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 :)