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.

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