writings, projects and exhibitions of Clarissa Chikiamco

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Fractions of an Intangible Whole in Manila - 22 January 2010 at the Ateneo Art Gallery

In my rush to post last July, I failed to mention that the exhibition I was inviting everyone to come to was an exhibit I curated. Fractions of an Intangible Whole: Philippine Social Realism at the Ateneo Art Gallery was held at the La Trobe University Art Museum in Melbourne, Australia in July 2009 but I am happy to inform everyone that it will be restaged in a part of the Ateneo Art Gallery's new space (the first floor of the old Rizal Library) this January. If I remember correctly, it's opening 22 January 2010 along with the exhibit of 2008 Ateneo Art Award winner Kawayan de Guia. I would probably post again to confirm but in case I don't, the date is probably right or you can (should) holler at me at my email letterstolisa@gmail.com to confirm.

I think I have at least 2-3 posts more to really get this blog up to date plus I need to post pictures. I'll get there!

In the meantime, I wish you all happy holidays! For those of you who have dropped me a line throughout the year, you have really made it special and I very much appreciate it. If I haven't gotten back to you, I will (you can also nudge in another email to remind me if you like!).

Monday, December 21, 2009

BOXED: The Start of a Conversation

I am posting here first the PR blurb I wrote for the Boxed exhibit which Rica Estrada and I curated followed by the exhibition notes I wrote for the show.

The exhibit opened last 12 December, Saturday, at the Blanc compound off Shaw Boulevard. If you're planning to catch the show and you haven't been to the Blanc compound before, I suggest you go to the Blanc website and download the map. A lot of people got lost trying to find it amidst the holiday traffic. It may be better to catch it the week after Christmas. The show runs until 2 January 2010.

Boxed: The Start of a Conversation

In 2006, Boxed was conceptualized by artists J. Pacena and Buen Calubayen as a series of exhibitions for artists and the artistically inclined. Each exhibition would gather together those from a wide variety of ages, backgrounds and creative training, showing their art—loosely bounded by dimensions—and prompting reminders on the presence and significance of the artistic community. From the initial exhibition in Big Sky Mind to the hallways of the Cultural Center of the Philippines to the Cubicle Art Gallery show themed with erotica, Boxed is, in the words of Pacena, `the idea, that we can be boxed, in one time and one space in order to connect and create a larger box, the idea of creating a universe and a dialogue in between.'

In the fourth installment of Boxed at Blanc compound curated by Clarissa Chikiamco and Rica Estrada, over forty women artists think, converse and relate their practice with one another. Within a set chain over four groups and starting from thoughts of the curators, each artist must reflect and respond to ideas of the previous artist in the line, documented through dialogue and then enacted in actual production. The dialogue, done through email, SMS, phone or in-person chats, is exhibited along with the art, putting primacy on the stages of art's conceptual development and the ability of artists to discuss and negotiate their practice.

Subtitled The Start of a Conversation, the show begins a dialogue but anticipates its extension beyond the exhibition. Believing that all different kinds of dialogue—direct or indirect, formal or informal—impresses upon and subsequently shifts artistic identities, however subtle, the exhibition challenges the idea that art is made in isolation. Highlighting the importance of artistic networks, the exercise of the show attempts to encourage networks in a system in which artists are able to both verbally and visually communicate their ideas with flexibility to others' artistic practices. Boxed: The Start of a Conversation discloses a normally concealed process as it commences it, acting as an index for the future dialogues it trusts to instigate.

Boxed: The Start of a Conversation opens on Saturday 4PM, December 12, 2009 at Blanc Compound Mandaluyong. Blanc is located at 359 Shaw Boulevard Interior, Addition Hills, Mandaluyong City. For more information, please call or sms 752-0032 / 0920-9276436, email info@blanc.ph or visit www.blanc.ph and www.blancartspace. multiply. com. Boxed will run until January 2, 2010.


A few comments before you read the exhibition notes.

The write-up for this show was for me very important for this particular exhibit. The show did not turn out as Rica and I had envisioned and I felt it was important to convey our disappointment. And, in what I think is also a change from my usual writing, I wrote the notes in the first person and I'm more straightforward than I usually am and less formal. With a lot to say, I thought it best to just say it straight up.

Despite the show not turning out as I had wanted, what was interesting was that the dialogue that I had wanted to happen did happen between me and a few artists that night and post-opening via email in the egroup we created for the show.

And just to insert a little something on pictures of the exhibit: My pictures of the show at the moment are quite inadequate but I should be getting suitable pictures soon and I will post some here. In the meantime, Trickie Lopa of manilaartblogger.wordpress.com has posted some of the pics she took of the show as well as some of her comments, one of which I responded to in the comments section.

Dialogue doesn't happen in a straight line
by Lisa Chikiamco

When the organizer and cofounder of Boxed, J. Pacena, asked Rica and I to curate this year’s exhibition, I saw it as a good opportunity for artists to practice dialogue, something which I thought was sorely lacking in the Philippine art scene having compared it to my experience studying and working abroad. Modifying J’s original idea, Boxed: The Start of a Conversation had over forty women artists think, converse and relate their practice with one another. Within a set chain over four groups and starting from some thoughts I had emailed, each artist had to reflect and respond to ideas of the previous artist in the line, documented through dialogue and then enacted in actual production. The dialogue, done through email, SMS, phone or in-person chats, is to be exhibited along with the art, putting primacy on the stages of art’s conceptual development and the ability of artists to discuss and negotiate their practice.

Initially, we had wanted there to be only one big chain yet the number of those included in the show—which we had thought would be less or a little over 20—and the time there was to dialogue made this impossible. Due to the number of artists which grew monstrously to over 50 and later whittled to 42 in the day before the exhibition’s opening, we had to divide this into four groups and subdivide them in the case of Group 3 in order for the dialogue to be finished in time. Only a handful in this show are of my and Rica’s selection and due to the lengthy process involved for this show, I will say from the outset that we would have preferred a more intimate number. Yet, admittedly, I also thought it was an interesting exercise as well for us as curators to work beyond our comfort zone and beyond the artists we normally work with.

On the 2nd of September this year, I emailed the following thoughts:

I’ll start off this dialogue by throwing in a few questions on the state of dialogue in the Philippine art scene. Does dialogue between artists, between artists and curators, between artists and the public occur? And how does this dialogue occur?—what are the communication channels by which dialogue is rendered and how is it translated? What are the ways by which the flow and exchange of ideas happen and are evidenced? What are the translations of dialogue—as a seed what does it flower? Ideas, artworks, essays, exhibits, projects? Moreover, do translations ever come to a full stop or like an unending whirl does it continue over time with dialogue having imprinted its trace? And how does a discussion, more often than not a mere wade in the pool, connect to a system of streams that empty out into the ocean?

Also intriguing as well is the connections between dialogue and women. The idea that women converse more, are more inclined to gossip, chit chat and communication, is verified clearly in television programming and popular culture. Yet, in contemporary art, where dialogue and discourse are hot bywords, the close association dialogue has with women cools for women working in the visual arts. Dialogue, which in the arts field is thrown in a very positive and constructive light, suddenly does not have a crossover in being identified with a particular gender which can benefit from it. Perhaps it’s a case of all being equal—where everyone is meant to dialogue whatever their sex without judgment of which of the two has the stronger affinity for discussion.

Reading it recently, I would certainly now like to modify certain words and the delivery though the thoughts would have essentially remained the same. Yet, the dialogue which happened after I sent off these thoughts quite frankly surprised me.

Very few artists overall were able to respond to these thoughts appropriately. Though only the first artists in the groups were supposed to directly respond to this, I had hoped that all the artists might keep what I had said in mind. Disappointingly, some seemed to completely ignore these thoughts at all and the direction I had thought the dialogue would lead to completely changed course. I had introduced the connection between dialogue and women since we had retained J’s original idea of having all women artists in the show. However, as I had written above, my thoughts which they were to respond to were on women dialoguing in the field of contemporary art. By this, and which I would think would certainly not need to be spelled out, I meant women talking about their artistic practice, their artistic identities or issues in the Philippine art scene. My mentioning the stereotype of women conversing was only an introduction to this larger issue on the state of dialogue in the Philippine art scene. If the artists chose to respond to the ‘women’ part, I had thought it would be remarks towards an art institutional setting, like issues of representation. Certainly, I did not intend or foresee it into artists dwelling about love, relationships, sisterhood and stereotypes (which together on display seem to affirm stereotypes rather than negate them) and into some sort of feminist ‘I am woman, hear me roar’ exhibition. As a curator who happens to be female rather than a female who ‘happens’ to be a curator, I will say I am very uncomfortable with this idea and it is certainly not something which I can say I am happy about.

In a sense, Rica and I share some responsibility in this. We should have steered the dialogue back to course when we saw the dialogue evolving that way. We, however, did not always see it evolving that way per se. Despite clear instructions to keep the curators in the loop of their discussion—as simple as cc-ing us in their emails which is how most communicated—many did not do this immediately. Most simply forgot. Yet, this led us for months constantly and frantically trying to find where the dialogue was, who currently held the ‘ball’, what did the others who had already talked discussed and who did we need to follow-up with and give a heads up to. Because of the large number of artists involved and that those last in line could not commence conceptualizing and making their work until the dialogue reached them, ensuring that the chain kept moving along became our first priority rather than us being able to focus on the dialogue that was happening and interjecting in it. Our second priority was in trying to get a copy of the dialogues since this was essential to the exhibition. We wanted not only to put artists through this exercise but to reveal this process to the viewers by exhibiting the said dialogue. This way, people would be able to trace the connections between the artworks and see how ideas are translated into the ‘final product’ placed onto exhibition.

I would like to note, however, that as can be seen in the ‘gaps’ of dialogue in the exhibition, some did not send us the transcript of their dialogue or their thoughts at all. Some sent it after following up and, in what I had originally envisioned as being a ‘straight’ line of dialogue, some wound up backtracking as others went forward and others diverged and others participated then dropped out and others were not sure what was happening. In perhaps what is the strongest message that Rica and I learned from curating this exhibition, dialogue doesn’t happen in a straight line.

Yet, the gaps and the dialogue itself clearly illustrate that most of the artists involved are not used to dialoguing about their practice and I would argue this extends largely into the Philippine art scene as well. If I seem a little harsh on this exhibition, it is because I believe there are lessons to be learned here—for artists and curators and not just those who are a part of the exhibition. For everyone’s benefit, we need to dialogue more. This exhibit has a lot of personal stories involved and, having worked in a collection dealing with works of an extremely sensitive and personal nature, I do firmly believe these certainly have their own worth. These stories and strong responses to womanhood were just not what Rica and I had in mind for this show (which also makes me reflect on curators trying to control artists in structure and outcome among other things).

I do believe it is quite important to develop a discipline of conversing about artistic identities and observations on the Philippine art scene that go beyond simply saying that our local art scene is rapidly growing. Before we are able to properly enact this however, we need to actually pause from the frenzy of doing, doing, doing and really think about it. The point is not to come up with final answers as indeed there are none. We need to ask ourselves and each other questions of serious thought and respond to it with some serious thought. We need to ask, read, research, think, probe, respond, compare, revise and not necessarily in that order (straight lines be damned). It is going to be difficult, complicated and sometimes unpleasant. Yet, the dialogue is completely necessary for artists and curators to grow not with more projects but more in depth with their practice. I may have voiced disappointment with the exhibition but I will also state that I am still glad for the artists and for Rica and I to have undergone this process. I am also delighted in the friendships which seem to have sparked from it and the conversations wherein indeed the artists talked about their artistic identities and tried to find the relationship of these to each other. Perhaps more will come of it. In many ways, the conversation is only just beginning.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Dust Masks and White Ice Cream

In May of this year, I wrote the exhibition text for Hanna Pettyjohn's exhibition 'The American Sweet' at SLab, Silverlens' gallery for contemporary art.

I was quite happy with how the text came out and Hanna was as well. I wrote about her two years ago for Preview's December 2007 issue ('Full Circle') but I first saw her work in 2006 in her exhibition for the Mag:net ABS gallery (which no longer is running though there are still a number of Mag:net galleries doing extremely well). It made excellent use of the small space and I loved her contemporary use of stoneware clay. It was great to work with her again for this piece and I would love to work with her again for her future endeavors.

No pictures for now, I still need to get permission to post pictures and I have none of my own as the writing and communication for this piece was just done via email while I was abroad. If you want to see pictures of the show, go to the SLab website, click gallery, click view by artist and then click Hanna Pettyjohn.

Dust Masks and White Ice Cream

12 Dec 2006, 14:35. Now this is now. The ground is driest, light and chalky; houses sprawled across this patchy geology, cloned and cold as a fucking ice cream. A large real estate of white paper, whiter than paper. The urban sprawl of unfinished thoughts and unborn ideas.

On endless blue. Endless white, endless consumption. An endless row of cars across a paved flat land, sketching faded outlines of infinitely dense and shifting worlds too huge for words, where higher standards of breathing shield entry of bodily harm, inadvertently filtering your clumsy intimacy. Describing eyes, describing lives.

"What exactly do you think you are? The millions and trillions of thoughts and memories, juxtapositions- even crazy ones like this, you're thinking- that flash through your head and disappear? A sum or remainder of these? Your history?"1

15 Apr 2007, 15:48. Who knows what lost loves? One second per second.

- Hanna Pettyjohn

Not unlike other Filipino-Americans who journey to the Philippines to learn more about their roots, Hanna Pettyjohn undertook such a passage in reverse. Spending four months in Dallas-Forth Worth, Texas from December 2006 to April 2007, Manila-born and based Pettyjohn got acquainted with America.

With her excursion framed by work at a geotechnical engineering laboratory that she embarked on to support her stay there, Pettyjohn uses the laboratory’s essential accessory as a parallel of her perception and experience of American suburbia. She depicts not only coworkers in dust masks but even her grandfather and cousin, both of whom she had met for the first time, donning these aseptic vizards as well. The concealment of a key area of facial expression ensues into a perceptible blankness of emotion and Pettyjohn places it under a magnifying lens through extremely close headshots painted to large-scale. Like labels in which one would mark slides of samples, Pettyjohn abbreviates the subjects’ names into clinical initials for the titles.

This practice of abbreviation was picked up from the writings of the late David Foster Wallace, whose stories about small-town America accompanied Pettyjohn’s own American journey. His prose mirrored her own impressions and, fittingly, his initials even had equivocal meaning as the town’s airport code. Pettyjohn’s paintings of the town are named simultaneously representing her memories of it and paying tribute to the author she associates with those memories. The scientific, documentary feel to Wallace’s writings spurred Pettyjohn to meticulously record her experiences of America through extensive writing and photographs. Isolating certain fragments from the written collection, Pettyjohn rewrote them and the result—the artist statement and introductory quote—sparked the ideas for the images of the show.

The writing-and-rewriting process which the exhibition sprang from carries the thread of Pettyjohn’s practice. She constructs, deconstructs and reconstructs—in past shows quite literally, smashing old works to pieces to generate new ones. While materially less evident here, the construction-deconstruction-reconstruction practice manifests itself through her writing. The process this time, ostensibly subtler due to the product (text vs. something physical) and not an artwork per se, actually is, as writers know, quite harrowing, mentally taxing and even downright brutal. The artistic regenerative progression is, while unseen, no less difficult nor less demanding.

In what may have been a smoother process, a birdcage from an installation Pettyjohn did for a 2008 group show, where she also did a dust mask-portrait, is carried into this new setting and reworked into a new installation. The previous installation had a small house painted in clouds, conveying the American dream of an unspoiled life, which then rested atop a chicken pillow entrapped in the cage. In its current incarnation, the cage dangles freely from the ceiling with neon text of ‘now this is now’. It hovers above naked white plaster casts of homes forming their own little residential area. Each house the same as the last, the installation edifies the flatness and monotony of everyday America, where everything—and even everyone—seems to be a clone.

For many, this may not be a representation of their own perception and experience of the USA. For Pettyjohn though, there is something more to and about these idyllic dreams. Mundane, repetitive, sanitized, incessant and, ultimately, impossible, The American Sweet is a land where everyone gets to have some ice cream. But the only flavor is vanilla.


1. Quotation is from David Foster Wallace’s book Oblivion.

Art is like a journal

I wrote the text for Mark Andy Garcia's second solo exhibition at Blanc in February of this year. I was asked by Jay Amante, the gallery owner of Blanc, to write the text for the exhibition. In a sense, I was quite interested to do so with Garcia approaching art intimately connected with his personal life and using art as a form of therapy. Having worked at the Cunningham Dax Collection, a collection of works of those who've experienced mental illness and/or trauma (one of the largest collections in the world of works of this kind), in Melbourne as a Curatorial Scholarship Student for a year was a very interesting experience for me and one that I was interested in connecting with my practice working in contemporary art. I'm not sure what further directions my experience there will lead to but I am a big believer in mulling over things, letting it fester and bringing it out when 'it's time' whether it be weeks from now or years from now.

Art is like a journal

Art is like a journal, Mark Andy Garcia once said. If it is a journal, the selected works in this exhibition script the startling, tumultuous past year Garcia has had. The unusual succession of events that have unfolded in Garcia’s life within close proximity to one other has placed the artist squarely in an overwhelming test of his disposition. Briefly, the story of this episode of Garcia’s life is this:

Rochelle and Raquel, Garcia’s two younger sisters at nineteen and seventeen years old (both single and still in school), wound up with overlapping unplanned pregnancies. His older brother, Rhyan, got married but, within a month, forlornly had to leave his pregnant wife behind to work in Taiwan for much needed finances. In addition, the kidneys of Garcia’s father stopped functioning and regular (and expensive) dialysis sessions became necessary. And like many mothers who become the family’s resilient pillar in times of crisis, Garcia’s mother has more than dutifully stepped up to her task as the caring, loving wife and mother who sources her strength from places of unplumbed depths.

Now, Garcia, the second of the four children, is amidst and in between all of this.

While seemingly aloof in manner should one meet him in person, Garcia’s composed exterior veil a tempest beneath. The furor and confusion that Garcia rightly feels for all these occurrences is directly seen and felt in these exhibition’s works. The works were each created quickly and unplanned in a torrential flood of feeling – in the need to suddenly discharge these hot flashes of intense emotion and moments of great duress. Grief, anger, despair, sympathy and bewilderment are bared in Garcia’s childlike brash slashing strokes and in the impetuous scribbled phrases found all over his paintings. His selection of damp browns, purples and greens further insinuate the artist’s brooding and foreboding mood.

Focusing on Garcia’s mother are the works Charity, Sorrow, My Mother and She’s Always There. They, in some sense, pay tribute to her vigor, her steadfastness and indeed her anguish as well, as Garcia perceives it. Depicting his brother and sister-in-law, Kuya Rhyan and Ate Raquel centers on Garcia’s brother’s distressed reaction to his sister’s pregnancy news which followed only a day after what had been his joyous wedding. The events of Rochelle and Racquel, the objects of Garcia’s mother’s charity, shadow and dominate most of the show, along with Garcia’s deep loathing towards the men who got his sisters pregnant. One of the men is obviously referred to in Raquel in the Shadow of an Imbecile; the other alluded to in The Brainless Murderer. The men loom in the corner of Under the Watchful Eyes while Garcia’s self-portrait sits on the opposite side holding a double-edged sword, a biblical reference to the word of God. The importance of faith in these events that have cast such a feeling of vulnerability to Garcia, understandably feeling prey to his emotions, is echoed in his Prayer Request of a Weak Man.

The exhibition title ‘Under the Watchful Eyes’, taken from the title of the largest work in the exhibition, originally referred to a divine being overlooking these events and, simultaneously, the judgmental perceptions of others to what had happened. Yet, the title takes new meaning in the recent death of Garcia’s father, who passed away shortly after the works for the show were completed. It perhaps movingly bookends a conclusion in this particular chapter of troubling events in Garcia’s life.

Undeniably, the weight of such severe family circumstances Garcia finds himself in weighs heavily on the works. Who would want to own something filled with so much personal tragedy? Would it be so sadistic to purchase and display such a memento of events that are so obviously deeply painful to the artist?

Yet, if art is like a journal as Garcia says, there is something very precious then about owning what amounts to a page from the artist’s diary and one so specially invested in by the artist. It is rare to find works these days with such a fervent personal connection to actual events in the artist’s life. The impulsive painting process has certainly been a therapeutic one for Garcia, the transference of emotions done through the very physical sensation of daubing here, there, anywhere and everywhere. There is an evident amount of gratification in expelling the hurt, the demons, the confusion and the sadness.

Yet, there are still some few last stages of this progression of healing being completed. The works have entered the realm of the commercial world. They are now exhibited in a gallery – ready to be sold off and shipped to its new proprietors, who will own not only a part of the artist’s experience but, with such inundation of the artist’s inner self, also in a sense a part of his soul. As Garcia lets go of these works and they go into the homes of the appreciative and enlightened, perhaps he may find the cathartic release and the prayed-for strength that he has greatly longed for and that he so much deserves.

Art & Australia Lyndal Jones exhibition review

I wrote a review of the Lyndal Jones exhibition at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA) for Art & Australia under Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces' Emerging Writers Program where I was mentored by Lisa Byrne. It appeared in the publication's Summer 2008/2009 edition.

For this exhibition which had a lot of video, I remember spending hours in this exhibit with a number of repeat visits to see the videos in their full duration. Visitors would come and go and I would still be sitting there watching. Even if I suppose a reviewer has a particular responsibility, it makes me think that perhaps the experience we are presenting in our writing is markedly different from what other visitors may experience. It also makes me wonder about the expectations of artists in such exhibitions - do their expectations for 'ordinary' visitors differ from their expectations from art writers and curators? If they expect visitors to stay only for a couple of minutes to watch the works and this visitor is an art writer who writes about the work in a way other than the artists intended, would they argue it is because they didn't stay to watch longer or watch the whole thing? In large exhibitions such as biennales, I would think that video - despite its increasing popularity as medium - is the one that least receives proper attention due to the time demands. We are also so used to watching narrative that even just 10 minutes of non-narrative can be excruciatingly long.

Also on some random non-art related note, in this picture of that was made black and white, I seem to have aged like ten years! I barely recognize myself in all honesty! If you've met me in person, haha, you know what I mean.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

I am seriously going to update this blog soon

I am seriously going to update this blog soon!

I have been mega busy the past few months with the past 5 weeks in particular being completely crazy on so many different levels. It's probably been the most intense 5 weeks of my life but I think I've handled it well so far.

But yes, I'm alive! And damn happy to be alive!

Will update soon :)

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Fractions of an Intangible Whole: Philippine Social Realism in the Ateneo Art Gallery

Fractions of an Intangible Whole: Philippine Social Realism in the Ateneo Art Gallery draws from the strong collection of Philippine social realist works in the 1970s-1980s of the first museum of modern art in the Philippines, the Ateneo Art Gallery. The show looks at how historically significant works become animated with new meaning through the museum and its exhibits which include contemporary art sourced outside the collection.

30 June - 31 July 2009

La Trobe University Art Museum

Glenn College, Bundoora Campus

Victoria, Australia

Curator's Talk: 22 July 2009, Wednesday, 4-6 pm

To be followed by a reception 6-8 pm with Guest Speaker Raul V. Hernandez, Consul General of the Philippines


10 July 2009, Friday, 11 am

Dekada '70 Film Screening

Starring Vilma Santos. Directed by Chito S. Rono.

A story of a family caught in the middle of a tumultuous decade. Dekada '70 details a middle class family struggling with new changes that have empowered Filipinos to rise against the oppressive Marcos government. Witnessing the suspension of the Writ of Habeas Corpus, proclamation of Martial Law, bombing of Plaza Miranda, random arrests, radical citizens and political prisoners, Amanda Bartolome (Santos), a mother of five boys, awakens her identity to state her stand as a citizen, mother and as a woman.

17 July 2009, Friday, 11 am

‘New York, London, Paris, Rome, Manila City Jail’ Discussions with David Griggs
David Griggs’ is an Australian artist whose work explores the “darker undercurrents of human
existence to make sense of the uncertain times in which we live”. His most recent show at Green Papaya Arts Projects in Kamuning, Quezon City, Philippines, caps off a four month Asialink residency in Manila, in which he worked with inmates of the Manila City Jail. David will talk about this project as well as his enthusiasm and extensive travels around southeast Asia, in particular the Philippines and the impact this has had on his work.

20 July 2009, Monday, 2 pm

Gallery Readings, Creative Writers from Ateneo de Manila University, Philippines

Rofel G. Brion is a professor of interdisciplinary studies, literature and creative writing. His poems have been published in three volumes, with his fi rst book winning the Philippine National Book Award. He has been a fellow at the Hawthornden Castle International Retreat for Writers, the University of Iowa International Writing Program, and the Berlin International Literature Festival.

Exie Abola teaches literature and writing and is a prize-winning writer of short stories and essays. He writes an occasional column for the art and lifestyle sections of The Philippine Star and is currently working on his first book, a collection of literary essays.

Cyan Abad-Jugo has a master’s in Children’s Literature at Simmons College, Boston, and is currently pursuing a PhD in English Studies: Creative Writing at the University of the Philippines. Her first book, Father and Daughter: The Figures of Our Speech, is a joint project with her father, the poet Gémino H. Abad (Anvil 1996). She has two collections of short fiction: Sweet Summer and Other Stories (UP Press 2004) and Leaf and Shadow: Stories About Some Friendly Creatures (Anvil 2008). She teaches Introduction to Literature, Western Literature, and Fiction Writing and writes a fantasy series for Mango Jam, a comics digest for girls.

LUMA La Trobe University Museum of Art
Glenn College, Bundoora Campus
La Trobe University, Victoria, 3086
Exhibitions Hours: Mon – Fri 10am – 5pm
Telephone: + 61 3 9479 2111
Website: latrobe.edu/artmuseum

All Lectures and film screenings at Glenn College Lecture Theatre, Bundoora Campus. Readings in the Gallery. Free Entry. Bookings Required.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A Circa Revisited

The following is the text I wrote for A Circa Revisited, solo exhibition of Ranelle "Rain" Dial, at Mag:net Gallery Katipunan from 25 October to 13 November 2008. More pictures at Mag:net's website.

A Circa Revisited

In an extension from her previous exhibition Withering, Rain Dial continues her appraisal on a weakening communication system in her current solo show. A Circa Revisited expands on the theme of the old-fashioned post through its portrayals of the men in custody of this conventional form of message delivery.

Prior to phone, mobile phone and email technologies, the postman was the essential component in the transference of letters, announcements and other information. His physical presence and equally physically demanding tasks embodied the perseverance and necessity of human interaction, initiating the transgression of boundaries and underscoring the premium placed in communication exchange. Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night (as the saying goes) could prevent the performance of this duty. The postman, in spite of any impediment thrown his way, would continue to relay crucial communication and serve as the critical point of contact between friends, family, communities and nations.

A Circa Revisited reflects on this role’s diminishing value. Like apparitions from a bygone era, Dial’s postmen are evidently dated and derived from images in the early 1900’s. They are shown in various locations amidst the everyday and extraordinary nature of their tasks: delivering via bicycle during the holidays, saving mails from a ruined city, reading an unknown addressee amidst a war or simply in the act of retrieving letters (from the commonplace mailbox to the secret tree hole for lovers’ written whispers). Postmen, denoted in Dial’s choice of somber neutral colors, have always been largely unnoticed characters and yet, their imperceptibility is bound to intensify. In the technology propulsion of the twenty-first century, those from point A to point B have effortless access to direct person-to-person contact. In the process, the middle man—the mailman—has been cut away.

Hinting of this are two of Dial’s paintings where postmen are not depicted. Like demoralized and abandoned assemblages, the mailboxes cluster together in perpetual wait for some content. Their hollow cavities echo the absence of what was once the constant occurrence of being filled, of holding the personal and historical narratives which have shaped the present that shuns it. It is an absence indicative of the other absence affixed to it, becoming traces of the human hand which once was a fixture there. A Circa Revisited gives encomium to those who’ve enabled a previously primary mode of communication. Poised to recede in giving way to progression, postmen, through this exhibition, are given their due presence.

Senate BIll No. 2464: A crime against Philippine culture

This article was so long that it had to be printed in two parts. Many thanks to Igan D' Bayan for doing illustrations for the article!

Senate Bill No. 2464: ‘A crime against Philippine culture’

ARTICIPATION By Clarissa Chikiamco
The Philippine Star Monday, September 22, 2008

There has been some commotion amidst the local online art communities lately about Senate Bill No. 2464, the Anti-Obscenity and Pornography Act of 2008. Introduced by Senator Manny Villar, the bill is apparently pending for approval. Before any approving, the Senate should know that the bill’s approval means one of the worst crimes against Philippine culture. It is repressive to the arts with its aims to criminalize “obscene” and “pornographic” acts regardless of intention. No room for social commentary. No room for creative expression. Nothing.

The intentions of the bill are respectable: “It is the policy of the State to give special value to the dignity of every human person and to promote and safeguard its integrity and the moral, spiritual and social well-being of its citizenry, especially the youth in general and women in particular, from the pernicious effects of obscenity and pornography.” Sexual offenses to women and to children are indeed serious issues and the propagation of such material that could increase the risk of sexual crimes is something that must be considered. But the bill impinges on the creative right of artists to express themselves with its ridiculous definitions.

The Bill

Obscene is defined in the Act as “anything that is indecent or offensive or contrary to good customs or religious beliefs, principles or doctrines, or tends to corrupt or deprave the human mind, or is calculated to excite impure thoughts or arouse prurient interest, or violates the proprieties of language and human behavior, regardless of the motive of the producer, printer, publisher, writer, importer, seller, distributor or exhibitor.” Examples listed under this include, but apparently are not limited to: (1) showing, depicting or describing sexual acts (2) showing, depicting or describing human sexual organs or the female breasts; (3) showing, depicting or describing completely nude human bodies; (4) describing erotic reactions, feelings or experiences on sexual acts; or (5) performing live sexual acts of whatever form.

The definition of obscene allows for a completely subjective opinion and the problem is whose opinion is it that matters? Who gets to decide and judge what is indecent, offensive, contrary to good customs or religious beliefs, principles, or doctrines, or corrupting or depraving the human mind? Is it going to boil down to one person’s beliefs in court even if it differs from the beliefs of the “offender”? Or shall it be whatever the majority thinks? What majority, though? The bill lists a number of government agencies responsible for the bill’s implementation but are they in the position to act as expert and critic of good customs or what corrupts or depraves the human mind?

Pornographic or pornography is defined in the bill as “objects or subject of film, television shows, photography, illustrations, music, games, paintings, drawings, illustrations, advertisements, writings, literature or narratives, contained in any format, whether audio or visual, still or moving pictures, in all forms of film, print, electronic, outdoor or broadcast media, or whatever future technologies to be developed, which are calculated to excite, stimulate or arouse impure thoughts and prurient interest, regardless of the motive of the author thereof.”

The definition of pornography, as with the definition of obscene, paradoxically has both “calculated” and “regardless of the motive.” One can’t say that the author’s material was “calculated” to excite, stimulate or arouse such “impure” thoughts without referring to his or her motive or intent. Again, this is unfairly biased towards the party that gets aroused from such material, which basically becomes reduced to individual preferences.

Three of the six punishable acts under the law involve mass media. These are (1) producing, printing, showing, exhibiting, importing, selling, advertising or distributing obscene or pornographic materials in all forms of mass media; (2) causing the showing or exhibition, distributing or the printing, publication or advertising, or the selling of obscene of pornographic materials in all forms of mass media; and (3) performing, demonstrating, acting or exhibiting any obscene or pornographic act in any form of mass media. Mass media is defined in the act as “film, print, broadcast, electronic and outdoor media including, but not limited to, Internet, newspapers, tabloids, magazines, newsletters, books, comic books, billboards, calendars, posters, optical discs, magnetic media, future technologies, and the like.” Not only does this encompass a wide range but the “including, but not limited to” part seems to give a rather large allowance for maneuvering in finding material in whatever format punishable.

The other punishable acts include performing, or allowing the performance of, live sex or live sexual act in public, public places or any place open to public viewing; writing any obscene or pornographic article in any print or electronic medium; and showing, exhibiting, selling, or distributing obscene or pornographic movies in whatever format, whether produced in the Philippines or abroad, in any restaurant, club or other places open to the public, including private buildings, places or houses where the viewers are not limited to them owners thereof and the members of his family. The latter means one can still enjoy pornography but in the privacy of his or her own home (though it can’t be shared with friends or other outsiders, relatives are apparently okay).

To say that this bill has no objective to include or pursue such censorship in the arts is untrue. It includes paintings, drawings and illustrations, which are predominant formats in the visual arts, and includes outright the art form of literature in its definition of materials covered under the act. Other materials covered are films, television shows, photographs, music, games, advertisements, writings, or narratives.

Punishable Acts are Punishing Who?
So what does this mean for the Philippine art scene?

Under this act, many artworks in exhibitions, even conservative ones, could be deemed obscene or pornographic (National Artist Fernando Amorsolo’s paintings featuring nude maidens immediately come to mind), yet their inclusion in exhibitions may not necessarily be a punishable act. As long as the still images of “obscene” or “pornographic” artworks are not produced in mass media, there doesn’t seem to be anything that the artists or exhibiting institutions can be punished for.

It probably means though that museums, galleries and other art-affiliated institutions cannot use any such images for invitations or exhibition catalogues, which is preposterous because it is next to impossible to fulfill educational roles and further scholarship without documentation or printed material on the artworks. Even if the image is censored, the text could not even describe the image as all text is also apparently subjugated under the act and could merit punishment for even simply describing a nude body.

“Obscene” or “pornographic” artworks using film or video are going to precariously hang under the Act. Take Jevijoe Vitug’s video work “Classical Scandal” (2006), featuring clips of found homemade porn juxtaposed with Philippine classical paintings, a commentary on, as the artist provided in a statement, “the dividing line between pornography and fine art, between naked and nude… (questioning) the notion of originality and legality as well as mass production and public consumption.” The artist and those in the institution responsible for the exhibition of such a work could, under the bill, be slapped with heavy fines and even jail time. But why? Is the work really about and created for titillating the viewer? Or, like a lot of contemporary art, isn’t it an informed endeavor based on social and (art) historical observations which become an impetus to thinking of a confluence of ideas? Why should any artist, should he or she choose to use the human body (yes, even nude ones) to articulate an idea, be punished for doing so?

Whatever the kind of art (visual arts, literature, dance, theater, film, etc.), it is only natural that some works are going to use and refer to the body. Human beings are embodied beings and this includes having sexual organs and experiences of sexual acts. To pretend otherwise by censoring any text or image with allusions to this is a foolish pretension. The bill poses that Philippine society is too immature to receive even just an illustrated depiction of a woman’s breasts. While the bill’s immediate implications seem to be to the media and arts communities, the Anti-Obscenity and Pornography Act of 2008 is more an affront to Philippine society. It indicates that the nation is restrictive and closed-minded. The bill is less about human decency and more about catering to the elite group of the easily offended.

(To be concluded)
* * *

The second part of the article next week includes the discussion “Is art above the law?” To read the full bill, download it from the Senate website at http://www.senate.gov.ph/lis/bill_res.aspx?congress=14&q=SBN-2464.

Senate Bill No. 2464: A crime against Philippine culture

ARTICIPATION By Clarissa Chikiamco
Monday, September 29, 2008 (Conclusion)

Last week, I wrote about the controversial Senate Bill No. 2464, the Anti-Obscenity and Pornography Act of 2008 introduced by Senator Manny Villar. The Senate should know that the bill’s approval means one of the worst crimes against Philippine culture. It is repressive to the arts with its aims to criminalize “obscene” and “pornographic” acts regardless of intention. No room for social commentary. No room for creative expression. Nothing.

With regard to objections to this bill on its repercussions to the art scene, two fundamental questions are raised: 1) Is art above the law? 2) Given that the law would allow some concessions for artists, couldn’t just anybody call himself or herself an “artist” to allow himself or herself to get away with truly punishable acts that masquerade as “art”?

On the first question, the answer is no. Art isn’t, or rather, shouldn’t be, above the law. But the law should recognize the intrinsic value of art and culture and therefore should be created with room for freedom of expression. Artists are always trying to move past boundaries but, as people who usually seem to be on the cusp of the exceptional and transitional points in history, this is not without value and not without reason. Except in the most extreme cases (exceedingly rare), artistic intent is valid grounds to create material with transgressive content. In Australia, pornography laws consider educational, literary and artistic merit as part of the circumstances in determining if material is indeed offensive.

There is no cause to fear that, without such a law, artists are going to run out of their homes in reckless abandon and perform wild sexual acts in the street in the name of art. Most of the time, any possibly offensive material is exhibited or performed within the realm of spaces, galleries or institutions, which are usually visited or witnessed by those who already recognize that there is something beyond such works’ face value. Also, artists and those working in the spaces with such material have little difficulty when it comes to finding a suitable arrangement in these matters. Museums abroad section off possibly offensive material with signage by the entryways alerting to the adult content of the work and that access is only for those 18 years of age and above. Such an approach could work in the Philippines provided that the material is truly of adult and potentially offensive content and not the absurd ideas the bill has of what is obscene or pornographic.

On the second question, a real criminal could try to call himself or herself an artist to, for example, get away with photos of child pornography which he or she would claim to be “art.” But that doesn’t mean that he or she is really an artist. An artist does not simply become an artist because he or she declares himself or herself to be one. The designation of “artist” is regulated by art institutions and art experts within and permeating those institutions. Becoming an artist does not take one act but unfolds over a series of acts that show the person’s intentionality to participate in such a discourse. It is doubtable that real criminals with malicious intent would go through the tedious process of putting together portfolios and exhibitions proposals; going around the different galleries, hoping to get picked up to produce a show; and, if accepted, preparing several weeks or even months for the exhibition; facilitating and even funding such things as invitation design, mail-outs, press releases, food and drinks; then after or even before the show ends, doing it all over again. This is not even to mention all the networking he or she would need to do along the way, like going to fellow artists’ exhibitions and talks, participating and even initiating group projects, dialoguing with curators, talking with potential collectors and applying for local and international residencies. Those who think being an artist is so easy (which is not to discourage anyone from undertaking creative endeavors) do real artists injustice. A look at the curriculum vitae of the supposed artist and consultations with museum and gallery directors and curators will belie any false claims.

Killing the Philippines’ Potential as a Cultural Power

The Philippines has the ability to position itself as a cultural tiger. The nation is not lacking in talented artists, rather the country’s cultural community is lacking in funding and support from the government and the wider public. Artists in other Asian countries are getting more exposure, not because they are more talented but because their governments and more of their local private institutions recognize the intrinsic value in their contributions and back this up with concrete resources and support. Yet, even without as much government support and private patronage, the Philippine art scene has an enormous asset in being one of the most liberal, poising itself as a nucleus for cultural activity. This advantage will, of course, be stripped away with the passage of the bill and culturally position the Philippines behind its Asian neighbors.

But what does a country that values its culture signal? A country that values its culture — and manifests this tangibly — signals a progressive nation that sees worth in its history, heritage, traditions and the creativity and dynamism of its people. Many governments in places around the world have realized the importance of culture not only in providing a sense of identity but in using it to engineer economic growth. It provides a major component in tourist attraction and boosts confidence in investors to invest in the region. The Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain, conceived in order to stimulate economic development, has gentrified the area, generated thousands of jobs in employment and annually contributes millions of euros in additional income to the Basque Treasury. In Thailand, cultural tourism is one of the major sources of revenue while in Singapore, the government aggressively promotes and supports cultural activities for tourism and for campaigning the small country as a leading force in the world’s cultural stage. Then there is China, which has palpably been making waves worldwide with the increasing interest in its contemporary art market.

Yet with this bill, as John Silva, commenting on the same issue, wrote in his blog, “Our tourism industry will suffer considerably. If our society loses its unique tourist branding as one of the freest and most liberal in Asia to be replaced with a monastic authoritarian state, then who in their right mind would come and visit a poor version of Saudi Arabia?”

The long-term repercussions of the passage of the bill could be imagined in recalling one of the major cases of artistic intolerance of the 20th century. Adolf Hitler, despite being an undisputed patron and lover of art, particularly despised modern art, which was widely reflected in the Nazi’s cultural policy. These “forbidden” works of art were swiftly purged, sold (to fund the German war machine), burned or exhibited in “degenerate” art exhibitions with minors’ barred from seeing the works’ “obscene” content. Artists and cultural workers all over Europe fled for other countries more hospitable to their ideas. Many landed in New York and, post-World War II, they contributed in situating America as the cultural superpower of the 20th century, which became one of the US’s prime political tools — equating democracy with cultural freedom.

It is not an exaggeration to see possibly similar consequences of Nazi cultural policy to this bill. While artists would probably continue producing as usual, select art activities could be forced to go underground, increasing its isolation from a broader public. In addition, Philippine artists and cultural workers, particularly over the long-term, may simply migrate to other countries that value their artistic contributions more than their own nation does. It is tiring enough for local artists and art organizations to find funding, support and appreciation. But it is simply sickening to impose on the country’s cultural community a bill as unjust as this one.

* * *

To read the full bill, download it from the Senate website at http://www.senate.gov.ph/lis/bill_res.aspx?congress=14&q=SBN-2464.

Into the Fourth Dimension

The following is a piece I wrote for Noël Skrzypczak's Studio 12 exhibition at Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces, Melbourne, Love and Babies OR Landscape of the Planet Tralfamadore. The show took place on 4 July - 2 August 2008. Check out pictures of the exhibition at Noël's site and browse around at other works she has done while you're at it.

The piece is also a product of Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces and Art and Australia's Emerging Writers Program 2008, under which I was mentored by Lisa Byrne, former director of Canberra Contemporary Art Space who is currently doing her phd at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. I am very grateful to have been in the program and learned a lot from it. Lisa Byrne's also a great mentor :)

Into the Fourth Dimension

For her GCAS Studio 12 project, Noël Skrzypczak adds a new dimension in her visual art practice. Extending her painting prose into the sculptural, Skrzypczak’s latest work continues her recent explorations into the multidimensional.

Skrzypczak’s paintings have always been, in a sense, sculptural. In an attempt to break the illusion of paintings being like windows into another world, Skrzypczak’s work continually attempts to free itself from the uniformly rectangular canvas. Using abstraction, either alone, or combined with the recognisable; odd-shaped canvases or no canvases at all, she paints with a constellation of different colours that simultaneously combine, meld, gravitate and levitate, so that her paintings act like the visible residues of an otherworldly realm existing beyond the human level of perception.

Like traces of auric bodies, Skrzypczak’s work seems to tune into other frequencies, picking up radiations of the emotive, the relative and the surreal. Her paintings are inducements to the experiential—inviting contact with palpable drops of the metaphysical. Perhaps the paintings could appropriately be called ‘space invaders’ for their shambolic and unreserved occupations of space, their ostensibly extraterrestrial presence. Yet, despite these benign confrontations with the foreign and the mystical, the works remain essentially human, having a persuasive ability to stimulate contemplation into the very real world of the intangible.

Love and Babies or Landscape of the Planet Tralfamadore runs in the same vein. Oscillating between the corporeal and the ethereal, Skrzypczak’s sculptural installation is another experimental foray into rendering the multiplicities of the invisible into the physical.

Love and Babies or Landscape of the Planet Tralfamadore is inspired by the book Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut. A tale of the bombing of Dresden, the book contains a subplot in which protagonist Billy Pilgrim is abducted by aliens from the planet Tralfamadore. He is exhibited naked in a Tralfamadorian zoo and is later joined by kidnapped porn star Montana Wildhack, who is equally naked, save for a locket containing a picture of her mother around her neck. He later mates with her and impregnates her and, several years later back on earth, remembers her on the planet Tralfamadore, taking care of their baby.

Skrzypczak’s work, originally envisaged as a temporary installation in a strip club, was meant to echo the book’s observation that the sex industry is really all about love and babies. Through capturing this desire for intimacy and the innocent yearning for tenderness through procreation, the piece moves beyond its initial beginnings in the realm of the erotic, to a very basic and universal longing for an other.

Skrzypczak intuitively sculpts a partial landscape of Tralfamadore in which this mating took place, using various gradients of magenta that sensuously unfold and mushroom on Studio 12’s floor. Through installing a light within the landscape’s voluptuous swells and contusions in the darkened room, Love and Babies or Landscape of the Planet Tralfamadore can be seen to evoke a sense that life forms are incubating within its interior, transforming the sculpture into a protoplasmic sheath protecting its simmering progenies. In this way the delicate biomorphic quality resonates with the very organic and enigmatic processes in which babies are created, while its lush colouring and wide span seem to embody a mother’s, or a lover’s, embrace. Love and Babies or Landscape of Tralfamadore does not simply suggest an alien terrain, but describes the very mystifying and phenomenal astral ambit of love and babies.

Slaughterhouse 5 describes the Tralfamadorians as being able to see in the fourth dimension, and find humans’ limited 3D vision limiting in the extreme. It is precisely a fourth dimension that Skrzypczak essentially brings to her works. Through employing materials that appear to escape from their confines Skrzypczak incites the viewer to realise the presence of the extrasensory spectrum in which experience and emotions lie, and ultimately inviting the viewer to see into another dimension and beyond the 3D.

MM Yu's exhibition 'Standstill'

I wrote the text for MM Yu's exhibition, Standstill, at the Ateneo Art Gallery in June-July 2008. MM Yu was one of the winners of the 2007 Ateneo Art Awards and the recipient of the Awards' residency with Common Room in Bandung, Indonesia. Her exhibition was joined by two other shows of the other winners of the 2007 Ateneo Art Awards, Lyle Buencamino and Wawi Navarroza.

Below is the text and I've posted pictures of the catalogue. Pictures of the show are at MM Yu's multiply site.


In Standstill, MM Yu continues her incursion into photographs as visual traces of the past. In a collection which recalls her winning show Thoughts Collected, Recollected, Yu presents vivid and expectant photographs which act as significant pauses in time’s passage. The works, simultaneously documentary and fragmentary and taken by Yu at various places and in different periods of time, are jarring for their startling crispness and striking imagery that are juxtaposed with the vagueness of particular events each photograph alludes to. Nearly devoid of actual humans but rife with signs of human presence, the pictures quietly evidence the incidence of time in the overused, the disposed, the accumulated and the forgotten—normal visual occurrences in the hubbub of everyday life which can be, as Yu clearly sees, potentially poignant as well.

These random snippets of time enjoin the viewer to contemplative action and the absorption of the momentary. Acting like serene interludes to the mundane, these photographs surmise the plausible and are ultimately invitations to the latent possibilities held within the tranquil act of standing still.

This blog has to be updated!

This blog badly needs updating! If people just pass by the blog, it looks like I abandoned it and writing entirely. No wonder I don't get that much emails anymore.

I have been writing less in the past year due to schoolwork but yes, I have still been writing from time to time but just delinquent in posting it here. If you factor in schoolwork then I can't remember when I have ever written this much : 20,000 words each semester at 5,000 words per subject so 40,000 words for 2008 and same amount for 2009. There have been countless sleepless nights, hair-pulling and head-pounding in the process but I do enjoy my studies and learning :) Unfortunately, I had to cut back on column and magazine writing but I do believe that my writing will be better after I get through the slough of thousands pages I have to read and thousands of words I have to write for school.

Ok, enough talk and more action - time to start posting!