Monday, February 27, 2012

Gazing contemporary arts in Manila, Bangkok, Singapore and Hongkong under glocaloscope

[presented during DLSU 5th Art Congress, February 2012, Taft Ave., Manila]

Project Glocal is to set sail with an arsenal of ideas that are open for debate and questioning:

For Project Glocal, art project is defined as a group of activities that aims to encourage discussion for and of the arts.  It does not necessarily aim to produce a festival of art or to celebrify artists. Instead, it will produce activities where art can be subjected to investigation under a particular curatorial theme. 

As the curatorial theme, the idea of glocal is to be problematized.  Tentatively, glocal is appraised to mean locating the local in the global and identifying the global in the local.  

Instead of calling Project Glocal international, it is classified as a cross cultural multi locale project.  Emphasis on the ‘nation’ is avoided, which is another topic of debate altogether. By common usage, cross cultural emphasizes more the intersection of cultures which may also happen within a nation and multi locale which emphasizes the diversity of origin more than the alienity of origin.

Project Glocal uses contemporary to mean the ‘now’.  Simply it is a chronological category and not necessarily a philosophical one.  Preference is on the young and actively exhibiting artist.

Multimedia art is used in Project Glocal to mean art that uses any possible media that the artists may choose to employ. 

What is Project Glocal?
Therefore, Project Glocal Manila is a cross-cultural multi-locale project involving contemporary multimedia art.

The proponents of Project Glocal (including the curator), are individuals, experimenting on their work vis-à-vis the theme, self vis-à-vis other artist, and their own art vis-à-vis the local art audience.  The idea is for the curator to observe, converse, debate and exhibit around 29 “city” artists from Bangkok, HongKong, Manila and Singapore, in answering the following problems: Is there glocal (in the art)? What then is glocal? And how glocal are we?

Why these four cities?
Without labels, one could barely tell which photo came from which place. Too much relations.  The feeling of relation can all be charged to the invasion of multinational companies. This is true. But to be more accurate, one could also choose to believe that this is all because of lived lives, where imposed political boundaries can be and have been blurred by information highways, by access to transportation and by the ability of human to evolve. As Eric Swyngedouw (1997) claims:
“[The process of global integrations has reached its azimuth in the contemporary urban environment.]”[1]

Project Glocal is a conversation.  It is a social experiment that is focused on exhibiting the “local” and the “other local” (instead of the foreign)—the staging, pairing/grouping, reacting and learning.  

Why hold Project Glocal?
Glocal is a concept introduced to me while attending a gathering of art managers in University of London late 2009. While there, aside from rhetoric, the word did not have a real meaning.  Not until my residency in Singapore where my curatorial ‘spotting skill’ was put to a real test.

It is no secret that Pinoy artists are well patronized in Singapore.  Without looking at labels, I thought all I saw are Pinoy art. But actually there were Singaporeans, Thais, HongKong, Mainland Chinese, Indonesians, etc. Curatorial spotting skill for Pinoy art graded fair to average, not even good.  Concluding that there must be more than what meets the eye, I embarked on a research.

Initially the intention was to create an exhibit that would explore the similarities on works of Filipino modernists and Singaporean-Chinese masters.  However, as the research progresses, the gaps of information became wider. The earlier hypothesis is proving to be true and at some level literal—there is more than what meets the eye—hence, the move to work with artists who are alive; so they maybe able to explain themselves or collaborate on exploring the idea; for who knows the work best than the artist. [2]

From identifying the ‘why’ or the ‘what’ of their works’ likeness, the operative word for Project Glocal becomes ‘to engage’—to engage the artists, to engage the audience, to engage the art. The main reason being, that they have to engage in conversations to find out how related are we or even if we are actually related beyond the pictures. 

How glocal? Art under glocaloscope
This mid-project report, now being presented at DLSU Arts Congress, aims to share to a wider public, two talking points from the agora that is Project Glocal. 

            Let’s gaze global
Talking point 1: Exhibition themes

CBD (Central Business District) 
Central Business District on a physical/literal level is usually represented as a clean-clear line of skyscrapers. For all participating cities in Project Glocal, one cannot instantly tell, without text inscriptions, which CBD is represented in which artwork. As an abstract concept, in Project Glocal, CBD was defined as a state where we make things work; a place, occasion or location where money is made. In terms of culture, CBD is a little city.   

The second theme is that of ‘hang-out.’ This subject varies from images of spaces or activities where we are when we are not working or when we are not home.  It is a space, occasion or activity where (as cliché goes) ‘let our hair down’ or where we show off.

The third theme is that of traffic.  For Manila, traffic means automobiles stuck along EDSA or elsewhere.  For this Project, we defined traffic as how we move while when we choose to move. Representation varies from the act of moving, the intention of moving, our concept of space when we are mobile, how we move around the city or how the city moves around us.

The forth theme is tricky.  Home is a project on its own.  For this project, we are reading home as a concept, space or occasion where we hang our umbrellas or move barefoot.  Home is where we are most vulnerable. It is where we find comfort at the end of the day. It is where we supposedly feel the safest or entitled, and up to some level, enlightened.

Side street
The fifth theme, side streets, is focused on the idea of secrets.  These are things, actions, concepts that we bring along with us on our daily affairs in the city.  Those that we either intentionally do not show or fail to show; either it is something that we do not realize or rather not show.  It could be those that we fear, those that anger us, something far greater or far grander, and those that confuse us.  

            Now, let’s gaze local
Talking point 2: On ‘dayo,’ ‘pakikisama’ and the question of contemporary

More often after spending some in a place, individuals tend to adapt, to get more comfortable and to have somewhat a sense of home or being at home.  But as it was shared by a lot of participants in Project Glocal small talks, society has its own way of recognizing who belongs and who doesn’t, who is dayo as opposed to taga-rito.  One is dayo if she originated from somewhere else, which is actually recognized as the root of her being iba (not like the rest).
Translating to art, audience say an art is dayo if the artist is dayo, regardless if the art looks, speaks and converses like taga-rito.  At the same time, art is taga-rito, even if it does not anyway look, speak or converse like taga-rito. For example, an artist can paint like Mark Justiniani, but if the artist is from Bangkok, the work is still dayo. On the other hand, even if a Filipino artist paints like Salvador Dali, her work is considered Pinoy.  Hence, the confusion or total eradication of the veracity and value of spotting skill of curators; instead, the emphasis is on the connection of the work to its source—the artist.
Pakikisama is one of the domains of Filipino core value under the category of ibang tao (translated as outsider as opposed to hindi ibang tao or not outsider).  Borrowed from Virgilio Enriquez’s Sikolohiyang Pilipino (1975), the theory implies that a person (a Filipino), act according to or against, with intentions to belong in a group. In this case therefore, the origin of a person is outside. 
When the process of pakikisama is completed (consciously, subconsciously or unconsciously), the ibang tao becomes hindi ibang tao (but not necessarily not dayo anymore, connecting this from the previous discussion). For example an Amerikano who tries to eat with spoon and fork instead of fork and knife is nakikisama.  This is where the popular youngish expression “para ka namang others” come from.
Translating to art, when do we say that an artist or his art is nakikisama. An artist-curator, who was part of the small talks, made an interesting point.  He said “in the art, we are nakikisama if you create what is uso.”  To further illustrate, let us go back to what has happened in the early to mid-1990s.  During this time, the prevalent style or school of art (especially in UP) was called “conceptual art”. 
For others it was deemed as intelligent art, for other others it was deemed as unintelligible art, for other others outside the art circle, there was already a question if it really is art.  But despite the confusion, questioning and on one end celebrity, a good number of artists follow suit, writers wrote about them, galleries exhibited them, some even collected them. Patronage is one form of pakikisama.
For Project Glocal, the question was left hanging: to whom are the Project Glocal artists’ nakikisama?
                  The question of contemporary
Has dayo and pakikisama anything to do with the question of contemporary? If we are to believe Latour (1993) that:
“(...) the alliances social groups or classes forge, over a certain spatial scale will shape the conditions of appropriation and control over place and have decisive influence over relative socio-spatial power positions.”[3]

Then, we could propose that aside from being a chronological category, “contemporary” is a social position. It is the choice positioning of allied forces to influence.
During the Project Glocal small talk, it was actually proposed that the category ‘contemporary’ in the arts could be a manifestation of aligning forces, of pakikisama, either to mimic the dayo or to contest being classified as dayo. In this case therefore, contemporary or contemporarity of art/artist could be a form of pakikisama of a dayo or towards a dayo.

How glocal are we?
Conversations about, for and in Project Glocal has yet to find a path to conclusion, if there would be any.  

The curator, artists and a handful of art enthusiasts who are engaged in Project Glocal’s small talks continue to offer so many issues to be considered which makes the conversation more complex as much as it is now more interesting.  Project Glocal is not designed to provide answers that are to become part of the grand narratives of the great art history instead it enables us to explore systems of gazing, thinking and creating.  Viewing art under the gaze of glocaloscope can be compared to an agora, a market place where philosophy and salt are sold side by side. 

We are as glocal as we allow ourselves to be un-alone but independent.  We are as glocal as we allow ourselves to be out there, with a compass that always points to where we came from but not necessarily where we are going.

[1] From Erik Swyngedouw (1997) ‘The Specter of the Phoenix—Reflections on the contemporary urban condition’ in Bosma K., Helliga H. (eds.) Mastering the City I, Netherlands Architecture Institute, Rotterdam/EFL Publications, The Hague/Distributed Art Publishers, New York, p104-121, as cited in Erik Swyngedouw and Maria Kaika (2003) The Making of ‘Glocal’ Urban Modernities: Exploring the Cracks in the Mirror’, City: Analysis of urban trends, culture, theory, policy, action 7(1): 5-21.
[2] The present folio
[3] From B. Latour (1993) We have never Been Modern (London: Harvester Wheatsheaf), p.34.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Conversations of Cities: Manila by Riel Hilario

Three Ships
Irma Lacorte, 2010
A few years ago in Jakarta, I was part of a panel of young curators from Europe and Asia and we had just concluded a week of exchanges on what we perceived were critical and key issues of contemporary art in our respective regions. But after a public presentation of our conclusions (and prescriptions) to an audience of Indonesian artists and curators, our European counterparts were confused when no one asked any questions, no one opposed our views and no one raised their hands for clarification. Yet during the cocktails, artists and writers sought after each one of us to present their reactions in private, often between snatches of clubhouse, sips of wine or beer and even an occasional puff from another “social lubricant”. It was then that I understood the normative habits of most Asian cultures favouring small talk as the most polite vehicle of discourse. Not that there is an incapacity for public discussion but the exchange of information and ideas seem to be more preferred in this part of the world. A Korean curator called this “the preference for tactile contact of discourse.” It seems that keeping the conversation within a tighter circle make ideas seem more  palpable, and more personal. Therefore, more real.

Folding Hongkong
Esther Yip Lai Man, 2010
I often thought that this idiosyncrasy of discursive structure is due to the tendencies of Asian artists to be more concerned with sharing experiences and insights, rather than with theory or manifestos. As such this leads to occasions when artists gather in groups because of common empathy rather than common ideology, or aesthetics. Relationships between Asian artists are more bound through shared experiences rather than shared politics. Therefore in gathering artists from Asia whose practices are grounded in different loci there is always an initial movement in searching for something common, something shared, something familiar, something similar and something intimate, personal, small enough, to be seen in close proximity.

Small Talk: Conversation of Cities is not just a themed exhibition with participating artists from Bangkok, Hongkong, Singapore and Manila, it is first and foremost an inquiry: How does contemporary urban life compare from one city to another? What aspects of the contemporary do we re-cognize in each city? The target artists therefore must have experience in transcience and mobility, a symptom of the contemporary Asian artist’s practice.

The goal of the project goes beyond a catalogue of comparison to create groundwork for critical stances on contemporary life and culture in the region. It is to create a field of creative thought where urban blight in Manila can be fully understood as the filter of its blood-red sunsets; or where the cosmopolitan edge of Singapore is but the vessel of its openness to all denizens; or where HongKong is seen as an example of contemporary urbanity that keeps in touch with heritage and where Bangkok is discovered as a region of plenitude, and as a nexus for travellers that does not exhaust the senses nor the travel fund. Or it can be a venue to air out grievances and bad memories: of lousy accommodations and cheating taxicab drivers; of lost luggage and bad bargains; of horrid humidity and fretful thunderstorms; of deadlock traffic jams and late-night revelry and its attendant hang-over; greasy bar tops, dark alleyways and difficult concierge services, connecting flights...
Come out and Play & I saw you Sing
Joo Choon Lin, 2009/2011 

Whatever the subject, a conversation in this structure can go on as long as the beer holds its dew. Small Talk is but an entry point to a promising variety of dialogue, where the works are equally provocative to other trajectories of thought. Like an urban traffic of creative projections, we revel: the smell of diesel fumes on our clothes, wafts of roast, chilli and curry, to the saccharine textures of a stretch of highways, the cold concrete greys of our alleyways and the circus primaries of our local politics. We swap stories of our everyday lives. riel hilario

Small Talk: Conversations of Cities

While in Bangkok, HongKong, Manila or Singapore, take the metro rail to observe the central business district. Where the rail ends, take a cab or walk to marvel over an older city where most homes and little businesses are. Cross side streets, follow the neon lights or bass of electronic players and one would see where people hang out.  Stand in a corner and watch people move to and fro, here and there, everybody moving in all directions or trying to move—traffic.  You need Coke, there it is. You want McDonalds meal, there it is.  How about Starbucks or 7-11? It’s all there. By ignoring scripts, one could barely tell which city is which. Histories aside, language aside and to some extent, quantum aside, one can map out these cities and feel that it is his own, or at least ‘like’ home.  

This feeling of recognition, we loosely attribute to the idea of glocal, wherein local can be located in the global and global is recognized as local. 

I am proposing 3 talking points: Hmm! Oonga! And Teka teka!

Hmm! Is an expression of recognition. It is when you feel or think that there is something there.

Oonga! Is an affirmation that there is something to be realized. That it manifests itself or made manifest regardless of form.

Teka teka! Is taking yield to ponder if there is more to it than hmm! And oonga!

Mideo Cruz, 2011
Project Glocal, the mother ship of, "Small Talk" is a product of these 3 expressions. It is an attempt to place these expressions into actual conversations.

As curator of Project Glocal, I hope to engage my artist in this particular conversation. I wanted them to recognize, affirm and ponder the extent of glocality in their works.

Glocal is not a new concept, it dates back to late 80’s as a socio-economic discourse.  Simplifying an otherwise complicated concept, we choose to focus our energies in representing the local which is globally recognizable and the global which is locally adaptable.

In this particular exhibit I invited those whose work deal with people, places, objects or ideas associated with cities. Why cities?  Because this is where amalgamation of global and local is more obvious.  The a
rtists were given liberty to choose their own ‘peg’; to identify which images they can relate to the doppelganger effect of this glocal phenomenon.  Tang Ling-Nah, Marc Gaba and Ester Yip Lai-Man worked on capturing the infrastructure of cities. Irma Lacorte, Joo Choon Lin, Tang Kwok-hin and Mark Salvatus worked on capturing the people.  Anton del Castillo, Mideo Cruz, Mimi Tecson and Thosapol Boriboon worked on capturing the objects. Implying that for the artists, glocal is a product of lived lives—by the ability of human to adapt while evolving.

While it is so easy to charge this whole glocal phenomenon to the invasion of multinational companies, to the commodification of cities and easier access to information highways, this exhibit encourages the viewers to wonder if there is more to it than reconfiguration of boundaries. With Small Talk, let the conversations of cities begin.  dty