writings, projects and exhibitions of Clarissa Chikiamco

Sunday, December 19, 2010


So I've been extremely busy and there are a number of my art writings which I haven't been able to post here.

The past few weeks I had been focusing on the expansion of my essay for the Lee Aguinaldo book being published by Vibal Foundation and the Ateneo Art Gallery. I think writing for a book really means seclusion! You really need time to concentrate and process your thoughts. I blogged about my essay in September when I was working on finishing it. I actually did finish it by the end of that month. My final word count was over 9,000, much more than the projected 5,000.

In early November though we had another meeting and the publisher thought it would be a good idea for us writers to expand our texts as we could include more images. The requested expansion though was 8,000 each - nearly double what I had already written! I think I was a little shocked at first with a race of conflicting feelings. I had been quite happy having already opened the retrospective and getting to attend to the many things which I needed or wanted to do but had put off because of Lee. Now I would have to put off everything again and face the extreme difficulty - mentally, emotionally and even physically - that comes in writing a long academic essay. So to know I would go back into this cave and self-imposed hibernation was nerve-wracking.

Even if I had this anxious little ball bouncing around in my stomach, there was also a part of me that was looking forward to the challenge, knowing that there are still so many things that could be said about Lee. Indeed, there was still a lot more I could discuss with Lee as a postmodernist artist, particularly with his ideas on appropriation and on, as I also felt, 'time'. I had to agree when the publisher said that my essay in my current state was solid but it also made one curious and asked for more. So now, I had the opportunity to flesh out more of its ideas - in a full additional 8,000-word glory.

In the middle of this attack on the expansion, I attended the Visayas Biennale or the VIVA Ex-con in Cebu (my first visit to this city often compared to Manila). I had already booked my trip weeks before, thinking I would have been done with my major Lee commitments by then. I also had to honor my other writing commitments, the major one being the catalogue text for the Ronald Ventura 'Converging Nature' solo exhibition at Drawing Room. And, of course, before writing meant research, research, research. I was crazy enough to actually flip page by page through several years of weekly magazines of different publications from the late 1950s to mid 1960s. Since the articles for these magazines are not entered in a computerized database, an article discussing Lee could be hidden somewhere within those pages. Since I didn't have time to check out every year of every magazine, I began by doing a random selection (example, 1963 issues of Philippines Herald Magazine) and just going through that. I would input into my computer which issues/dates I would check so I wouldn't get confused and wind up redoing what I had already done. It's an extremely time-consuming process but I did find some things I could use. I would have kept on looking but tick tock, I had to stop.

Other research meant reading books and essays, looking for those that could be of use and help me understand and discuss Lee's work. There was the usual (1) reading something for hours and realizing I can't use it; (2) reading something for hours and realizing I can't use it but it points me towards other sources I might be able to use; (3) realizing some sources might be crucial... but not available anywhere in the Philippines and too late or too expensive to order and have it shipped rush via Amazon when I'm still not 100% sure I can use it; (4) wanting sources in university libraries but I'm not a student so I don't have any borrowing privileges... so song-and-dance having very kind friends with access borrow it for me! Then, of course, making notes, pulling out quotations, even making outlines... Oh yeah, writing.

So yes, anyway, I've finished. In total, I was supposed to pass 17,500 words. What I sent in was about 19,600 - minus a few hundred since a number of those words were text call outs for which images I wanted in my essay. So 19,000++. I sent in 10,000 more words, phew. As the word count was climbing towards that, I was already quite dizzy trying to read my whole essay in one go! I was also a bit shocked when I counted the sources in my bibliography at the time I passed it- 65!

Now that I've finished it though, I'm extremely happy about the expansion so my essay could be more thorough in the discussion. I also feel like I have gained a crucial understanding to Lee's works that I hadn't had before, even as obsessed as I am with his art. This is especially with his ideas on time, which I had then only had hints of that it was worth taking note of. In retrospect, I realize now that a discussion on time is absolutely fundamental, at least to my essay.

So I've been busy with that and will continue to be busy with that, at least in terms of helping the book come together. I still need to see the copy-edited version and I've also had minor changes and additions I want to do, after thinking about it over a few days. I also want to help with the vision and visuals of the book, in somehow making it 'Lee' (as in very modern and contemporary). In other aspects, I'm still rushing to make a couple of deadlines this week and I'm also making plans for Visual Pond's End Frame 3 (will make an announcement in a couple of weeks).

I will try to do further updates on the blog this week but likely not... so if I don't get to, I wish you a wonderful holidays! Till the next update.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Modernist/Postmodernist Lee: Talk on 4 December 2010, Saturday, 10 am

I will be giving a talk on Saturday, 4 December 2010, 10.00 am as part of the programs for the ongoing exhibition "Lee Aguinaldo: In Retrospect" which I curated with Victoria "Boots" Herrera in Ateneo Art Gallery. The talk has been generally titled "Modernist/Postmodernist Lee" but the talk really serves as the vehicle for me to deliver my ongoing essay on him for the upcoming book for Ateneo and Vibal Foundation Publishing. The title of my essay is "The Missing Link? Modernist Trope, Rupture, Variations." In this essay, I examine how Lee has been identified as a modern abstract artist and posit the necessity to rupture this notion in order to examine other facets of his practice.

Everyone is welcome to attend and there is free admission. The Ateneo Art Gallery is on the 2F Rizal Library Special Collections Building, Ateneo de Manila University, Katipunan Avenue, Loyola Heights, Quezon City, Metro Manila 1108. You can try to find more specific directions at http://gallery.ateneo.edu. For inquiries, call IC or Thea at (632) 426.6488.

Photograph on the right is the invitation image for Lee's 1972 'painting' exhibition at Cultural Center of the Philippines. It is a photo taken of Lee by Nat Gutierrez.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Lee Aguinaldo exhibition opens today!

"Lee Aguinaldo: In Retrospect", curated by Boots Herrera and myself, opens tonight at 6 pm at the Ateneo Art Gallery, 2nd level, Rizal Library Special Collections Building, Ateneo de Manila University, Katipunan Avenue, Loyola Heights, Quezon City, Metro Manila 1108.

Exhibition talks by the curators
13 November, Saturday, 10 am - Lee Aguinaldo, Revisited by Boots Herrera
4 December, Saturday, 10 am - Modernist/Postmodernist Lee by Clarissa Chikiamco

Press release below:


This October as part of its year-long 50th anniversary celebration, the Ateneo Art Gallery launches the exhibition Lee Aguinaldo: In Retrospect. Among the illustrious first generation of Philippine abstractionists in the 1950s, Lee Aguinaldo (1933-2007) is often identified with abstract expressionism and hard-edged and color field paintings. This representative exhibition of Aguinaldo’s output incorpo...rates his more celebrated styles as well as his other lesser known experimental approaches that also form an important part of his contribution to Philippine art.

A self-taught artist, Aguinaldo began his artistic career at a young age as among the artists in the 1952 annual show of the sanctuary of modern art, the Philippine Art Gallery (PAG). He was also part of the landmark show, “The First Exhibition of Non-Objective Art Exhibition in Tagala,” held in the PAG in 1953 with other artists such as Fernando Zobel, Vicente Manansala, H. R. Ocampo, Arturo Luz, Victor Oteyza, and Nena Saguil. Aguinaldo held his first solo show in 1956 and, later in the 1960s, won major awards in the Art Association of the Philippines Annual art competitions. Known as being a brilliant colorist and being very particular about his materials, Aguinaldo is credited by many for introducing local artists to the use of acrylic as an artist’s medium, particularly the high-end brand “Aquatec” which he used over marine plywood.

Although he was more known for his abstract works, Aguinaldo created figurative works throughout his life. He was a consummate drawer and he was among the first, if not the principal exponent, in adopting ideas of Pop Art by incorporating printed images from glossy fashion magazines like Harper’s Bazaar into his oil paintings, particularly the Galumph Series. He loved to experiment with different processes inspired by his up-to-date resources of art magazines. His mixed media works incorporate frottage or surface rubbings, pencil, image transfers, collages and acrylic emulsion, reminiscent of the works of American Pop artists Robert Rauschenberg, Larry Rivers and Christo.

In the mid-1970s until the early 1980s, Aguinaldo closely collaborated with his photographer friends: the late portrait photographer Butch Baluyut and Wig Tysmans. This interest on the graphic arts produced a series of photo collages taken from print media and photographs “flattened” or sealed with acrylic emulsion.

The exhibition, curated by Ma. Victoria Herrera and Clarissa Chikiamco, presents Aguinaldo’s many facets as an artist. Further talks on Aguinaldo’s life and output will be given by the exhibition curators as part of the Ateneo Art Gallery’s Artspeak program: Lee Aguinaldo, Revisited by Ma. Victoria Herrera on Saturday, 13 November 2010, 10 am and Modernist/Postmodernist Lee by Clarissa Chikiamco on Saturday, 4 December 2010, 10 am.

The exhibitions runs until 5 February 2011. Museum hours until 6 November, Monday - Friday 8 am - 5 pm, Saturday 8 am - 12 noon. From November 8, Monday –Friday 8 am – 7:30 pm; Saturday 8 am – 6pm. The museum is closed Sundays, holidays and from 20 December 2010 to 5 January 2011. For more information, please contact IC Jaucian at (632) 4266488 or via email at ijaucian@ateneo.edu.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Lee Aguinaldo work? Last call

6.31 am and I should be getting to sleep but I thought I'd squeeze in 30 minutes to write a quick overdue blog entry.

Since arriving in Manila from my one-month sojourn in Korea for the Gwangju Biennale International Curator Course, I have been quite busy on the Lee Aguinaldo (1933-2007) exhibition I'm working on with my former teacher, Boots Herrera. I've mentioned this project in past entries and it has been a longtime coming. The seeds of the project started from my undergraduate project under Boots when I was a senior at Ateneo in 2005. So it is with a little incredulity that I realize the exhibition opening is fast approaching and all that has happened between me being a college senior to the current moment. A lot can happen in 5 years! Anyway, the exhibition opens 26 October, Tuesday, and will run until early February 2011.

What I've been particularly preoccupied on for the past few weeks is my essay for the Lee Aguinaldo book which will be launched in February before the closing of the exhibition. There are four of us writers, each of us with our own piece. One is a reprint of Rod Paras-Perez's text from Lee Aguinaldo's last solo exhibition which was in 1992 at the Lopez Memorial Museum. Cid Reyes is writing on Lee's abstract works. Boots is doing the biography. My essay looks at how Lee constituted and was constitutive of modernist ideas of the artist as well as examining his postmodernist practice which has been little remarked upon (and why it has been little remarked upon).

So my life for the past 2 1/2 weeks since I've been back has been Lee, the computer and texts helping me along my essay. I am trying to finish the essay by Sunday not only because we are beyond the original deadline already but I have put so much of my life on hold for this piece. I have not been writing for my column for Star (and I should be doing a review of the Gwangju Biennale which opened last September 2) or a couple of other things lined up. There are also I think so many things I need to attend to so I can plan my 2011 well and 'manifest' exhibitions/projects I have in mind before spaces fill up their calendar. But this essay on Lee deserves/demands so much of my concentration. Everything is on hold till I finish it.

I have put at the start of this entry an image of Lee which appeared in the 13 October 1963 issue of Asia Magazine. Shot by Dick Baldovino, I would argue this piece is a self-portrait because Lee composed a special work on glass plate for the photo which he stood behind. Now, to illustrate in a way what my essay is tackling, juxtapose that self-portrait above with another self-portrait of Lee done in 1985 below:

It is instant to visually register there is something different going on here but I think difficult to articulate how and why while locating it within a wider discourse. It always seems easy in retrospect once it's written but when you are articulating this - from images to thoughts to words (as thoughts are not immediately words) - it is difficult as well as exhausting. While I do veer towards the poetic in writing texts for contemporary art exhibitions, my essay here is academic in approach which means a lot more research than usual. The length is also considerable. Originally, I thought it would be 5,000 words. I remember even looking at the screen at about over 200 words thinking, 'I cannot imagine reaching 5,000.' Well, I am over 5,000 at the moment and still writing. I've estimated the final word count to be between 8,000 to 10,000.

So I'm going to get some shut-eye at last for a few hours but I just thought I would update people with what I've been up to since I've pretty much been a recluse that pops out here and there (for some interactivity with the outside world for my sanity). I'm going to some exhibitions later in the evening to some shows I cannot not go to but between sleep and that, I hope to have a productive day pumping out those words. Wish me luck I finish by Sunday. And for some last words for this entry - if you have a Lee Aguinaldo piece that you haven't contacted Boots and I about yet, this is the last call for you to tell us and for it to be included in the book. Seriously, if you have one, email me ASAP: letterstolisa@gmail.com

And I leave you with a good morning!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Last few hours in Korea

I haven't written in over a month since arriving in Korea last 8 August for the Gwangju Biennale International Curator Course. The course closed a few days ago and I decided to spend 3 days in Seoul before flying back to Manila. I'm gearing up to attack the massive load of work that awaits me and which I'm trying to start on in these last few hours before my flight to Manila tonight.

For the people here who have visited my site because we met in Korea - anyong haseo! I'm glad you took the time to visit! Do know there's still a lot of updating on my site to do. This site served initially as documentation of my art writing but I think I should write more about my curatorial ideas, curating projects and upload more images. But in any case, please stay in touch and I hope we get to meet some time in the future soon or work on something together!

I will miss many things but more importantly many people whom I've met here. But as one of my classmates said - this is just the beginning. And so... here's to beginnings!

Now, to work.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Third World biennial? (part 3/ conclusion)

So finally, here is the conclusion of my article on the third Bagasbas Beach International Eco-Art Festival (BBIEAF). All in all, the word count of all three parts is roughly 5,500. It is quite long but there were a lot of issues to be teased out about this event.

Now that all three parts are out, it would be best - if you haven't read the other parts yet - to read it one after the other as one whole piece.

Third World biennial?


The first and second part of this article outlined the curatorial structure, contradictions, disorganization and poor conditions of the third Bagasbas Beach International Eco-Art Festival (BBIEAF) held from May 31 to June 6 in Daet, Camarines Norte. This final part looks at the potential of the festival for its future editions. For despite the lapses of the third BBIEAF, this festival or biennial should continue as long as modifications are put into place and a proper evaluation is made.


As the previous parts of this ar-ticle discussed, the BBIEAF should keep its focus on the installations and not pursue the video and public art divisions they added this year. For the BBIEAF’s possibilities in this regard, it is constructive to turn to Cora Alvina, the curator of this BBIEAF’s installation division and the former director of the National Museum. Alvina has actually referred to her role in this BBIEAF as an exhibition designer more than a curator because the festival only brought her in belatedly after nearly all of the artists had already been selected. With little leeway to move in the selection and structure of the festival, Alvina was unable to realize prospective ideas she had for the BBIEAF.

These, however, reveal interesting curatorial possibilities. The most significant of these ideas, revealing Alvina’s strength and background in anthropology, is for the curator to run a workshop with the communities in preparation for the actual festival and for working with the artists on their bamboo installations. The workshop would attempt to unlock or put into gear the creative thinking the BBIEAF seeks as a tool for human and community development. A question that Alvina would ask the communities, for example, is “What can bamboo do?”, putting into play imaginative thinking with practical skills. The workshop would also then look for those who are particularly skillful and help them to develop this talent.

To encourage skill development, Alvina points out that it is intrinsic that the community members participating in the festival through constructing the installations should be paid. “To ensure the survivability of the craft form, show they can make a livelihood out of this,” she said. “Younger ones are not doing this because they think they can’t earn a lot from it.” The consistent realization of the festival every two years with its proper payment to those participating would also give the communities something to look forward to every time the event comes around, knowing they would be able to reap financial benefits.

Alvina also suggests the curator give the communities a say in the selection of the artists, letting them see the artists’ studies and considering which the communities find interesting. This way, the construction of the installations would have more relevance to the communities. In addition, Alvina thinks the immersion time for the artists should be extended from one evening to two nights and three days at the minimum to deepen the artists’ experience and bond.

In the same way that the communities prepare to work with the artists, I should also say that the artists should also be prepared for the immersion, for working with the communities on the installation and for other matters of the festival. A briefing was surprisingly not given to the artists upon their arrival when it is standard practice to do this for immersions, as students in high school and college who are required to do this well know. A brief lets the artists know what to expect and will allow them to arrange themselves accordingly for the week ahead (including deficiencies in transportation or accommodations, which should be mentioned then rather than discovering by surprise). It is also an essential time for the artists to ask questions and have them answered for everyone’s knowledge and benefit.

For indeed, the artists are meant to benefit from the festival as well. Alvina indicates these benefits to the artists as learning from a foreign culture and familiarization with a new material through Filipinos’ skills in craft making. The artist Stuart Ian Frost (Norway/UK) reiterated this, “For me the idea of being immersed in a community and to experience their culture and to learn about the way in which they live was the focal point. Not to mention the possibilities of discovering/sourcing new natural materials.”

Mia Corsag (Croatia) points to her developing a strong bond with her community as a highlight of her experience, “the week we had was not only about making a piece of art, but even more important, about building relations and friendships.”

Emmanuel Herbulot (France) had noted with delight on how his community contacted him post-festival, thanking him for giving them new ideas. These are positive factors from the festival that will be all the more enhanced with proper curatorial vision and professional management.


The curatorial and organizational roles also need to be clearly delineated. Granted that these may change with each new curator brought into the festival depending on his or her curatorial vision, the BBIEAF organizational committee needs to discuss with the curator where whose responsibilities begin and end. Having said that, credit must go both to Alvina and Nonie Cartegena, Alvina’s curatorial assistant, in helping to keep this festival together and assist the artists.

The organization of the BBIEAF had fallen onto Daet locals without much experience in organizing art events. One can understand though the reasoning of BBIEAF founder Dr. Joaquin Palencia for employing locals rather than professionalized cultural workers from Manila: Providing training to locals and employing locals lets them learn, shows they do not always have to go to Manila to earn and allows the money to benefit those who need it more. Yet, proper training is difficult by being entirely thrown into experience — mistakes will be considerable and inevitable. Plausibly, BBIEAF could consider hiring the more experienced from Manila to head the organizing with the locals under their wings for at least two editions until the locals are trained enough to take over.

Alvina has also said that the planning for the next edition should begin at least fifteen months in advance. Indeed, with biennials, planning is constant for an event of this magnitude. To do this, however, the BBIEAF needs to find a constant source of funding to continue its operations to plan ahead. For these kinds of events, the National Commission of Culture and the Arts (NCCA) should consider allowing organizations to apply two years in advance for their funding. The NCCA release of their annual successful grant applications for projects of the next year give big projects too short a time to organize themselves properly for the event, particularly when counterpart funding in cash is difficult to come by.


Having been e-mailing with Chak Chung Ho (Hong Kong SARS China) about the festival, he noted, “Without BBIEAF, Daet will remain a tiny fishing and rice-paddy town forever. Activities thus changes can bring hope and attention to a poor rural district.”

Certainly, this is the power that a festival or biennial brings to each location that it is staged in. Rachel Weiss, writing about the sixth Havana Biennial in 1997 in ArtNexus, discussed this potential, “Ideally, a biennial is an opportunity to redraw the global map with the center newly located. As new areas log on to the global contemporary circuit, a biennial can magnetize a location, drawing in attention, ideas and works from faraway places and aligning them with the local reality. A biennial can also serve the parallel function of directing local attention (of both artists and public) outward toward those places, trends and individuals with strongest relevance to the interests of the biennial epicenter.”

In this, the BBIEAF has managed to successfully draw attention to Daet with press coverage and with international artists even flying at their own expense to participate in this event. This attention has strong potential to be channeled to BBIEAF’s aims, particularly through cultural tourism. While Dr. Palencia has asserted that the Daet locals are the main audience of the BBIEAF, tourists — specifically curators, artists, academics, patrons and art enthusiasts who are willing to visit such events of interest — will help to concretely contribute to the local economy while expanding appreciation and discussions on the festival. The BBIEAF should include programs to entice such tourists, such as a parallel conference on themes the BBIEAF touches upon, and work with the local Daet tourism office in improving the tourist infrastructure. Even with a small budget, simply having better websites and better writing would be a huge assistance in encouraging people to come (and thus, to spend their money in Daet). Indeed, Bagasbas Beach, quietly and happily enjoyed by the locals, has the makings of a tourist destination with its long stretch, fine sand and surfing-conducive waves that those there for the BBIEAF can surely enjoy as well.

The BBIEAF may well be the Philippines’ Third World biennial with its aim to improve the Third World situation of its locality. This “Third World biennial” includes as well its unfortunate disorganization and blunders that are well typical of a Third World organization. There are though undoubtedly exciting possibilities in its premise. The BBIEAF’s future editions will reveal how far or how short it will come into harnessing this potential and if they have genuinely learned from the staging of its past.

* * *

The author may be emailed at letterstolisa@gmail.com. Her blog of art writings is at http://writelisawrite.blogspot.com.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Part 3 not out yet

I submitted my part 3/last chapter on the Third World biennial? article last week but I suppose Star didn't have space again as it didn't make it out last Monday. Perhaps the next? Thought I'd update as some people may be looking for it.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Third World biennial? (continued/ Part 2 of 3)

The continuation of my article 'Third World biennial?' came out last Monday, 19 July.

You can go to the direct link here in Star or read it below.

Third World biennial?


The first part of this article mapped out the curatorial structure of the third Bagasbas Beach International Eco-Art Festival (BBIEAF) held last 31 May to 6 June 2010 and examined some of its contradictions in its aims and present format. It posited the BBIEAF as a Third World biennial—a title that had been given to the Havana Biennial for its exhibition of artists from Third World countries—in its emphasis on artists cultivating a relationship with Third World poor communities in Daet. Continuing the analysis, this article considers other aspects of the biennial, such as misjudgments in accommodations and organization, which also highlighted Third World-ness though in its more unfortunate aspects.

Accommodations Third World

While missteps are sometimes expected in any art event — and particularly an art event that occurs away from the center where the professionalized naturally gather — the incidents which occurred during the BBIEAF surpassed normal gaffes. While mild lapses can usually be overlooked, exceptional cases of disorganization deserve mention as these incidents do color the perceptions of those present in the event. Regardless of the desires of the Manila art scene, the art scene of the Philippines is in some capacity getting represented internationally by such a biennial in faraway Daet, particularly when the foreign artists are sent home without a tour of the museums and galleries in Manila.

To begin with, it may perhaps seem superficial to disparage about the accommodations of the artists as the living conditions provided do not normally occupy media space in discussions of biennials. The reason for this is that it is assumed, quite naturally, that the accommodations are decent—a basic and unremarkable necessity which allows everyone involved to focus on the art at hand. The BBIEAF artists certainly were not expecting a lot during the overnight immersions in their poor communities and were even touched and overwhelmed by the community’s hospitality, a trait that few would argue shows the best of Filipinos. The artists did, however, presume that the spartan accommodations for the rest of the festival period provided by the organizers would be clean and presentable (as indicated in details sent to them) even if modest. As the BBIEAF founder Dr. Joaquin Palencia noted and as also the artists well understood, it would be antithetical for them to stay in plush accommodations when they were supposed to continue developing their ties to the communities while making the installations with them.

What the artists were provided with, however, stretched the idea of “simplicity” as well as their patience. Staying at the grossly neglected Bagasbas Beach Tourist Inn directly by the beach and having just met one another, these tired strangers from wide-ranging cultures were shown to their rooms and were preposterously expected to share beds with each other (two to a bed), an arrangement that certainly should only be reserved for couples and familial relations at the most. Eventually, individual and proper beddings for everyone were arranged after a few nights of this overly intimate set-up.

Appropriate personal space was not the only thing unavailable, however, but running water as well. With running water accessible only from the very late evening to early morning hours, these artists were expected to shower at these irrational hours despite a full day of working under the pressing heat and humidity as the seasons swung from summer towards the rainy. The water setback was then solved by the sensible idea to store water in containers. Yet, the first attempt at this was rather comedic. Having gone to bed content at having some suitable water supply, some of the artists rose the next day to find the bucket empty. Questions were then exchanged as to who had taken a shower and used all the water — only to find out later that the container given to them by the organizers had a crack and the water had seeped out during the evening.

A premonition of these matters was perhaps signaled during the ride of the artists from Manila to Daet, the bus overheating and its air-conditioning periodically malfunctioning — resulting in a hellish 12-hour ride that marked the foreign artists’ introduction to Third World Philippines all too well. While it may be argued that these conditions would allow the artists to more ably relate to the conditions of their communities, these were not deliberate intentions of the organizers. Such a line of reasoning for these mishaps acts as a desperate excuse to take away from the all too apparent disorganization of this biennial — disorganization which directly affected the BBIEAF’s outcomes. Having experienced being in an organizational capacity myself, I am often quite sympathetic to organizers as I know handling these things is not easy. The slip-ups here, though, were simply all too pervasive.


Asides from the lack of time for preparation, the failure in proper organization may be partly accounted to the other divisions of the biennial that were added this year which spread the organizers much too thinly, particularly the video art section. While the brochure boasted Japanese experimental filmmaker and video artist Takahiko Iimura as the video art curator, he in actuality did not select any of the videos which were a part of the festival open call. He brought his own work and the works of some Japanese video artists, which seemed to be a standard package to show of Japanese video art abroad, that were presented in a single projection for one evening with a replay the next day. While it was a good opportunity to see these video artworks from Japan, it was lost in a biennial which places its core in art as a tool for development and development for the Daet communities in particular.

The video works to the open call and according to the BBIEAF theme were actually simplistically selected by the organizers. Yet, whatever appreciation that could be garnered from these pieces proved elusive anyhow by their absence on the evening they were supposed to be shown. The organizers had aimed to show the video works in multiple locations around the town of Daet—an idea that is as bold as it is foolish. Those with experience in mounting video art shows well know to expect a host of technological problems in mounting these works even in a single room with multiple players, projectors and monitors. Indeed, to spread it out throughout various locations with a limited team with little or no experience in mounting video works would only exacerbate the difficulties. In a tricycle which was supposed to show one work through a portable DVD player, for example, the battery of the player had run out by the time that I and my friend Rica Estrada had climbed in. Only two works in the five locations we were taken to in town were mounted and playing while a sixth by the beach showed only the projector’s brand name.

The apex of this disorganization was what happened to the video work of Diokno Pasilan. Unlike the open call with mailed in videos which did not necessitate the artists’ presence, Pasilan came to immerse himself as well with a poor community and create a video work in response. Choosing to focus on senior citizens as repositories of knowledge and to call attention to their value in the community, Pasilan photographed many of them individually and compiled these portraits to make a video that was essentially an homage to members of the community that seemed to be neglected and nearly forgotten. A few days before its showing, Pasilan had related how excited the senior citizens were to be photographed, some even primping themselves for the simple point-and-shoot affair. There was some confusion as to when it would be shown but when finally it was said to be up and running as arranged by the organizers, the group, which included the artist who had not been asked to install his piece, boarded the bus with a little curiosity and a lot of anticipation.

Upon disembarking the bus, however, an air of silence sank in — as did shock — at the sight of the projection. The video was shown against a municipal building whereupon no flat sheet was provided to make a proper backdrop for the projection on an edifice that had multiple windows, columns and a ledge bannered by a strip of red, white and blue. In effect, the video portraits were distorted, indistinct and moreover the video was not even shown in full screen (the menu and side bars of the computer display were visible). Making matters worse, the video shown was the incorrect version according to the artist, who had given a second and final DVD. This occurrence marked the transition from patience-testing blundering to already appallingly disrespecting an artist’s work.

The next evening, the work was projected on a wall of a building on the Our Lady of Lourdes College campus and displays were set up as well for the other video artworks. With the exception of Pasilan’s work, however, the video works just all seemed completely misplaced in a festival that places primary importance on community. Tanya Preminger, one of the artists in the installation division, commented that it was “almost as (if) there were two separate festivals.” Even the new public art division of BBIEAF, with two artists Jerusalino Araos and Tets Ohnari, seemed forced, lost and its curator, Benjamin Hughes II, was absent. The BBIEAF organi-zation’s efforts in these components would have been better served concentrating on the installation collaboration that is its center.

The installation artists could have benefited, for instance, from the organizing committee properly asking about and preparing for their needs in building their planned installations. This not having been done, there was, while minor, some unnecessary strain between artists over the selection of bamboo pieces and the lack of tools for building which needed to be shared between them. These things seemed to make the BBIEAF an artist edition of reality television shows—a kind of Survivor meets Big Brother, complete with intrigues.

On the latter — disorganization and poor conditions of an event that receives public funding in a Third World country create a rife environment for doubts to propagate on the proper use of funds. In such grim accommodations, who would blame the artists—who flew all the way from various countries at their own expense and received very token honorariums — or others if they wondered? Yet, the BBIEAF, which received P500,000 from the National Commission of Culture and the Arts (NCCA), is not the first or even an exceptional case of an event that has become subject to such rumors. Many of these incidents are difficult to say as having a basis or not as some expenses can be difficult to perceive unless one is in the organizing committee itself, in charge of providing things that cost money but others may take for granted. Yet, since this issue crops up so recurrently, the NCCA should probably address these matters for future events which receive funding by them by making budget and expense statements publicly available online as well as the events’ required terminal reports. In this way, transparency provides assurances for everyone involved as well as the added benefit of allowing others to learn from past projects and to plan their own events properly.

It would seem though, with all these conditions combined, that a perception of the BBIEAF looks all too dismal. While it perhaps may seem disheartening, these matters bear mentioning in order to make a holistic assessment for the festival’s future editions. Indeed, there are definite possibilities for the BBIEAF should it continue. This will be discussed next week.

* * *

The author may be emailed at letterstolisa@gmail.com. Her art writings are at http://writelisawrite.blogspot.com.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Next week

Hello all,

Unfortunately, I received word during the weekend that there was no space again for part 2 of my article! So next week again (and I hope this is the last time!) and a part 3 to follow after that.

Sorry for the delay. My articles being published weeks after they are written is not uncommon but this is the first time it's being done for an article continuation. I don't really have control over this unfortunately as it's all with the paper. Thanks for your patience!

As for another update, I've finished editing the third episode of ARTiculation, featuring Ronald Caringal.
Pop over to the following youtube links to watch it:

Part 1/3
Part 2/3
Part 3/3

Monday, July 5, 2010


To those waiting for part 2 of my article 'Third World biennial?', I learned that there wasn't enough space in today's art section in Star to handle my shortly over 2,000-word continuation. So it will have to wait till next Monday (12 July). I now have time to revise it but unless I somehow am able to shorten it by a lot, there will be a part 3.

I'll also mention it here that I will be gone from Manila for a month from early August to attend the Gwangju Biennale International Curator Course, which is being led by the NY-based curator Dan Cameron. I am very excited for this fantastic opportunity to learn from more experienced and senior curators and to meet younger curators from different countries as well.

And speaking of curating, I am thinking of writing less frequently or taking a break for a month or so from writing for my column to focus on research for my curatorial work. Well, we'll see how it goes but there's a part of me that needs my head space for it.

Also as an added note, I'd like to say I don't think of myself as "the art police" and some overly defensive emails I have received (not in response to any article that had been published but other matters I won't bother to detail) have made me realize that some may be nervous about being featured and called out in articles of mine for things that would not be received positively. And I find this quite ridiculous because in my overall body of work, it is rare for me to do such things and I have never focused my articles on simply catching those practicing unethical practices in the arts. My most extensive discussion on conflicts of interest was the very public National Artist Award controversy which several wrote about as well.

If in the course of a project I was asked and agreed to be a part of, I find out about a conflict of interest in the project that was not disclosed to me from the beginning - I would probably discuss this with the persons involved because I want to understand the situation. I am not a detective sniffing out for leads to do a newspaper expose so people shouldn't overreact. That kind of behavior actually makes it difficult for me to quietly excuse myself from projects. And excusing myself is not indicative of an opinion of the project being terrible - it could very well be fantastic. But it is really that I should have been informed of this conflict at the start which would have shown that the conflict was being handled transparently and I could have properly made a decision about my involvement. Trust is difficult to repair if a conflict is found out by some other persons or means other than the people who should be informing you about them. And pretty much, a "sorry, we should have told you" would suffice and be appropriate rather than a long defensive exposition involving good intentions/passion, which I think are unnecessary things to mention about the issue at hand. I found this quote from the Association of Art Museum Directors in one article I was reading - “Good intentions, being unprovable, are an inadequate defense against...charges of impropriety.... Every effort should be made to anticipate and address situations in which there is the appearance of conflict of interest, even if no actual conflict exists.”

While the above may peak people's interest about the particular project and conflict, these details really don't matter. My point is when I have questions or discussions about a professional matter, I think it's best to not project and to respond professionally as well. And if there is a conflict of interest (ideally there is none) - this should be handled transparently particularly to everyone invited to be a part of the project. If it's not, even not pushing through with this perceived conflict (after it is found out) does not change the difficulty of the situation and even could exacerbate it.

On a last unrelated note, I wrote the exhibition text of Mark Salvatus' current exhibition Attached in Drawing Room. The exhibition is on till 19 July. Catch it soon!

Monday, June 28, 2010

Third World biennial? (part 1)

The first part of my article on the Bagasbas Beach International Eco-Art Festival is out in today's Philippine Star. I'll post some pictures here soon.

Third World biennial?
by Clarissa Chikiamco

This article is not about the Havana Biennial but about a curious event which occurred in Daet, Camarines Norte last May 31 to June 6. The third edition of the Bagasbas Beach International Eco-Art Festival (BBIEAF) transpired unbeknownst to many in the Manila art scene as it represented the Philippines as a biennale themed with art, environment and sustainability. While the Havana Biennial became known as the Third World biennial in its focus on exhibiting artists from the Third World, this designation may be more appropriate for the BBIEAF as this particular edition makes apparent.

Curatorial Structure

In the arts, a biennial or biennale refers to mega-exhibitions held every two years that are showcases for current trends in contemporary art. It originated in Venice, which had its first biennale in 1895, and gained momentum in the latter half of the 20th century as biennales and triennales (held every three years) established itself around the globe, done in the shadow as well of another formidable and expansive exhibition of contemporary art, Documenta (established in 1955 and held every five years in Kassel, Germany). The curatorial models for biennales vary widely as, in the early decades of the phenomenon at the very least, each attempted to make itself distinctive in order to jockey for visibility and position in the international art scene. As with any biennale, an evaluation of the BBIEAF needs to begin then by examining its aims, themes and curatorial model, which define the criterions of perspective to view it by.

Founded by artist Dr. Joaquin Palencia, the BBIEAF places its core in the belief that art is a tool for human and community development, themed as previously mentioned with art, environment and sustainability. It has lofty but perhaps foolhardy ambitions — “to share a new vision with the rest of the world, to foster hope, to make life better, to integrate Life and Art, Technology, and the fervent hopes of a Community, a People, a Nation, a World.” This incontrovertibly gives cause to too elevating expectations, particularly for the poverty-stricken people of Daet who are the target beneficiaries of the BBIEAF and the reason for its founding. As such, the festival is modeled on artists working with the Daet communities on the installation art component of the festival which forms its centerpiece.

In this installation aspect, artists propose a large-scale work beforehand that is to be composed using bamboo and materials that are to be sourced from the community. Once approved, the selected artists come to Daet, each being assigned a community and immersing themselves there for two days, including an overnight stay. Subsequent to that, the main site of the festival occurs at the shore of Daet’s Bagasbas beach — a quiet, clean and public beach frequented mostly by the locals — where the installations are built with the help of members of the communities for five days prior to the formal opening. Previous editions of the festival stressed a more local flavor of artists while the current one was more international with six foreign artists and one Filipino in this division. These artists were Chak Chung Ho (Hong Kong SAR China), Stuart Frost (Norway/UK), Emmanuel Herbulot (France), Irma Lacorte (Philippines), Mia Orsag (Croatia), Tanya Preminger (Israel) and Matthew Slaats (USA).

Fettered by little time to prepare for this festival as news of the approved P500,000 grant from the National Commission of Culture and the Arts (NCCA) came only early this year, the BBIEAF organization committee rushed to put this up in only a few months’ time. They approved all the foreign artists that answered an open call for proposals which fit the following selection criteria: (1) the artist has to be from a faraway culture so the impact of the immersion is maximized; (2) there should be no duplication of countries of which the artists are from; (3) the work proposed should require a level of interaction from the community in its building and be realizable.

It was only after the foreign selections were done that former National Museum director Cora Alvina was brought in as the installation art curator and chose Lacorte to participate as well. The third BBIEAF also added two segments which were not present in the first two editions: video art, curated by Japanese experimental filmmaker and video artist Takahiko Iimura, and public art, curated by Benjamin Edward Hughes II. The addition of these segments testifies to the BBIEAF’s aspirations of a biennale-like status in its expansion. As will be discussed in the second part of the article next week, however, these added components, were completely superfluous, deviated from the festival’s vision and strained the organization committee’s efforts and resources.


With such proclamations of attempting to make life better particularly for the poor communities, the central question that is to be asked of BBIEAF is how? Indeed, in a country that has an overabundance of the impoverished, carrying out a possible solution through art is impressive and intriguing, particularly since art has to still gain significant traction here in its recognition as an important asset of the country’s milieu and a potential source in fueling economic engines.

The manner in which the festival tries to realize this though ranges from the vague to the concrete but glaringly lacking measures. Discussion with the founder reveals that the festival intends for the communities to develop by unfastening the creative and innovative thinking of its members through the interaction with the artists and the problem-solving entailed in manifesting the artworks’ constructions. This thinking and the craft-making capacity involved are ideally to be applied by the community members to their own lives and livelihood — but only it seems through their own initiative. Nothing is provided to validate and carry this over in tangible fruition after the festival is over. While the sentiment that art swings open doors to creative thinking and is beneficial to anyone open to its possibilities is certainly agreeable, the indeterminate character of its real-world application was disappointing after much anticipation created by the festival.

These advantages also become negated by what is, it seems, the principal flaw of the BBIEAF — not paying the members of the community who help construct the artists’ works and expecting them to participate simply by volunteerism. The artist Lacorte shared that not even gasoline allowance was provided for her community team members to get to and from the working site and their residences and she related her troubled feelings as she witnessed one of her members fill up a precious 20 pesos of gas. While the participating community members were provided with meals like everyone else, taking them away from their homes without providing them with wages certainly would affect also their families who need their support, as Lacorte pointed out, in what is a hand-to-mouth existence. It does not seem like such a long leap to agree with her that the festival feels insensitive to the people they claim to be doing this for.

In terms of concrete returns, the Our Lady of Lourdes College Foundation, the host of the festival and the school owned by Dr. Palencia’s family, promised each participating community one scholarship for one of its members — the recipient, as indicated by Dr. Palencia in an interview, to be decided between the community. While the gift of education is certainly welcome, its benefiting one member of the community (and in effect, this person’s family) does not seem fair to the others’ time and effort in the project. Having the community also decide the recipient themselves also conjectures strong possibilities of creating rifts between them as people expectedly will jostle for the prize for their own family’s benefit.

The other way in which the BBIEAF attempted to deliver more definite returns to the communities was by providing them with free parallel seminars on livelihood, resource identification, product design and micro-financing. However, how far can these lessons go without more practical provisions for the beneficiaries to enable them?

Gratefully, there may be possible future financial benefit to some of the community participants though it is through artist, rather than festival, undertakings. Frost, who, like the other artists, has already returned home, is looking into sourcing raw materials from the community as well as commissioning work for his exhibitions overseas. He says, “For me I intend to stay in touch with the people from the community and work closely with (Imoy) the master carpenter. This collaboration I hope will not only benefit him and his family but also the community that he lives in.” He adds as well though that it “is obviously up to the individual artist in which way they want to approach such an opportunity.”

Reflecting on the festival, Slaats revealed a certain vulnerability the artists faced. “While the ideas of community development and support were there on paper, I am very curious as to the reality of long term sustainability or interaction coming out of the exhibition. The question of how does this dialogue continue was foremost on my mind the last few days of the exhibition and still is. How can I continue to support the community I worked with? While I’d love to continue the interaction, being on the other side of the world makes it difficult. I will just say that I’ve been inspired by these people and will forever be grateful for their hospitality and kindness.”

He made sure to point out though that these thoughts form a larger question raised by socially-based art practices. While true, the weight of these matters would probably not be so forceful if the artists knew that there was some mechanism managed or initiated by the festival to deliver concrete long-term benefits to the community from this specific interaction. After having done some creative training with the artists in the building of the works, it would have been rewarding if, for example, the community participants were to put this to practice in a practical arena for them, such as being hired in the making of furniture or handicrafts and really bridge this creativity thinking into sources of income. A tangible thing in place would sustain the benefits of the interaction long after the interaction is over.

Instead, though, the community development of the festival is afflicted by a pervasive uncertainty which causes an evident amount of pressure and anxiety on the artists who have developed strong emotional bonds with their communities. As the artists now reside back in their homes which indubitably have better and far more comfortable conditions, the concerns produced by the Third World-ness of this biennial must surely haunt them still.

* * *

The analysis of the BBIEAF continues next week. E-mail the author at letterstolisa@gmail.com. Her art writings are at http://writelisawrite.blogspot.com.

Monday, June 14, 2010

"But I could do that!"

My article "But I could do that!" is out in Star today. You can click here for the direct link in Star or read it below.

The image I gave to Star to use is Lee Aguinaldo's Explosion No. 141 in the Ateneo Art Gallery collection. As many of you who regularly read me know, I'm cocurating an exhibition on Lee for Ateneo later this year. While I did not discuss Lee in my article, I felt it was appropriate to submit this image of his Pollock-influenced work. In the course of my talking about my work for the exhibition and on Lee, I have heard people (more often than usual) say, "But I could do that!" This article is a response to that. Indeed, the article is addressed to these people in particular, an audience I have to acknowledge I don't normally address in my writings on art because they're unlikely to read it in the first place (though I think my articles are often approachable enough to those without that much knowledge in the arts). However, in the offshoot I may capture some renegade non-art people into reading the article, I thought it would be worth writing as the effort to champion the cause of modern and contemporary art, though small, is worth it... Who knows - perhaps at least one person's perception may change?

I also have to mention here that not all modern and contemporary works are equal... Quality varies. Reading and regularly going to exhibitions and art talks both here and abroad will help refine one's eye and mind to start discerning quality. I did not mention this in the article because I felt it was going to confuse the audience I'm trying to address here but if one of those in this audience made it as far as visiting my blog then he/she should know - quality varies. It will be frustrating trying to understand why one work or one artist is valued more than others but it is important not to be discouraged. It is also important to look at museums who take a lead in this as arbiters of quality. I will - for the record - mention that not all museums are equal either... but I'll stop here.

"But I could do that!"

Many say this when encountering modern and contemporary art forms, whether for the first time or not. Framed papers pure white? Paintings of pure abstraction? Scattered everyday objects around the room? “But I could do that!” Said often in quick reflex, it is accompanied by attitudes which can range from confusion to good humor and to, unfortunately, the maliciously arrogant.

Certainly, I believe those who say this need to give pause. There is a necessity likewise, however, to understand where such quick assumptions come from. “But I could do that!” stems from a preconceived widely-held idea of art, mainly art as craft that gives value to creating images as they are seen in reality. It demands of art not only that it be figurative but that it be technically skillful — what separates the artist from the ordinary person. The medium commonly affixed to this idea is oil painting though it gives room to works using graphite as well.

There is some merit to this idea. Before the artist became artist, he was at first craftsman. It was during the Renaissance which prized the idea of the individual as genius that the artist attained high stature, though his virtuosity remained an essential part of his repertoire, a reason for his celebrity. When many think “art,” they think of the Renaissance idea of art, including its penchant for oil painting when its usage became popular.

While the idea of artist as celebrity remains popular today, much has changed in the time since the Renaissance, particularly in the last 150 years. The invention of photography, for example, freed artists from simply having to reproduce images as seen in nature. World War I and II had a huge impact on the art world — the Dada movement, one of the most singularly important sources of contemporary art, rising from the disillusionment of war after the first; the value given to modern art after its crucifixion during the second. Artists also questioned long-held ideas of art and attempted to subvert the institution. Performance, installation and video, coming to prominence in the 1970s, were part of the challenge to art as commodity. Conceptual art endeavored to resist the fetishization of art as object and placed eminence on art as idea. Multiculturalism and gender studies contested the idea of artist as the straight white Western male. The times also are simply different — the methods in capturing the dynamism and complexity of contemporary life are also in this age equally dynamic and complex.

This article, however, is not meant to be a lesson in art history. To begin appreciating modern and contemporary art, knowledge of art history is surprisingly not requisite. Indeed, the ones sometimes who have been actually quite receptive to appreciating contemporary art are those without any art background at all and therefore, with no preconceived idea of art. While helping out C3, an independent art space in Melbourne, Australia, I personally observed visiting preschool children happily engaging with the teacher’s questions on the art on show. The artist Christina Quisumbing Ramilo, who interacts and works with construction workers in her pieces and through her collaborative group Martinez Art Projects, recalled during an interview that the workers are interested and approach her about the work she does and that they encounter while helping in installation. Another artist, Lyle Buencamino, reiterated this to me as well in his experience with gallery hands.

While suggestions such as talking to the artists and the curators, looking up previous works of the artists, going to exhibitions regularly, reading the exhibition notes and delving into art books are helpful in furthering one’s grasp of modern and contemporary art, the real foremost condition to initiate its comprehension and appreciation is simply having an open mind. And with this, I would also add letting go of the idea that art should be beautiful — a pursuit, as Hitler internationally and the Marcos years locally have taught us, that in its narrowness and rigidity can be rimmed with danger.

Admittedly, appreciating it can be daunting because of the way much art is presented — cold white walls, strange specialist language, everyone else seeming to understand and, moreover, expecting the uninitiated to understand. To this I would say, it is essential for those who work in and with different kinds of art spaces to meet others halfway and be just as open to guiding in its appreciation. This, however, must be distinguished from spoon-feeding. Appreciation of modern and contemporary art will always remain elusive without some thinking of one’s own.

Let me recount as well two responses to this “But I could do that!” kind of thinking that I deem quite satisfactory.

The first response I heard over a decade ago, when I was the organizational head of my high school art club. Our moderator, the artist Pepper Roxas, had whipped out a book that I remember to be on Jackson Pollock and was showing it to us. “People say when they see this kind of work, ‘But I could do that,’” she said. “But the thing is…you didn’t.”

The second response I gathered from the director of the modern art museum the Ateneo Art Gallery, Ramon Lerma, while interviewing him for a different article a few days ago. He said, “Two things, I often challenge people when they come to a gallery and I hear comments like that — ‘Really? Let’s see you try.’ That’s number one. Number two, even if they attempt to, I ask them — ‘Would you be willing to spend the rest of your life just doing that? And stake your very identity on doing what you belittle as something trivial or facile?’”

There is a depth to modern and contemporary art so terrifying that it seems infinitely easier to dismiss it, to brand it elitist, to presume one knows better. Yet, for those who dare to take its ride — to open their thoughts, to open their minds, to let something change them in ways little and profound — the effort can admittedly be dizzying but so, too, can be its rewards.

* * *

The author may be e-mailed at letterstolisa@gmail.com. Her art writings can be found at http://writelisawrite.blogspot.com.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Article pending

No article to post at the moment but I do have an article pending to be printed in Philippine Star. This article addresses the "But I could do that!" response of many people when encountering modern and contemporary art. As those who read my last post know, I was considering writing about it and I finally decided it was the right time.

My next article for Star will be on the Bagasbas Beach International Eco-Art Festival which took place in Daet, Camarines Norte, last 31 May to 6 June 2010. I was there from 2-5 June and while I will reserve my commentary on the festival at the moment, I will deviate from art a little to say that the beach was really great and it is worth visiting on weekdays if you are looking for a calm, relaxing vacation to get away from people. It is a bit of a hassle to get there - 10 hours by bus/car or 1 hour by plane followed by 2 hours by car/van. But the reward is a clean, long stretch of a beach with very fine sand (so much so it managed to get inside my watch), waters that are refreshing but not cold and most importantly a quietness that is difficult to find in other beaches that have already become well-known tourist spots. It's a public beach and you'll often find locals there swimming, surfing and doing other water sports (there are waves and the current is supposedly quite strong) but they aren't many and they seem to be just as happy in quietly enjoying the beach. I enjoy Boracay like many other Filipinos but I completely appreciated being able to unclutter my mind for a few days even as I was working on some things (writing about art) while there. I stayed at the beachfront place called Catherine's, which just opened last March. If you are considering going and have some questions, email me and I would be happy to reply.

Last month, I finished wrapping up an exhibition write-up for Costantino Zicarelli's exhibition at Art Informal, We are the kids your parents warned you about, which was held last March to April 2010. I had an initial write-up that was published in an exhibition brochure at the time of the exhibition but after discussing with the artist, I did some revisions to both our satisfaction. I understand he plans to make a proper catalogue for this exhibition and you'll be able to buy it directly from him.

Currently I am working on the exhibition write-up for Mark Salvatus' exhibition at Drawing Room at the end of the month. That + the BBIEAF article + more work on the Lee Aguinaldo show is going to take up most of my time for June. Things seem to look like they are only going to get busier from here - I will also be gone for a month from August to September on an art-related matter. I'll post more about this soon.

I would like to thank those of you who have reached out to talk to me via email or through other online means. I enjoy receiving your emails whether it is meant to be encouraging or to further discuss points I raise in my articles (or even just about art in general). They've come at a very critical point for me and I very much appreciate it.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Late in the evening and...

It is 2.30 am and I am working on revising an overdue exhibition write-up and charging the trusty Flip camera (which I use to record Visual Pond ARTiculation videos) for an artist interview I'm doing tomorrow.

While sleep is probably the best option for now given that I have to be up at 5 hours for morning tennis in Manila's humid summer weather, my thoughts are wandering about, such as:

(1) what is the topic of my next column?

I have done some initial research on doing an article asking how exactly viable is video art here as a collected art form. I need to conduct more interviews though and given my schedule for the week, it's not going to make it for the art's section Friday deadline. Granted that there isn't always space every week, I have committed to myself to writing for my column more often - ideally submitting every time a piece gets published. It may be 1-3 weeks sometimes before it comes to print but as long as I keep on writing and submitting after each one gets published, I'll be maximizing my productivity. I may really have to skip out on submitting this week though with several deadlines on my plate to Monday.

Another possible article idea was struck by reading this article in the New York Times a few weeks back. It was a review of an exhibition featuring artists from a certain country and the author questioned the necessity to package it as so, given how borderless/global we are now. I do agree at least with the point of questioning it, which has led to reflections of how sometimes I may be pigeonholing myself here with "Philippine art"/"Philippine art scene" and I would say that "I" is actually "we" - there are certainly a lot like me. I could probably rattle off some things right now that have been meandering in my head on this though I'm not sure if these thoughts are ready for an article yet. Perhaps it may ok to blog about them to start putting some form to it but I'm afraid of committing verbal diarrhea (as I think all of us online should be) or people mistaking initial musings as something definitive. Anyway, there is an upcoming symposium in Amsterdam on visual culture and national identity that I'm sure would help tease these thoughts out but if only funds were that free-flowing that I could just jet to Europe for a 2-day symposium, no problem!

(2) gosh, if those of us in the arts had a dollar for every time someone told us or at least thought to himself/herself, "But I could do that!", we'd probably have a lot of money...

How many times have I heard it or it's been said to me? Perhaps also this could be another article idea - to address this thinking that like it or not, those of us in the arts have to face that's how many - even perhaps majority - outside of the arts think. I have actually entertained writing about this for many years now but at times I wonder if writing about it will only be futile. Do the people who think and say that actually read the newspaper's art section? The people who read it, I would assume, are already those in the arts who have already bridged that kind of thinking. A couple of years back, I wrote a paper in university on what curating is, what does a curator do and converted it to article form and published it in my column. It addressed the questions I get very often, given that people I'm meeting for the first time usually ask me to explain when they ask me about my occupation. I still get those questions all the time certainly - that's to be expected - but I wonder if writing and publishing it actually made a difference to one reader or another. I wasn't expecting people to email me saying "Ok, now I understand what curating is" but, of course, again you can't help but wonder.

Though I do think answering "But I could do that!" would also be a challenging exercise.


(3) blog revamp

As some of you might have noticed it, I changed my blog from "Articipation" to "Art Matters" ("matters" here is a noun and not a verb. The verb version is too much "carry the torch" advocacy for me). I want to stop with the cutesy play on the word "art" at this point - the ARTiculation contemporary video art series probably being the last for a while - and just make it straightforward. The blog is on art matters, particularly where I detail my projects, exhibitions and writings. My column in Star stays with the same name for consistency's sake and also, I don't mind that name at all really for the column. I meant "Articipation" as a play on the word "anticipation," a curious feeling that I believe pervades the art scene and contemporary art in particular. Yet, to have my blog under the same name is a little too much. "Art Matters" seems to simplify things for me.

A bit of change in colors - those who've been checking the past couple of weeks or so would have noticed. I think I'm trying to make it not just sound but look more straightforward.

A pang of regret - I'm wondering why years ago I decided to put this blog with this writelisawrite blog address rather than something simpler like my name? The reason then, however, I didn't make the address something like lisachiki.blogspot.com or lisachikiamco.blogspot.com is that my last name is misspelled so often. It is very hard for most people to get it right.

Still, I am tempted actually to move the whole blog now to an address of my name although this seems complicated. And well, really, what is an address if a blog is serving its purpose?

(4) quotes/citation confusion/"o" vs. "ou"

Some may notice that for the past couple of years, I sometimes may be using single quotes rather than double quotes that are de rigueur in American-style writing. Also, I sometimes may switch into putting punctuations outside of the quotes, rather than inside. This is, of course, a product of studying/having studied in an Australian institution which follows a different system for using quotes or citations. I actually still prefer the Australian system - single quotes look so much cleaner; putting the punctuation outside the quote makes a lot more sense in many cases - but I'm trying to get back into the habit of using double quotes, at least for my newspaper/magazine articles. Yet, by habit, I do get confused and become inconsistent at times. Luckily, my article is double-checked and edited for this before it goes to print.

I also do have to consciously pause myself for the spelling of certain words - i.e. "color" vs. "colour." I actually got so used to the British kind of spelling that it has been difficult to switch. Shallow things such as these give me an inkling on what it must be like for first and second generation immigrants to go through a cultural identity crisis.

Ok, enough meanderings! Time to sleep.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Struggle for Philippine Art - Then and Now (continued)

Here is the continuation of my article last week, The Struggle for Philippine Art - Then and Now. In the printed and online version in the Philippine Star website, I unfortunately gave the wrong address for the Green Papaya website, forgetting to include the 'art' before projects. It's http://greenpapayaartprojects.org. Thanks very much to Green Papaya's Artistic Director Peewee Roldan for answering my questions and sending me pictures.

Captions for photos below:
>Bea Camacho's 11-hour performance at the Turbine Hall, part of Green Papaya Art Projects' program for No Soul for Sale.

>Yason Banal's durational performance "The Wrong Place" at Green Papaya Art Projects' space at No Soul for Sale with some young Brit artists and students.

Photos courtesy and copyright Green Papaya Art Projects.

The Struggle for Philippine Art - Then and Now


Last week I discussed some criticisms I had of the current art scene that paralleled similar issues outlined in the book The Struggle for Philippine Art by Purita Kalaw-Ledesma and Amadis Guerrero, written over 30 years ago. Stopping off in discussing the quest for international recognition, I would like to continue by discussing funding, funding structures and the pursuit to improve the quality of art.

In The Struggle for Philippine Art, it was related how that hothouse for modernism, the Philippine Art Gallery, founded in 1950, struggled to make ends meet. Founder Lyd Arguilla had even been “driven to tears because there was no money to pay for the lights.”

It could be said that the situation is similar today for independent art spaces that are brazen sites for artistic experimentation. Occupying a critical position that withholds from being swallowed by the commercial gallery apparatus and the supposed behemoths of institutions, independent art spaces, also called artist-run or alternative, provide a crucial threshold for contemporary art, a more accessible environment ripe for the speculative. There have been a few of these spaces throughout the years — those that have folded in the past decade include Big Sky Mind, Surrounded by Water and Future Prospects. The artists that have passed through their doors already form an important part of today’s “who’s who” in the art scene.

It seems inevitable, however, for independent art spaces to close. While funding for projects is difficult enough to scout for, these spaces need money for day-to-day expenses — the most difficult to find. Operational costs are the basic necessities which funding institutions nearly always shy away from, preferring instead to back output-type undertakings such as events or publications. Without stable funding, time tick-tocks on the expiration date of these spaces, which just like PAG 50 years ago, need money “to pay for the lights.”

One of the longest running of these spaces is Green Papaya Art Projects, founded in 2000 by Peewee Roldan and Donna Miranda. Their efforts in contributing to the Manila art scene were recognized in the invitation extended to and the participation of Green Papaya in the 2010 edition of “No Soul for Sale.” Billed by the New York Times as “the Olympics of nonprofit groups,” “No Soul for Sale” is self-described as “a festival of independents that brings together the most exciting not-for-profit centers, alternative institutions, artists’ collectives and underground enterprises from around the world.” Held in the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall in London from May 14 to 16 for the Tate Modern’s 10th anniversary and curated by Cecilia Alemani, Massimiliano Gioni and the artist Maurizio Cattelan, each invited group had to be self-reliant in finding their own funding to participate in the convention.

After informing people and institutions for their need for financial assistance, Green Papaya received two major donations, one from the Ateneo Art Gallery and the other from art benefactor Olivia Yao, which covered the costs for the brochures and posters. Other donations and fundraising efforts were made and, while deeply appreciative of the support received, Green Papaya unfortunately did not make enough to cover the significant airfare, accommodation and set-up costs that are expected when participating in such an occasion. The request for funding to the National Commission of Culture and the Arts (NCCA) was denied, strangely because the event wasn’t in the “list of prestigious international events” identified by the visual arts committee. Post-event and after advancing personal funds to participate, Green Papaya plans to appeal.

Incidents like this show that the funding structure of the NCCA needs to be re-examined. The first questions offhand may be: What is this “list of prestigious international events” and how is inclusion in the list determined? Isn’t an event held at the Tate Modern prestigious enough? Yet, it only foreshadows more difficult things that need to be asked, such as how accessible are the funds for the arts to those who need them? Is the NCCA funding the art scene in the ways the scene needs support? If not, what concrete steps must be taken in order to bridge the expectations the art community has of the NCCA regarding what it actually does? The schism between the NCCA and the community seems to have gotten wider in recent years, the government having an increasingly notorious reputation as a consistently unreliable source of support for the arts. Support in tangible materials is obviously in short supply but it goes beyond that to demonstrate a demoralizing lack of appreciation and understanding of the government of its country’s art scene.

In countries which had been reliant on government funding that has been declining in recent years, art institutions, organizations and artists increasingly turn to private support, such as businesses, to fill the gap. Locally, however, these are wanting. The few businesses which do support the arts rarely do so progressively. Caught both by habit and name branding, corporate participation in the arts consists mostly of company-sponsored art competitions, some further marred by repetitive, folksy, nationalistic, value-oriented themes. Of course, by “art” competition, it is nearly always going to be painting or two-dimensionally based.

The Struggle for Philippine Art details the reason for initiating the Art Association of the Philippines competitions, first beginning in 1948, as being to improve the quality of art. In contemporary times, however, most of these art contests do not seem to really do much in this aspect. Its effect instead has been to inspire copycat painters rather than prestige, it has already become comic. How is this actually supporting or improving the quality of art, particularly long term?

There is money hovering for the arts it seems and there are also decent intentions as well. These funds and intentions need to be channeled in a way that meets the basic needs of the art scene and develops innovative and challenging programs through a spirit of philanthropy, which is quite distinct from sponsorship. The latter case is and would certainly still be welcome but again, it is a matter of having it in a proper conduit. It should then also be professionally branded enough so that corporations are appropriately recognized and would thus be encouraged to continue more progressive kinds of exchanges.

One example for private support may be in the form of bequests, given to museums here to upgrade their facilities or to play a more active role in collecting art rather than awaiting donations. Another example would be extensive travel grants and residencies for local artists and curators to exhibit abroad and to have foreign counterparts visit as well. Even something such as funding overhead expenses for independent art spaces, as mentioned earlier, would be a radical idea. There are many ways that others have surely already dreamt of. These can be discussed in more detail another time.

I ended the first part of this article by saying “The international recognition of a country’s artists can really sometimes be (only) as substantial as the budget it provides for it.” To this, as the title of the Ayala Museum exhibition of Purita Kalaw-Ledesma’s collection underscores, I would add vision as well. Grounded in concrete resources and a healthy sense of reality, an art scene can — and will — only progress as far as our vision can take us.

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Green Papaya is still looking for funds to cover the expenses incurred in their participation in the “No Soul for Sale,” festival of independents. Contact greenpapayaartprojects@gmail.com for further information to help. Their space is located at 41B T. Gener Street corner Kamuning Road, Quezon City; website at http://greenpapayaartprojects.org. The author may be reached at letterstolisa@gmail.com. Her art writings are at http://writelisawrite.blogspot.com.