Monday, September 7, 2009

Love is im/possible

Brave are those who choose to fall in love at times like this. A world gripped by financial pandemic: salvaging the excesses of speculation and general mistrust. Paranoia has itself turned into that everyday art object, fashionably molded into a convenient excuse for self-reflexive meta- practice. As if it were a thing in itself, self-sufficient in form. Then by means of an obvious reaction to all that is evil and skeptic, comes the easy pendulum to new age mysticism or astrological cosmic superstition in the ever-noble search for the authentic and pure that will seduce us back into the primordial struggle of our forebears. Or drawn by the allure of arbitrary random events because it’s never easy making decisions. At some point, the hard task of choosing sides becomes inevitable hence the admission to ambiguity.

Indeed it was of a logical admission to ambiguity we took when we launched 
Wednesdays I’m-n-love Open Platform (W.O.P) Residency. A playful response to the usual Friday night out in town, let-your-hair loose and everything else hang, why not on a mid-week hump day. Still, because grips of productivity are unavoidable, work almost always finds itself in play. Possibly true for the swarms of workaholics rushing around the city or full-time bum artists who’ve long abandoned the distinctions of work and non-work, or those part-timers wondering when they will ever have enough time and space to play. 

An offshoot sibling of its predecessor of mid-week anarchic gathering of artists and non-artist associates, WOP Residency was borne out of an instinctual intelligent guess premised on the creative community’s need for breathing space. Only this time, it takes place on mid-week Wednesdays. Almost there but not quite. The residency proposes a space to hold, if not temporally house creative experimentation, artistic tendencies, research agendas and critical play minus the high-pressure requirements of a proper exhibition, performance, or manuscript. This, and the sometimes, slippery function bequeath of art openings and events that also double as informal avenues to network and forge creative intellectual connections among like-minded kindred: artists, thinkers, talkers, students, and voyeurs. It is almost tempting to say that these gatherings have become mere ‘excuse’ for communal meetings (sans the bohemian overtone) where meaningful artistic relationships are formed.

Yet, excuse or no excuse, informed observations have led us to suspect that despite the litter of creative action happening almost everyday in Manila, spaces and platforms for discursive critical practice, artistic interaction and exchange remain scant. Or, they have probably never existed formally at all. And those informal platforms that have transpired in the 90s towards early 2000 at artist-run spaces like Big Sky Mind, Surrounded By Water, Third Space and Future Prospects are nearly, if not completely, unheard of among current ‘art followers.’ Fast-forward to newly established/short-lived alternative spaces constantly struggling to present what is new or alternative. 

Truly the emergence of artist-run-spaces the last ten years has dramatically shifted the politics of art production and representation in Philippine contemporary art practice. Where artists, by way of self-organized endeavors have sought to define parallel initiatives that are not only responsive or relevant to their specific conditions but also a means to enable the local artistic/creative community in the absence of structural/institutional support for art and culture. What probably sets the Manila situation apart from the rest of independently initiated cultural actions is that the lack of institutional support (private or public) failed to derail artistic growth and cultural production but has in fact become a key motivational factor to mobilize. Hence, the DIY, guerilla personality attenuated to such ‘movement.’ Yet while this enriches vibrancy of art in the city this also puts most of us in a fragile uncertainty. Because of its private, spur-of-the-moment nature, these initiatives are perpetually threatened by discontinuity, what with the lack of proper documentation and historiography. These platforms would at best run 2-3 years only to be shelved in art historical amnesia. Such is the need to indentify artistic-cultural management programs and strategies that will have more sustainable and meaningful impact to general cultural production. Perhaps even aspiring for that utopic ideal to shape cultural politics. 

Ambitions are of course there to be pursued and held. So with the same adolescent raging free falling hormones that WOP attempts to fill in the gap between creating and presenting. And carve out a niche purely orientated towards a process and non-media based creative practice–an overdue peripheral call to amplify the ambient hiss of ‘useless’ banter and play, meanwhile daring to say that this is the point and it is actually enough. Dismantling the conventions of artistic production, cultural management and conditions of spectatorship. A proposal to counterpoint the existing modes of ‘work.’ Undeniably, it must be the informality of Green Papaya’s organizational structure that allows us more leeway to spew out aphorisms premised on hunches. Yet, W.O.P refuses to be reduced as an artsy bohemian night out in the town where artistic and exotic types click beer bottles and indulge in nonsensical banter. Instead it bravely attempts to establish a platform that tinkers upon the question of how art can be by emphasizing praxis over object, disorientation over perception, procedure over representation, and process over mimicry. Simultaneously putting in place a framework that addresses the necessity of discursive art practice in Manila. 

Originally conceived as an informal, loose, anarchic and spontaneous weekly gathering, WOP Residency arose from the need to put in place sustainable artistic programming borne out of the fragile and uncertain future that constantly face independent creative spaces. The rationale of WOP is to develop creative strategies that address the common challenge of sustaining an artistic platform while effectively managing the resources available to us. At the same time, taking cognizance of the changing body of art practitioners and scholars whose practices digress the once easy category of artist and curator. The platform envisions a meeting ground where the selected artists/researchers negotiate the exigencies of artistic production, curatorial intervention and cultural management by way of a creative residency that also supports their own personal artistic motivations and growth. 

Initiated in 2007 as one-night affair to lubricate social, critical and scholarly connections among a tight-knit community of artists living in Manila who share similar concerns and momentum as regards to contemporary art practice. It modestly started out with the usual screenings, jam sessions artist conversations among musicians, filmmakers, poets, performing and visual artists. Quickly evolving into much –anticipated weekly gathering for interventionist tactics, multidisciplinary interaction and collaborations in varying artistic stages: with script readings, improvisation jams, lecture-demonstration, live talk shows and even ping-pong nights. It has since played a central role in the cultural and artistic life of the local community. Opening up spaces to discuss and participate in strategies that bridge the gap of managing independent initiatives whilst promoting creative-artistic agendas.

In April 2008, an open call for proposals, research and artistic tendencies was disseminated to the community of artists, students, cultural workers and emerging scholars of the field. It has been received with enthusiasm, considering that WOP remains to be the only multidisciplinary residency program in Manila, a megalopolis of eleven million people. With the support of Arts Network Asia, (ANA) six young artist/researchers from the fields of visual arts, literature, video, dance and the academe were then selected; each of them given two months to work at/in/with Green Papaya. While the program seeks to support the participants’ creative production they were highly advised to do so within the frame of co-curating a weekly public program. The artists shall also assist in documenting and archiving these events, meanwhile soliciting their reflexive insights on an online blog ( All the outputs of six resident artists will be presented in a book to be published later on, when additional funding for publication has been secured. The six artists chosen follows: Angelo V. Suarez, Diego Maranan, Mark Salvatus, Andrea Teran, Martha Atienza and Jed Escueta.

The WOP Residency program stood as a partial survey of multidisciplinary modalities current in creative practice and artistic research. With each resident unwittingly mapping out the modes of ‘work’ in their respective fields, communities and peers, who were also invited to participate within the frame of each residency. Meanwhile threshing out particular thematic issues in aesthetic-artistic practice, community-based art projects, tactical interventionist propositions that presently motivate artistic practice and art actions. 

The deliberate stratagem to suspend ‘output’ over process has allowed them to destabilize the conventional frames of understanding how artistic practice can be made relevant and contextualizes itself in social and cultural production. Bridging public misperception that art always need be finished, object-oriented or expressive. Diego Maranan’s The Visible, Invisible for instance, was orientated towards developing data visualization models to organize subjective experiences and qualitative data into concrete, coherent visual forms. During which he held intensive one-on-one workshops with people from across disciplines (art, social sciences, grassroots advocacy) to identify appropriate visual materials that would effectively communicate their ideas to their intended public. Maranan, who also teaches at the University of the Philippines Open University, utilized the residency as a means to further refine his methodology in developing visualization techniques that had practical application in the fields of social advocacy, communication research and building information database and portals. Towards the end of his residency he delivered a paper, concurrently presented at the Annual Southeast Asia Cinema Conference (ASEACC), proposing an online portal to Philippine Independent Cinema using visualization techniques. 

Similarly teasing tactical interventionist propositions are Mark Salvatus and Angelo V. Suarez’s, that both tackle the liquefying limits of varied aesthetic artistic practices.
Mark Salvatus’ Neo-Urban Plan initiated public online forum on how to intervene the city that elicited equally sensible, silly and utopic responses from people living in Manila. At which time he also invited varied urban guerilla movements (graffiti artists, flickr photo bugs, parkors, activist-architects) to present the work they do at Green Papaya, inadvertently subverting the institutional frame of a typical ‘art’ gallery situation meanwhile reasserting the scope of creative practice outside the established frames. Equally delimiting those that lie inside and outside of what we know as ‘art.’ Invited Flickr photo bug Gem Urdaneta, who has been collecting images of the metro and never considered her practice as art presented images of a neglected city prompted the members of the audience into a spontaneous guessing game evoking collective memories of a fast-changing yet still decrepit city. Perhaps a covert proposal to re-territorialize the easy position of ‘marginal’ and mainstream. Likewise, architect-activists from TAO-Pilipinas, an NGO of professionals in architecture and urban planning advocating efficient, sound design and sustainable housing projects for poor communities underpinned the inexhaustible links between art and sustainable development. 

Angelo V. Suarez’s Street Smarts that partly progressed into Words are Things hints at the tenuous perimeters of language and visual production through a rather oblique reframing of creative practices that traverse the easy frames of literary, poetry, visual, procedural and performative. In effect sketching ruptures that are obversely meant to bridge the material divide between text and object. Yet instead of opting for the simplistic almost cliché juxtapositions of poetry and painting, or poetry and moving image, or poetry and sound, or poetry and movement–that clutter the creative scene–he chooses to instead re-contextualize current artistic and creative modalities that already propose the intermediality of text and object. Unwittingly mapping out a marginal practice in poetry that foregrounds language as a material object and inversely a visual practice that undermines language production. Bea Camacho’s contribution to this series, a small rectangular piece of cardboard saying “Person Reading a Label / Bea Camacho / 2008” in a regular gallery-wall-type-demeanor, for example calls attention to language’s relationship with the visual and spatial. Likewise, Adam David’s playful forays into the verbo-visual process of cut-ups and erasures towards textual production suggest the visual process of writing. Where writing is a process of absence and presence, new media artist Pow Martinez’s YouTube intervention reveal “that an act of writing didn’t need an actual act of writing–that is putting words together in a deliberately fresh and discursive manner (A. Suarez).” Martinez played John Cage’s famous piece 4’33 while superimposing comments found at the comment stream, reactions that extended from silly to serious, non-sense to profound and plain confusion to awe.

Suarez’s residency clearly outlines the advantage of maintaining an open/flexible structure for an artist-in-residency program. Having subsumed his initial proposal, Street Smarts, in favor of a project that seemingly grew organically on its own as a matter of identifying the existing creative modalities that support/frame, whether directly or peripherally, his own artistic research and motivations. Street Smarts was initially intended to be presented as part-performance and part-textual/aural document as conceptual poem of recorded/transcriptions of conversations between himself and taxi drivers in Manila. While meant as discursive and linguistic investigation of social production of conversation, dialog, and poem(?), the work simultaneously points out the idea of multiple authorship and micro-politics of cultural production between artists and (its) public, who are also unsuspecting conspirators. In the process of his investigation, Words are Things came about as a result of “examining the larger field of poetry that examines the material in local practice. Instead of phrase against phrase, practice against practice is juxtaposed, as are forms against forms–where Green Papaya, known primarily as a locus for visual art, is turned into a venue for linguistic and poetic discourse. (A.Suarez).” In this situation, the artist deliberately takes on the sometimes deceptive role-playing accorded to artist-curators, whose creative practice actually inform each distinctive realm of work.

In the similar vein that 
Andrea Teran’s Monthly Period Readings evolved from straightforward reading sessions into more concentrated and intimate conversations between two writers as an avenue to draw attention to poetics, styles and motivations that either set the selected writers apart or closer to each other. The conversations, which were open to the public, pried open what were only merely private intimations that writers have with them self/selves. These reading, and listening sessions ran every last Wednesday of the month for a period of one year, established not only a venue to publicly present the current takings of a select group of writers but ruptured a platform where ‘talk’ was given complete priority over ‘product’ which drew in a regular following composed of literature students, enthusiast and practitioners in Philippine contemporary literature. These sessions, sometimes extending till late, attest to the need of continually carving out discussion spaces in the city. For the past year, Teran has organized conversations between Adam David and Conchitina Cruz, Lawrence Ypil and Pocholo Goitia, Daryll Delgado and Israfel Fagela, Marguerite de Leon and Yol Jamendang, Nicolas Pichay and Khavn de la Cruz, Norman Wilwayco and Andrea Teran, Mabi David and Mark Cayanan. 

Talk, sharing, time and space are surely aspects of any creative practice that are easily taken-for-granted. At least in Manila, where art spaces have become mere presentational spaces exclusively occupied with mimicry and representational nature of contemporary art if only to capture that ubiquitous wild animal called the art market. And hence the necessity of creating niche spaces that offer parallel approaches in how to do art. This is specifically the positive void that WOP Residency aims to fill to enable a dynamic and progressive community of contemporary art practitioners. Encompassing the staid liminal categories between media and non-media based art. 
Martha Atienza’s When Routine Is All There Is particularly underlines the need, and conversely the lack, of platforms for self-referential and reflexive artistic practice. Atienza who lives between Holland and Bantayan Island, used her residency to reflect upon the process of creation itself without the burden of defining a final ‘work.’ Her artistic process itself echoes the similar situation wherein there is a lot of waiting to capture everyday anomalies in video and allowing the narrative to emerge minus the daunting signature of an auteur. In this process the narrative becomes a conspired, silently agreed upon contract between the minutely mediated moving images and audience. During her residency, Atienza showed works-in-progress probing upon feedback and reaction of peers, creative community and the audience. Again emphasizing the communicative potential of art to break barriers and initiate connections. 

Jed Escueta’s Mama Don’t Take My Kodachrome Away brings us back to the almost forgotten practice of photography wrought by the easy-speak of digital quick fix phenomena of photo bugs that swarm cyberspace–almost a primordial call to bring back to photography to art as endangered by trendy self-expressionism. His stubborn insistence on darkroom techniques complimented by an insider documentary archiving of the underground punk scene pulls the community back in the role of the artist as an autonomous observer and purveyor of the everyday. Silent but equally potent storyteller of that which we don’t normally see. Breaking down appearances in a critical appeal to either see appearances as what they simply are or contextualize essence outside their presumed surface.

Because love is always that tricky act of giving and misconstrued belief of receiving that Wednesday’s I’m-n-love Open Platform Residency effectively engaged the creative community and rejuvenate its silent vibrancy towards more sustainable means. Pushing it to see and use what has in fact always been there: that the artist’s own motivations and tendencies. In effect proposing to maximize resources that have always been readily available to us, without having to worry about producing something new or alternative but instead to deepen cracks and ruptures that are waiting to be activated. 

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