it is we who believe this isn’t art when it is. Perhaps it is the artist who thinks this is art when it’s not. Perhaps it is the artist who thinks this isn’t art when it is.

Who is the one duping and being duped?
The stupid?
The unstupid?
The artist?

Then again, this is really just a stupid write-up anyway, giving an air of validity that this is all art. Maybe we’ll never figure out who is stupid because we’re too damn stupid to figure it all out. Or perhaps we’re all really stupid and that it’s art really that has actually just duped us all.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Gypsy Tales

January-February 2008 issue of Preview: Feature on Wawi Navarroza!

Photography-based artist Wawi Navarroza specifically chose to have her portrait done by an old Banyan tree at Arroceros Forest Park, Manila. The reason? “because the Trees Know,” says Wawi, asserting she wants to bring attention to the environment. She admittedly adds, “I'm a geeky treehugger.”

This may seem incompatible with the Wawi Navarroza a lot of people know. This is after all the lead singer of indie goth rock band The Late Isabel, the artist herself usually clad in dark colors on her petite frame, her works often black and white with the air of the mystic. A geeky treehugger…really? But then again being an environmentalist does fit nicely in the person that is Wawi. Say Wawi, “It's radical to go against the grain, against the monolithic dominance of oil, and yes, the general apathy. It's very rock and roll to come out and rally for trees, to rebel from smog and plastic.”

If there is one thing that describes Wawi, it’s surely “radical.” Wawi is one of the few visual artists in the Philippines working primarily with photography as a medium, pressing for photography-based art to be seen as a fine art form. In
an interview with the Russian press, Wawi articulated the struggle for working with the medium. “I am sure as rain that art-photography/fine art photography enjoys more popularity and appreciation in the West. Here in the Philippines, of course as a developing country, I think (and I may be wrong) that art-photography/fine art photography has not been quite included in the cannon of ‘High Art’… the majority think that beautiful pictures such as perfect sunsets, landscapes, photos done skillfully are called ‘fine art photographs’ but I don't know. Personally, I think we should raise the bar for what is ‘fine art’ or more appropriately when is fine art?"

Wawi’s own path to the fine arts was weaved during her communication arts studies in La Salle where she did a degree specialization in photography, graduating in 2002. It was there where she was mentored by Judy Sibayan, teacher, curator and contemporary artist, to whom Wawi is grateful for. “More than the techniques (which you can study straight from books), she taught me integral lessons that focused and sharpened my creative vision. She taught me to figure out ‘what I want to say’ and how to tell it: Storytelling.” Lessons in communication/art theory, philosophies, ideologies and psychology also informed Wawi during this time, giving her a better understanding of her work in the scheme of things.

Wawi’s work prevalently deals with
archetypes, time, memory, maybes, an interior point of view, duality, myth, mysteries, secrets, the imagination and the sublime or as Wawi puts it, “the poetry of experience." Indeed her pieces are like fantastic sequences probing into a familiar daydream with each work offering a searing symbolic insight into an imagined reality. The common linkage of each artwork? Wawi. “Whether what I do is personal (internal) or social (external), it's still from the same eye. My photography can be diverse but there's a red thread running through it. It all tries to map out the Self."

Certainly, Wawi’s photographs act as self-portraits even without being self-portraits themselves. They storytell about human experience, particularly the artist’s own. Yet, a picture of Wawi expands beyond her photography-based art. Asides from The Late Isabel, Wawi is also part of Romancing Venus, a collective of women founded by Kooky Tuason who do live reading/performing of original poetry/spoken word to the public with regular gigs about town. She also explores movement and space through performance art and collaborates with various personalities in the arts for different projects. Asides from this, she travels by herself, exploring other cultures of the world. “Some think of me as some sort of gypsy/pirate/wanderer,” tells Wawi.

So what is this gypsy up to next? This January, she’ll be heading to Singapore to work on a project during her Ateneo Art Gallery-Artesan Gallery residency there. She’s also hoping to hold another solo exhibition this year, perhaps exploring the theme of relationships. And, of course, do something on the environment. Yet, there’s really no limit to what Wawi will be doing in the future. She says about her travels, “My compass pointing to all directions. Every place an odd-venture." Just like the artist who continually pushes into new frontiers.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


masarapmatulog is a solo video art exhibition of Andrei Salud which I curated last January.
A Visual Pond project, it was held at the 2nd floor of the independent art space, Cubicle Art Gallery, in Maybunga, Pasig. We also opened another video art exhibition in the first floor - Garish Barish, which was a show curated by Jet Pascua, a Filipino artist based in Norway.

For masarapmatulog, I selected videos from a pool of Andrei's existing works but Andrei also
got the chance to experiment during the exhibition, sometimes switching the videos that were being projected. One evening, he projected eyes against the 2nd floor window of the gallery so those outside in the street saw a giant peeking out! Andrei managed to get some very short documentation (4 seconds!) of that which can be viewed here: http://youtube.com/watch?v=SOR_UKhRWRQ

You might also want to check out some of his videos at youtube.com/user/masarapmatulog.

Below is the short text I wrote for the exhibition. For those reading who don't understand Filipino, "masarap" means delicious and "matulog" means to sleep. The end of the piece translates to something like, "It's nice to sleep? Then go ahead and sleep!"


The exhibition title, masarapmatulog, refers to the name by which the artist goes by his video work. Certainly, it captures the character of his video art pieces well—frank, snappy, and with both the relish and flippant air of youth. This first solo video art exhibition of Andrei Salud shows a body of work which represents his unique aesthetic in the medium.

So what is a masarapmatulog video?

A masarapmatulog video is marked by being crisply short. Most works rarely reach a minute while some are just five to thirteen seconds long. Their briefness delivers a “hanging” quality. They are like incomplete sentences—or in a word: bitin. These suspended thoughts though are all Salud cares for—just a few seconds to deliver an idea—but they are really all the audience needs. Viewers can complete, ponder or even swat at these dangling impressions, whatever may be the reaction to what the artist has begun. This can be seen in At the Races, a 29-second work that closes with shots of a gasmasked guy in midair, about to pounce on his binocular-ing roommate, and the view from the front seat of a speeding car.

A masarapmatulog piece is often distinguished with its deliverance of irony and satire. Salud’s work can whimsically lampoon political/social/cultural figures. Stolen footage from the movie Imelda is given new flavor with the tune In Da Club by Beyonce. The catchy music includes such fitting lyrics as “My nails my hair my diamond rings/Shining with all my fancy things/My crib my car my clothes my jewels/Why you mad? Cause I came up and I ain't changed.” The image of President Marcos briefly at the start of the work hints as well at a deeper meaning as Beyonce croons, “So come give me a hug, sexy little thug.”

A masarapmatulog video artwork also at times incorporates the use of toys. These can be dolls, clay or Lego. Toys, of course, are associated with play, which is what the artist does as well. It’s undeniable that several of the artist’s works are simply experimental and indeed very random. But collectively these videos strike off into a compelling dynamic, even if it may be comedic at the same time.

There are others who also “play” and add hints of irony to their video artworks but none come as refreshing or as original as Salud. Who, after all, can suddenly come up with the idea of syncing a dated footage of our current President to a recorded sound of “I’m not wearing any underpants, you know”? Or make Barbie dolls paint a swastika sign and a fanged face on a dollar bill before setting it on fire? Or use a flashlight to mimic scuba diving in the deep or in the dark?

There is something about Salud’s works that are a bit twisted Nickoledeon or wry Mtv. Yet, unlike Nickoledeon, masarapmatulog videos happily delve into the political. And unlike Mtvs, his videos don’t try to sell you anything—not music, not toys, not a lifestyle, not even the artist himself who merrily continues to produce his work regardless of having exhibitions or not.

It may be argued that Salud’s pieces are done simply for amusement. Perhaps there is some truth in the statement but, if so, then why not? Who says art can’t be amusing? Like the recalcitrant and indulgent name by which Salud and this exhibition go by, his works ultimately challenge art as a dignified and solemn affair.

Masarapmatulog? Eh, di matulog nga!

Portraits c/o Tattoos

This piece was published in my column for the Philippine Star on 21 January 2008. I left my newspaper copy of the article back home so I'll just post some of the pics I have of this show :)

Portraits c/o Tattoos
By Clarissa Chikiamco

What does 2008 hold for the Philippine contemporary art scene? Plenty if the spate of recent shows is any indication—and plenty meaning plenty good. One such show that opened 2008 to much promise is Indelible, a solo exhibition of Bembol de la Cruz, at Finale Art Gallery at SM Megamall.


Indelible, which runs till 22 January 2008, features portraits not of particular individuals but of individuals’ tattoos. Rather than featuring the usual headshots that portraits often are, the all oil-on-canvas show parades a mix of various tattoos on assorted entities, alleging that these pigmented markings reveal far more about the individuals than a normal portrait would.

Tattoos are an interesting choice as theme as they have become emblems of deviance in society with the extremely tattooed becoming a source of fascination to the public. Television has had its share of specials on the subject—what motivates people to profusely tattoo themselves? What significance do these stained skins imply? Why did these persons pick these designs? What stories lay behind these tattoos? Is it the decorative these persons are choosing to impress upon themselves permanently or something more?

Indelible asserts that the significance of these tattoos is multiple just as the portraits in the show are multiple. De la Cruz not simply depicts portraits of these tattoo designs but portraits of the persons on whom the tattoos are on. It may just be a torso, a chest, a hand, a back or various bits and pieces in the area of where tincture has met the flesh—all missing the faces that normally are essential for portraits. Yet, these zones of strangely alluring defacement display identities through their symbolisms and marked individuality. These people are called “collectors” just as others who buy fine art. Yet, they are probably very much as well “curators.” The placement, size, image and color of design are choices that are thoroughly theirs with their preferences and the distinct reasons behind them (that one can only begin to surmise) divulging more than a facial portrait would.

These collectors notably require artists to have the art they collect. A collector may have more than one tattoo artist and certainly not just any tattoo artist will do. In choosing someone whose steady hand, creative design and process determines the quality of a mark for life, serious collectors are [or ought to be if they aren’t] most finicky. Casting aside those who denigrate the profession through improper training and contemptible kiosks that result in cheap work, being a tattoo artist is a craft of supreme discipline. In the exhibit, de la Cruz pays homage to the tattoo artists’ work by immaculately capturing their form of art in these detailed paintings. As much as the works are portraits of the tattoos and its collectors, they also represent these artisans, imprinting the art that their own hands helped imprint.

De la Cruz would certainly know firsthand about the art of tattooing, tattoo collecting and its psychological underpinnings. He is a collector himself and the show is very much a self-portrait of the artist. There are four pieces, not including the Multiple Portraits that are collages of different tattoos of various collectors, which feature de la Cruz’s remarkable collection. It is tempting to specifically name these works but, for fear that viewers may give more weight to these pieces when all are deserving of attention, will just leave it up to the interested to find out. All the works in the show in their own way are self-portraits of de la Cruz anyway—the choice of subject matter doesn’t ring any truer in other artists than in this one. Indelible also reflects not only de la Cruz as a collector but as an artist and as a person as well.

Who is Bembol dela Cruz?

For those who are unfamiliar with dela Cruz, he is indisputably one of the most cleverly skilled painters of the day. A group who initially saw his show, A History of Things, at Mag:net ABS, two years ago via pictures thought the painted images had the actual objects glued on the canvas. Others who saw his works from Measures, a Finale Art Gallery show in 2007 that featured images of multiple rulers on backgrounds of war and destruction, believed real rulers were genuinely stuck on the paintings when they were really painted. This trompe l’oeil effect never fails to astound onlookers appreciative of the artist’s prowess.

Being so technically accomplished is not without its downside, however. Viewers can get so taken away by skill, scrutinizing a work by all angles that the concept of the piece or the exhibit is sometimes sadly forgotten all together. While skill is indubitably fundamental for an artist, the reality is skill can only go so far. If an artist is so technically adept then all the more for him/her to be choosy on what to paint and why.

Dela Cruz, who finished from the University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts with a major in painting in 2002, is continuously coming up with intriguing concepts that also pose a challenge his skill. His ideas usually dwell on the weighty side—automobile collisions that mingle on the abstract, sites of destruction and rules of law, seemingly innocuous everyday objects that are also tools of torture—so in comparison, Indelible is actually lighter fare (yet without sacrificing on substance). The 31-year old artist continues to grow into his potential and will undoubtedly produce more outstanding work this year and in the years to come.

More works of Bembol dela Cruz may be viewed at http://bembolbee.multiply.com. Email the author at letterstolisa@gmail.com and visit http://writelisawrite.blogspot.com.

Full Circle

I love the work of Hanna Pettyjohn and I'm so glad I was able to write about her for Preview. I first saw her work in May 2006, when she had her first solo exhibit at Mag:net ABS. I found it so original and different from what other artists in Manila are doing! I have pics of her show up in my multiply but best to check the pics she has at hannapettyjohn.multiply.com.

The published piece had been edited a bit so I'm posting the original one in full here. Cheers!

Full Circle

For many artists who toil for their art, the end product after months of hard work is something that should be maintained, preserved and safeguarded. But for artist Hanna Pettyjohn who destroys her works of art and recreates them into new art forms, her works are in a continuous progression—not to simply be maintained but to be regenerated into something new.

“I really like the way this process is potentially limitless,” says Hanna, who uses stoneware clay in her works. “I’d like to keep working with this process.” While her practice may be seen as cyclic in its creation-destruction-recreation, the process doesn’t return to the same, never resulting in an identical work of art. This is something Hanna has explored since college where she studied fine arts at the University of the Philippines – Diliman. “For my thesis I made figurative works and broke them, then made sculptures out of the shards, cast the sculptures in wax, melted the wax, cast that in sugar, and so on,” she says. She graduated in 2005 yet continued in exploring this creative process for her first and second solo exhibitions held last year. “I broke bust pieces I made in college and used the shards to fill the eggs I made for my first solo exhibition. I broke and melted the eggs and then used the shards and wax from it to make the mattress piece for my second solo show.” The outcome of these events is a series of works that are linked to each other and laden with layers of meaning from the forms they were before.

The process, believes Hanna, is very similar to writing, which she also often does. “I think putting something I make through a process like this where the object is created, destroyed, then reconstructed into something else is a lot like writing, and totally relevant to me personally.”

The personal touch is something critical for Hanna, who counts French-born artist Louis Bourgeios, known for her deeply personal works, as an inspiring influence. In her first solo exhibition, The Elaborate Nest Between Child and Breast, Hanna composed a quilt from items that belonged to her late grandmother and items she painted of her grandmother’s belongings. The quilt was placed on a bed where on top lay Hanna’s sculpture of a bird, its maternal setting in a sense recalling the term “mother hen.” Stoneware clay eggs, oozing wax and spilling out slices and splinters of old forms, were placed around the exhibition area amidst stoneware clay hearts sprouting pieces from a common household mainstay, the walis ting-ting.

For her next show, Hanna thinks she may be working with painting, something she has been doing a lot of lately. While the show is yet uncertain with no definite date and venue in mind, it is certain to continue exploring Hanna’s regenerative process—a process that has infinite potential, just like its maker.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Sorry, troubles in posting

Sorry, I've been trying to update this blog but there seems to be a problem with uploading images. My internet connection here in Australia isn't as fast as the one back home. Please bear with me!

Monday, February 18, 2008

Visual Impact

Video art in the Philippines was the topic for Preview magazine's November 2007 Art Scene. There were some space limitations but my article in full appears below.

Visual Impact

In the past year, it seems that increasingly finding its place in the Philippine contemporary art scene is the medium of video art. In a medium fraught with difficulties, Jumpcut, End Frame Video Art Project and Mag:net’s Cinekatipunan have presented artists and experimental filmmakers with vital opportunities to exhibit their video artworks while the medium continues to appear in exhibitions staged at open-minded galleries, unbothered by its noncommercial nature.

The increasing presence of video art is still, however, no easy exertion and continually presents a challenge. “Of all the artistic mediums in the country right now, video art is the least prevalent,” says artist Jun Sabayton, curator of the Jumpcut 2 exhibition held at Green Papaya Art Projects last year which was also shown at the 24hr Art Space in Darwin, Australia last September. Video art is clouded with problems such as finding equipment (video cameras, editing gear, projectors, dvd players and multiple televisions – the plasma kind if one is lucky), encountering technical difficulties (even as simple as finding a way to loop the dvd player so one doesn’t constantly have to press “play”), designing the presentation (all the wires can make it quite messy) and discovering willing venues to show a medium that’s definitely not quite as collectible as paintings or draws a crowd the way a film does. All of this is done in the strong possibility that there will be no financial returns despite the investment – that is, if the artist found funding or self-funded it.

Artists Ian Madrigal and Mitch Garcia admit that while they make use of the equipment in their freelance graphic studio to make their video artworks, they are also faced with the problem of upgrading their equipment. “One thing is upgrading equipment is quite expensive so we have to maintain our day jobs and double our efforts in earning/working to afford making video artworks.” Yet, they’ve persisted in its production, believing in the medium. “The thing about video art (according to our point of view) is that you cannot cheat on it. The concept and technical aspect goes together and the artist must know at least basic video editing.”

Weekly showings of video art/experimental film at Cinekatipunan have given artists and filmmakers a regular and valuable venue to show their works, shortly to be joined by monthly video art exhibits at Listening in Style arranged by the non-profit organization Visual Pond. Dialogue/exchange with video art/new media communities abroad aids to foster the idea that the Philippine art scene is current with the art scene globally.

Video art, founded by Korean-born artist Nam June Paik beginning with his exhibition Exposition of Music – Electronic Television in Germany in 1963, takes its roots in the Philippines through experimental film and conceptual art. As written by video artist Tad Ermitaño in his essay Worlds Apart: The Two Faces of Video Art in the Philippines, video art’s tradition of experimental film “radiate[s] from the Mowelfund Film Institute (MFI), and the tradition of conceptual art… radiate[s] from the teachings of the conceptualist Roberto Chabet.” Ermitaño, who studied at Mowelfund, even had his video artwork selected and shown at the Ogaki Biennale in Japan last year. Of the conceptual camp, probably the most well known is Poklong Anading, who frequently uses video in his works and mounted a 4-channel video installation at the Ateneo Art Gallery for a week last April using four projectors.

Despite the continuous challenge, there is no place for video art to go but forward in the Philippines. The use of the medium is underscored by its increasing relevance in an age when moving images are ubiquitous - from the giant television in the highway to the plasma televisions playing ads in McDonald’s to the cellphones already in people’s pockets. Like a train gaining speed, the engine of this contemporary art form is accelerating to take Philippine art to new destinations - unplotted but all the more exciting.

Creative IT List 2007

I can't find my September 2007 issue of Preview :( Shucks, ok, we'll skip that first and go to October! I was particularly excited for the Creative IT List 2007, a lot of my recommendations made it on the list :D And I did write a lot as well - 5 write-ups on 6 artists! The 6 artists are Poklong Anading, Mideo Cruz, Yasmin Sison, Winner Jumalon and Angelo Suarez and Costantino Zicarelli, which I did a joint piece on.

Thursday, January 10, 2008


Eep, I know I haven't posted anything in two months and I apologize for the delay! I had a wonderful trip to Australia and my cousin had a beautiful wedding there. I arrived back in Manila in November after a nearly 3-week trip there and the Philippine holiday madness was in full force! The Philippines is Christmas-crazy which makes for very fun holidays but very bad traffic... There were times when I'd spend four hours a day stuck in traffic o_O It's so difficult to get anything done during the holidays! It was still really fun though especially since my best friend who lives in the States came home! We were high school classmates and she left for the States after we graduated, eventually to become a Hollywood producer's assistant ;) She's a smartie, that one!

Anyway, I'm finally going to begin my studies for Master of Art Curatorship at the University of Melbourne this year! Classes start on 3 March and I'm scheduled to fly to Australia in mid-February. I've been really busy packing (or at least trying to pack) and I have some projects I'll be completing or working on till I leave.

These projects, which fall under Visual Pond activities, are
- curating masarapmatulog (that means "it's nice to sleep" in English. masarap = delicious; tulog = sleep). It's the solo video art exhibition of Andrei Salud opening on 24 January at the Cubicle Art Gallery (Stella Maris cor. C. Raymundo, Maybunga, Pasig). Show runs till 30 January.
- organizing a video art show curated by Jet Pascua, a Filipino artist based in Norway.
The show is called Garish Barish and is a collection of video artworks of different foreign artists based in Norway. You may view more at http://www.small-projects.org/frames/garish.htm. This show has a simultaneous run and venue with masarapmatulog. It will likely take the 1st floor of the gallery while masarap will take the 2nd floor.
- National Commission of Culture and the Arts Cinema Committee's offering for National Arts Month (which is February). Visual Pond was their first choice to act as a conduit for the project. We're basically the bankers and taking care of the money! It's a bit scary regarding the financial responsibility but it's about time that the organization makes a little money :)

Other projects include writing! I'll be continuing my writing from Australia as much as possible :) I actually think I'll be able to concentrate writing more from there!

Oh and very good news! I got a scholarship for my masters studies! I'm one of the international students granted the Endeavour Postgraduate Award and it covers nearly all of the expenses! I'm very grateful to the Australian Government Department of Education, Science and Training for the scholarship. The expenses to study abroad are really staggering and the scholarship is a lifesaver!

Oh, here's a link to the Endeavour program for Asian applicants if anyone's interested :)


Well, that's it for now! I'm a bit tired and I have an interview to do tomorrow plus an exhibit opening then a meeting. I hope to post some articles soon! Bear with me please :)

And a very happy new year to you all!!! :D