Friday, November 23, 2012

Considerations, challenges, triumphs, rooms for improvement of an independent art project

Delivered during artist talk for Dezipcoding 17Nov at SAM 8Q with theme Circumstances Engineering: Art initiative as social experiment




Background
In 2010, I had the chance to look into the collection database of Singapore Art Museum that had been turned over to The National Art Gallery Singapore (now known as NAGA). At the same time the Collection and Curatorial Division headed by Low Sze Wee was working on a series of Singapore Master’s Exhibit including Cheong Soo Pieng, Yeh Chi Wei, Lui Kang, among others.


Let me bring you to the visual zone. These are the things I saw on CSP's works and these were my thoughts: [content purged, photos comparing CSP and Phil late moderns cannot be uploaded because they are owned by NAGA and I have not acquired permission to publish]. To summarize however, points of comparison were: form, composition and visual texture; for subject landscapes, images vernacular architecture, harbor/port, still life, women as muse, women as exotic, etc. 


I don’t know if it was just me missing home or it is already actually a light blub moment saying that it might be a good idea to put them together in a show. Art audience then will see that Singapore, does have something in its creative arsenal.

Many other things happened in between, but two conversations cemented my ideas on what is to be known today as Project Glocal. First, my teacher, Patrick Flores, curator of Vargas Museum, made me realize that curating old works will be a logistic nightmare.  With my original SG-PI project idea, the operative word is “old”, I have to double efforts ensuring security, exhibition space condition, insurance, paper works, research, among other things.  Another conversation was with arts managers while I was in University of London.  This was where I encountered “glocal” approach, especially when working with contemporary artists— as a simplified actualization of local and global phenomena—though, leaning largely on ‘managing’ creative enterprises aka how to view art as a business—this conversation was translated in my head as a probable if not actually a possible art project.


Considerations and Challenges
The major consideration of this project is finding artists.  Without the artists, there is no Project Glocal. So, how did I meet them? Long time ago, I saw Michael Lee and Jason Wee’s work in the Singapore Biennale (even before my Arts Associate Residency). Then, when I already had the seed of Project Glocal in my head, I talked to Yong Shu Hoong, a poet, an alumni of SIF and a friend. Originally my intention was to bounce the idea off to him, just so I get feedback if my head is in the right place.  Next thing he was helping me find Jason Wee or Michael Lee or Ang SooKoon or Song Ming Ang or all of the above.  I flew to Singapore and met the two gentlemen, Wee and Lee, after a “reprieve.” They gave me more names (Tang Ling Nah, Joo Choon Lin, Genevieve Chua [not with the project anymore]). Much later Ling Nah introduced me to Black Baroque Committee and Urich Lau. And the Team Singapore was complete.

For Bangkok, I emailed Win, Vichaya Mukdamanee, also an alumni of SIF arts associate and sounded off the project idea to him. Immediately he said “Yes, I’m in.” Few more days, he was sending me portfolio of possible artist participants. So we had Win, Warawut, Rutheirat and Preeyachanok. Mideo Cruz (of Manila) recommended Jittagarn Kaewtinkoy and Thosapol Boriboon. Then on the first art trip to Bangkok I saw Wantanee Siripattananuntakul. Team Bangkok complete.

In forming team Manila this was how it happened. Anton del Castillo and Riel Hilario were the first I invited; then Anton recommended Mideo Cruz and Marc Gaba (not with the project anymore); then I called Irma Lacorte, Mark Salvatus and Mac Valdezco (not with the project anymore). Later on Karen Flores, past-director of Cultural Center of the Philippines Division on Visual Arts recommended Mimi Tecson and Wesley Valenzuela. Team Manila complete.

 For HongKong, I first contacted Jaffa Lam, who is a co-alumni of Asian Cultural Council, like Anton, Mideo, Irma, Riel, Mark and myself. Jaffa recommended Tam WaiPing, Lukas Ching, Francis Yu and Ho Siu Kee. Then I found Tang Kwok Hin in a Michael Lee catalogue and online. Also Esther Yip Lai Man I found online.  Team HongKong was completed in 2 emails. Jaffa also recommended Bundith Phomsambartlert to be added in team Bangkok. He was with us for about 6 months but we couldn’t bring his work throughout because he is based in America.  And his work will concern too much funding.
This brings me to challenge number one: money. How can I ask anybody to make my idea happen and make them spend their own money along the way? There is no one decent answer for this question; at least none that can go in on textbooks. But here’s what happened. On my end, I sent proposal to any possible grant giving body, foundations, corporations, politicians, etc. I know for sure same goes for Win, Ling Nah and Urich. Some of those we approached (like SIF) did support us.  But the bulk of expenses in purely on us.  This is not all bad news though; I guess this is one reason why the project isn’t just mine now, but Ours.  We have all invested on it one way or another.

Challenge number two is time.  The artists that are involved in this project, at least 80% of them are active practitioners. By this I mean, they have an exhibit at least 3 times a year, plus residencies, plus conference, plus publication, plus classes, etc. This means also that we have to make time. And in committed conversations such as this project 1 hour a day is not enough.  Since we are far away, I needed to talk to them at least once a week, 1 hour or 1 email per person—it is but human to forget other things—and the point of a reminder is to make our project not an other thing.

Challenge number three is character. No matter how much we say that geopolitik is but geo, we still are different people from different cultures. And an icing on the cake, we are artists. The clich√© is not true—artists are not bi-polar; they are multi-polar. We can create temperaments as there are many colors Pantone can offer.  The aim is to find way to understand each other. And the trick is to find the sweetspot and deal with them while they are on that zone.  Doing this for 1 person is difficult. Doing this with all 30 of them is…well Project Glocal.

Challenge number four and I would like to say is the easiest—art.  Gelling our art agenda together is easy. I chose them under a framework and the rest of the job is just keeping them in that framework or making them move from one framework to the other. A lot of this job has to do with reaping the fruits of 2nd and 3rd challenge (time and character). A wise person once told me that the only way to make people do what you want them to do is to pay them or befriend them. Since I don’t have the previous, I capitalize on the latter. Confidently I would say that our art manifests as a product of friendship. Yes, I am not the over intellectualized curator. I am one of those ridiculously romantic curator who believes that heart has to do with art, as Ella Wheeler Willcox would say.

Triumphs
There are three measures of success for our project:
One is getting things done, whether it is simply going around for an art walk, having a simple art talk, doing a satellite show or building a big show or producing the book; if we can get this done somehow, then we are ok. We don’t target spectacle. We have no cause to awe, we are not magicians or circus act—we are human. Having things done is allowing mistakes and little compromises in guise of spontaneity. This we were able to achieve in the 18 months of our relationship.

Two is keeping relationship. To date, this is perhaps our biggest triumph.  Knowing people is easy. This is Facebook’s realm.  Building relationship is another thing but keeping relationship is a whole different story. You just have to spend a meal with us to find proof to this.  We are not co-workers but friends who are trying to work together. Like how Win jokingly puts it the other day, “take care of your brothers.” In 2013, we have no plans to put up an exhibit. I also do not have any schedule to city-hop, so our relationship will be put to the test. Having said this, I secretly pray to the muses of the arts to keep us and help us prove that we indeed built a relationship worth keeping.

If one fine day, sometime next year, one of them (or all of them, if I am lucky) dropped me a message to say something like: what’s the next plan or where are we going next? Then this is the Mount Olympus of our triumphs. When the artists themselves takes the lead to get together, either for a project or for whatever, then I can go to a saloon and have myself pampered, because my work here is done—I come out beautiful and triumphant. 

Rooms for improvement
Rooms for improvement are spread-out between our challenges and triumphs. Picking out which ones we should improve and which one to ignore...well there is just too many at this point.  We would be threshing it out when we are finally able to sleep and left the high zone of in the middle of partying crowd.

Closing  
This Dragon Year proved to be kind to me.  This is an exciting time; exciting enough for me to boast that Project Glocal has the potential to become a colossal project. But then again, I am realistic enough to admit that failures, shortcomings and low points of this project are ties that bind us on the ground.  Being reminded constantly that our Project is just a project among the many is precious. It never stops reminding us to wish that history (art history), hopefully will judge us fairly. 
Thank you and good afternoon.