writings, projects and exhibitions of Clarissa Chikiamco

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.

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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.

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