writings, projects and exhibitions of Clarissa Chikiamco

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.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Struggle for Philippine Art - Then and Now (Part 1)

I'm posting my article which appeared in yesterday's Philippine Star. I've had some interesting feedback/reactions and I've been enjoying having a discussion. So for those who haven't and been wanting to, do feel free to email me.

On another note - someone emailed thinking that my article was calling for a board/committee to regulate the art scene and told me it was a crazy idea. I agree - that's a crazy idea! That's definitely not what I'm after and I'm hoping most understood it was really ethics I was advocating - a community that doesn't need a committee and written rules because it has the maturity to value ethics and practice it. There are always going to be dodgy people wanting to do dodgy things but if the community truly values ethics, it can regulate itself. If majority, for example, refuse to work with people who are guilty of perpetuating conflicts of interest, these people will have no choice but to conform to the "rules" majority abide by. It was actually quite interesting to witness this in practice during my time abroad - to see how their system operated and to question why it operates this way.

The Struggle for Philippine Art - Then and Now

The ongoing Ayala Museum exhibition “A Vision of Philippine Art,” featuring selected artworks from the collection of art patroness and Art Association of the Philippines (AAP) founder Purita Kalaw-Ledesma (1914-2005), is best complemented by a reading of The Struggle for Philippine Art, the book which Ledesma and Amadis Guerrero co-authored in 1974. Indeed, to comprehend Ledesma’s vision, this book is requisite reading as it outlines the difficulties in the Philippine art scene back in the day and how these setbacks were managed when artists at that time had yet to earn even the basic recognition as, Ledesma and Guerrero have written, “‘respectable’ member (s) of society.” Looking at how artists are today held in such high esteem and earning adequately (even highly), it seems that the Philippine art scene has progressed significantly from the time the AAP was founded over 60 years ago.

In reading the book, however, it seems inescapably that many of the issues present in the art scene then are still issues that are at hand now, albeit perhaps in different forms. Reviewing some of these issues seems to be a worthy endeavor if only to remind ourselves that, for the Philippine art scene, there is still a lot more work to be done.


A most salient issue in the founding of the AAP, an association for artists, collectors, benefactors and enthusiasts, was its professionalization. Unethical practices were a concern as were payment of dues, tardiness and its running as an organization. An AAP board member, businessman C.M. Hoskins, assisted in addressing these — having the AAP run like a business and putting strict measures in place so compliance on dues and submissions became a necessity. At that time, the AAP was a critical organization in advancing Philippine art so membership, and therefore the requirements for membership, were essential.

Today, membership in any organization is needless for those practicing in the arts (artists, writers, curators, those who work in and with galleries and museums). While this resembles art scenes abroad which have no overarching structure regulating it, it seems ours in particular is characteristic of an anarchic free-for-all, which fails to put a firm grip on — and a halt — to slippery unethical practices.

For one, the pervading artist-gallery system allows artists to show in several galleries. While there is nothing wrong with this in itself — even allowing artists more freedom — this also leaves artists vulnerable to being approached directly by collectors and dealers who want to pay only artist prices, even haggling for discounts, a very awkward position for artists to be in. The loose arrangements give too much room to those who do not have the artists’ best interests in mind. Galleries, for their part, will of course only take an artist so far without exclusive contracts or commitments.

The issue of fakes and authentication also abound. The prevailing system for authentication seems to be guided only by “experts’” eyes, or that of the artist’s family, and while the eye is arguably and will always be critical here, one wishes that there was a kind of science involved to ground these findings, particularly when the authentication is in dispute. The practice as well of charging percentage of the artwork’s value (for authenticating) or percentage of sales (curating in commercial galleries) are also inherent conflicts of interest that put judgment on the line. Flat fees should be the norm here.

Also existing are dodgy publications — a magazine, for example, that purports to be about Philippine art but misleads in its promotion of a certain gallery and its artists. There is also the case of a contributing writer in one daily newspaper who will write a feature or “review” on an artist — if the artist pays a fee of a certain amount. Writers for exhibitions, on the other hand, are fortunate if the gallery even allots a budget to pay them for their work, rather than leaving it to the artist as an option. Payment for writers by galleries should already be standard.

There are certainly other matters that can fall here — the art scene is not without its gripes or its scandals. Professionalizing the art scene, however, entails more than simply fixing procedures and having rules. It is having people recognize, practice and, most significantly, value ethics in the arts. While the AAP had been there in earlier days to try to have artists and others toe the line, for the art scene to mature in these times, there is a need for community and self-policing, grounded in a comprehension and expectation of trust certain positions and tasks hold.

Being Behind The Art Scene Abroad; The Quest For International Recognition

The Struggle for Philippine Art notes, ‘‘Foreigners who came to see works of Filipino artists during the early ’50s invariably commented that they lagged behind the rest of the world….” The same might be said today at least in terms of media being used. While video and installation have become the predominant media abroad, which is very apparent in the defining art exhibitions of our times — the biennales — most artists locally are still painting.

Artists should be able to choose their medium, whether it be painting, performance, photography, video or installation. There is absolutely nothing amiss in painting. The problem, however, is if patronage is situated in such a way that artists feel like they have no choice but to paint to make a living and therefore avoid or very limitedly explore other media in effect. Artists abroad can afford to be more ambitious in their undertakings, knowing that there are institutions and collectors who acquire media of a reproducible nature, massive difficult-to-store installations and art with materials of inherent vices. There is also the reward, for impressive artists of any media, of major commissions by different institutions, biennales and art fairs. Painting is fine as a medium but how dominant would the medium be here in the Philippines if artists were assured of the same buttress if they chose to specialize in something else? There are too few institutions and individuals who are backing contemporary art beyond painting. The art scene is not determined only by the artists — patronage should never be undermined in its critical role in shaping the art scene and creating opportunities for how far artists, as well as curators, can go.

Ledesma and Guerrero expressed optimism about the graphic arts back then, “‘Because the materials are inexpensive… and because one can print as many copies as one wishes, it has less appeal. However, through the years it has progressed from a mere hobby to an art form, and in the years to come, it will surely gain in importance.” Those in the position to give different media due importance are those who write, commission and collect (and therefore, preserve). Nearly 40 years after the book was written, art of reproducible media has still to secure robust support in the art scene here.

Interconnecting with this is the pursuit for international recognition. As Ledesma and Guerrero wrote back then, ‘‘The feeling grew that the Flipino artist was as good as anyone, and the only way to demonstrate this was to compete in international competitions. Consequently it became the ambition of many Filipino artists to be represented in the biennales.” While there are sprinklings of Filipino artists in such exhibitions, then as today, the Philippines has yet to make a heavyweight name for itself in contemporary art as, for example, China has in recent years. This, however, is not simply a matter of art itself. Ledesma and Guerrero, writing of the Philippine participation in the 1962 biennale, astutely observed, ‘‘When the Filipino artists and committee members arrived in Venice, they found that successful participation in an exhibit of this magnitude was not based on artistic merit alone. Money, government support, politicking and an aggressive or promotions campaign counted too.” The international recognition of a country’s artists can really sometimes be as substantial as the budget it provides for it.

(To be continued.)

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

Sunday, May 16, 2010

A little update

Normally, I simply post my existing writings in this blog or comment on some project in the works. Today, however, I thought I would go into a bit more detail on what's been on my mind, particularly having moved back to the Philippines after living in Australia for two years.

To recap, I graduated just last March from the University of Melbourne with the degree Master of Art Curatorship. My studies were undertaken as a recipient of the Australian Government's Endeavour Postgraduate Award, a merit-based scholarship. A few weeks after receiving my degree, I was given notice that, together with another student, I was on the University of Melbourne's Dean's Honour List, an award given to the top five percent graduating students in their respective courses with a certain minimum grade. I actually wasn't aware that such an award existed but it is nice and certainly encouraging to be academically reaffirmed for my work for the past two years, which has really been my studies.

So that was then and what about now? Well, now that my masteral studies are over, the question I get most often is if I am going back to Australia to work or go somewhere else abroad to find a job. At the moment, I am Manila-based and I intend to work here for the time being - a very conscious decision that is certainly not without its frustrations. I did have the option of staying in Australia but I chose to return home. The great thing about working in the arts in Manila is that there are so many things to do here and that can be done here (theoretically anyway). The difficult thing, however, is being stonewalled by things such as lack of funds, people with lack of vision, lack of financial compensation and age. Personally, it is quite a struggle to be hammered by these things, particularly having lived in Melbourne where the government provides a lot of funding for the arts, progressively having realized the benefits it gives to the state. The art scene there was a lot more professional as well and that of course goes back to the amount of funding an art scene has (whether by the state or through private patronage).

On the age issue, I must comment a little on it - as it is precisely an issue. I do feel it is difficult for me to be taken very seriously at times here in Manila because I am quite young and in person, I look even younger it seems (as I have been told). I would be the first to admit that I have a lot more to learn (I am even considering doing a second master's degree). But I do have problems with people being automatically dismissive of me simply because of my age, particularly when they haven't even read or looked at my work. Age was never an issue in Australia as is the case in most Western countries I believe. And having had at least a couple of incidents here where it was made glaringly apparent to me that my age seemed to be a liability, I can't help but of course be disappointed at certain people's short-sightedness.

Moving on to what I have been up to - Currently, together with my former teacher Boots Herrera, I'm working on an exhibition of modernist/postmodernist Lee Aguinaldo that will be held in the Ateneo Art Gallery at the end of the year as part of the museum's 50th anniversary. I have also been busy shooting and editing Visual Pond's latest project - ARTiculation, a Philippine contemporary art series online which features an artist for each episode (for 10 in a season). Visual Pond, for those who are unfamiliar, is the nonprofit organization I cofounded together with fellow art management graduates Rica Estrada, Tenten Mina and Cheska Tanada. We do projects together in addition to our individual careers.

For our first episode, we shot Mark Salvatus and for the second, we featured Christina Quisimbing Ramilo. I'll post soon separate blog entries with embedded videos but for now, you can simply find the videos in Visual Pond's youtube channel at http://youtube.com/user/visualpond. I am currently editing the third. The series is actually pretty straightforward information, aiming to be a primary and easily accessible source on Philippine contemporary artists.

Asides from what I've mentioned, I am also working on writing more regularly for Star, at least for what space they can give me. The first part of my article ,'The Struggle for Philippine Art - Then and Now', has been released today and I am working on the second part this week for next Monday.

I have also been reading on video art history or rather, histories in looking into seriously furthering my research and writing on video art here. I have 1,500++ pages of readings and this is probably only just the beginning. This is also groundwork into research I will be doing next year on the video art collection of the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum as their selected researcher in residence. If you have any books to recommend that I add to my reading list, I would appreciate you firing me off an email to letterstolisa@gmail.com.

And that's all for the moment, folks.