writings, projects and exhibitions of Clarissa Chikiamco

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!