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Archive for January, 2008
Tags: asia, children's fiction, children's writers, conference, illustrators, singapore
Tags: philippines, text-based art, contemporary artists, newspaper columns, curatorial space, filmmakers
Writer and conceptual artist Yason Banal‘s ongoing curatorial project:
Young Star @ Philippine Star
Utopia in Progress
By Yason Banal Friday
December 7, 2007
Since SLEEPWALKING came out in STAR two years ago, it has been interested in exploring the potential of “the printed page” as an imaginative space for art and ideas. There had been e-mails, phone conversations, dream sequences, suicide notes, conceptual works and critical theories, punctured with sex, politics and culture. Beginning this month, I will occasionally be converting this newspaper column into a curatorial space, inviting creatives, thinkers and curators to make unique works or organize special projects specifically for publication — the works will not exist anywhere else in the same form as they will have here. Spread sporadically over 12 issues in the course of one year, UTOPIA:SLEEPWALKING will serve as a platform for exciting and experimental “young stars” from various disciplines and countries to create “projects for the printed page,” thus communicating such “propositions” to a broader public. It is imperative for an exchange to happen, not just of ideas and images, but of communities and contexts; these gestures, this space, can only hope to be insightful and transformative for both creator and audience.
First to be featured in UTOPIA:SLEEPWALKING was the world premiere of John Torres’s “film for the printed page,” Flash Elemental, which appeared with the above quoted text on December 7, 2007. A version of Flash Elemental appears on the project’s blog. More of these online versions will be uploaded every month.
[Above image is a "still" from Flash Elemental.]
Tags: call for submissions, canada, comic strips, graphic fiction, poetry, short fiction
Call for submissions:
Do you enjoy the city more than the countryside? Do you prefer trashy neon signs, crowded thoroughfares and junk markets to mountain vistas, glistening lakes and pastoral landscapes? Do you hate animals? Well, if you do, you’re in luck, because Ricepaper would like to hear from you! We invite all writers of Asian and mixed descent to participate in our spring 2008 issue about urban life, big city nights and big city problems. Previously unpublished poetry, comic strips and short fiction are most welcome, and should preferably get to us by Feb. 1, 2008.
Send your submissions to the editor, Herman Cheng:
PO Box 74174 Hillcrest RPO
$50 per page of poetry and illustration published
$100 per short story
* Ricepaper is a 13-year-old arts and lit quarterly that focuses on East Asian and Southeast Asian culture. Ricepaper accepts unsolicited submissions of up to eight previously unpublished poems, on any subject, in any form. Poetry and illustrated submissions should not exceed eight pages in total, while short fiction should not exceed 6,000 words. Fiction writers must be of either Asian or mixed descent. Please include a short biographical note with your submission.
Tags: creative non-fiction, essays, malaysia
Amir Muhammad‘s latest book, New Malaysian Essays 1, is now available for pre-orders.
You can pre-order New Malaysian Essays 1 for RM30 each, which is RM6 less than the bookstore price. The price includes shipping anywhere within Malaysia. If you are outside Malaysia, kindly make friends with a Malaysian resident who can then post it to you.
You can send the money to my Maybank account: 014105120512. Once you have done so, send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org to let me know your address. If you’d like an autograph, let me know to whom it should be addressed
Closing date is Thursday, Feb 14. The books will be posted on Feb 15.
New Malaysian Essays 1 is the first of a planned annual series concentrating on local non-fiction writing. From polemic to ode to memoir, this series invites Malaysian readers – and writers – to notice, analyse and interpret the living, throbbing, squelching vitality around them. Multi-disciplinary, multi-tasking and best appreciated on multi-vitamins, this first collection takes us from Brian Yap’s election-era critique to Amir Muhammad’s alternative lexicon by way of Burhan Baki’s elegant deconstructions, Aminuddin Mahmud’s seminar on branding and Saharil Hasnin Sanin’s knockabout ruminations on language before rounding off with Sonia Randhawa’s stirring call for national (and therefore personal) self-realisation.
Writers: Brian Yap, Aminuddin Mahmud, Burhan Baki, Saharil Hasrin Sanin, Amir Muhammad & Sonia Randhawa
Length: 256 pages.
Size: 21cm (height) and 17.9cm (width)
Language: English (80%) and Malay (20%).
Published by Matahari Books
Design & Layout by Bright Lights at Midnight
Printed by ?
Retail price: RM36
National Library Catalogue-in-Publication
Launch date: 16 February 2008 (8pm; Central Market Annexe, top floor)
This book won’t be available in most Malaysian bookstores and the print run has been reduced to 1,000. The original distributor backed out due to “the Datuk’s orders” because of ‘the vulgar words’ and being ‘politically sensitive’. Excerpts and more info are on Amir’s blog.
Tags: philippines, text-based art, art reviews, contemporary artists
(A review by Angelo V. Suarez for the Philippine Daily Inquirer of Bea Camacho’s recent text-based work.)
In the recently concluded exhibition Conversion Factors at Mag:Net Katipunan, one expects a machine-like accuracy to Bea Camacho’s latest works—an almost mathematical attention to logic and calculability rather than the emotional excesses of artifice and design much of contemporary art continues to recover from. But by refusing to bracket out the latter in her involvement of family matters, the artist graciously fails to meet this expectation, and by doing so paradoxically exceeds expectation by her equal refusal to present merely the former.
A third space is paved thus—or ‘cleared’ perhaps is a better word, given the extensive whiteness of the show—where both extremes arrive at a negotiation. And this negotiation is achieved through thoughtful employment of language, where words are no mere titles to individual works but serve as a framing device for each—such that in spite of their apparently peripheral existence, in the near-complete bareness of the exhibition, the texts begin to take the foreground.
Disappearance and despair
Or background, as it were, in a performance where on one of the gallery’s white walls the artist writes or documents, as its title matter-of-factly indicates, the objects in her room. Filled with text, the entire wall is then covered up with more paint, and all that’s left for viewers to see is the white, massive trace of erasure—a literal whitewash. A poignant sense of loss accompanies the glaring absence, made blinding in certain angles by the light that strikes it from the ceiling.
But what is more striking is that this feeling of loss, deftly manufactured by Camacho (and it is true that feelings can be manufactured, given the proper cultural tools), operates in two dimensions. With knowledge of the performance, one is made to think that the act of erasure attempts to communicate an emptiness felt by the performer—a notion that complements the show’s overarching motif of distance and alienation, attested to by the other works present. However, one is likelier to have no knowledge of the performance at all; walking blindly into the gallery on any given day, s/he is at a loss upon contact with the seemingly bare wall, empty if not for the lonesome titular label.
Seeing nothing, the viewer may ask: Has the work been stolen? And the question may appear in multiple allusive variations: Has it turned invisible, will it be telepathically conveyed, is it made of inert gas, is the work a secret, is it a readymade composed solely of found paint and wall, is it the emperor’s new artwork, is it another of those cerebrally chic conceptualist tricks? Each question is as silly as it is valid. For in an age where an empty page by poet Jose Garcia Villa mingles with an equally empty score by musician John Cage—and both have been buried beneath a tombstone labeled dubiously as that of the international ‘vanguardist canon’ (pardon the contradiction)—one begs for a point other than the Zen-like dictum “a canvas is never empty” formulated by Robert Rauschenberg.
And a plethora of points can certainly be read both into and from Conversion Factors, with its multiplicity of suggestions juxtaposed against bareness. While Rauschenberg’s saying rings true in his “Erased De Kooning Drawing” of 1953 where the renegade artist manually erases, frames, then displays a drawing by the Dutch abstract expressionist, in Camacho’s work it doesn’t. Or rather, it is rephrased, if not completely refunctioned, as such: it is the artwork instead that empties the canvas—in appearance at least, or more appropriately, disappearance.
For in the face of this effacement, the titles quite literally come into the picture, hinting at hidden social structures—at invisible form beneath invisible form—like a signifier that reveals rather than hides its arbitrary relationship with its signified, or a photograph that willingly declares its subject to be false, in betrayal of the realist cause. If one insists merely on the material presences (i.e. the exhibited objects) inside the gallery, then s/he will have to be content with the notion of “empty” canvases rather than emptied ones, missing out on the processes subsumed in exhibition.
Absence makes the art grow fonder
This subsumption is rendered most keenly in Camacho’s “Portrait Series,” framed white sheets on which nothing is visible upon first encounter, save for reflected light and its counterpoint with shadow, with occasional dust. Each titled with a personal name presumably of a loved one, the seven portraits line the wall like blindfolded captives waiting to be shot—but in fact these subjects already have been, photographically so: executed mercilessly upon the finger’s release of the trigger at camerapoint.
But also like cattle for cheap, raunchy burgers—or Rauschenbergers, let’s say—they arrive ‘double-dead’ like decaying meat as final products for public consumption, with the subjects dying further by slowly turning invisible: the photographic portraits are photocopied, then the photocopies are photocopied, over and over, till not one trace of the images remains. The artist’s exhibited books attest to this: beginning with the initial photocopy of an original image, the subsequent pages unfold a tale of a person’s face diminishing, gradually and distortedly—conceptual memory retaining the ghost of someone’s identity, contrapuntal to visual memory struggling for recognition.
Because Rauschenberg’s erasure was committed by hand just as de Kooning’s drawing was made by hand, his work, rather than removing someone else’s signature or autographic gesture, superimposes instead his own signature upon another. Consequently, rather than doing away with the sense of individualism and authenticity the abstract impressionists were preoccupied with, Rauschenberg duplicates it instead with paradoxical sweep, with sweeps of the eraser. In Camacho’s portraits, however, the act has been committed mechanically instead of manually—impersonally—and the use of photocopying technology achieves a disturbing play on the so-called work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction.
Observe: while in Walter Benjamin’s seminal 1936 essay, the theorist proposes that the unique quality or “aura” traditionally accorded an artwork which renders it culturally sacred diminishes with every reproduction, Camacho seems to argue otherwise: In the fashion of most conceptualisms, it is the work that literally diminishes or dematerializes instead. But by virtue of the tender titles and the frames, the artist adds to this by implying that the aura is retained somehow in spite of this disappearance, that it remains intact—if not made more alive—by its relegation to the abstract realm of concept and memory. Presence, not absence, makes art grow into fodder.
This calls to mind another text-based work by Rauschenberg wherein he sends a typical telegram, empty if not for the heading, that declares simply, “This is a portrait of Iris Clert if I say so.” Though their difference lies in the fact that Camacho’s portraits are end-points of reproduction while Rauschenberg’s telegram is a starting point begging for reproduction, both take root in mechanical soil—the former in photography and the latter in type. The mixed-metaphor/oxymoron “mechanical soil” is intentional: these two works simultaneously celebrate their art’s paradox of personality and impersonality, for in the cold calculability of their processes lies the social reality of the artist as primary producer, whose personal affairs whether advertently or inadvertently inform—or shall we say fertilize?—his/her artistic produce.
To yearn is to yarn
The same paradox is explored further in two more works, and the preoccupation with process is maintained while coming surprisingly in the warm form of crochet. In “The Distance Between Me and My Brother,” yearning turns to yarn as time and travel become exactly what the entire show is about—conversion factors. Converting the spatial concept of distance into a temporal and emotional one, both viewer and artist ask: How long does it take to journey from one space to a distant other? The answer lies in how long it takes to produce this work—personal in its allusion to family and actual use of hands, recalling the stereotype of an old woman knitting a soft keepsake for her grandchild as she waits for the latter to come home from school.
But not only does the mathematical notion of conversion confer on this work a sense of impersonality. So too do the grids of woven yarn produced in the process, invoking a kind of repetitive order that structures emotion, layer upon layer. This latticework also exists in “Ten-Minute Phone Call,” a crocheted work where time is converted back to material space and where the financial cost of a ten-minute phone call, presumably long-distance, is equivalent to the value of yarn used in its production.
Collectively, it is easy to dismiss Conversion Factors from a visual standpoint as just another recourse of emotional excess on its course to white catharsis, all in the name of art as an expression of emptiness. And a purely textual standpoint will prove just as dismissive, with the individual titles bordering on melodrama juxtaposed against the coolly detached show-title for a trite attempt at irony. But Camacho chooses to tread that narrow path between the pictorial and the literary instead, between the tangible and the conceptual, where materiality and textuality converge in the poetics of intermedia.
Given the somber quality and quiet equipoise of the artist’s oeuvre, one would think Conversion Factors to be an elegiac tribute to a dead beloved. But instead, it is art in its traditionally medium-specific renderings that is eulogized here, whose carcass lies still and still lies displayed in museums that are valuable the way mausoleums are.
For more information on Bea Camacho and Conversion Factors, visit www.magnet.com.ph.
Tags: art reviews, contemporary artists, philippines, text-based art
(A review by Angelo V. Suarez for the Philippine Daily Inquirer of recent text-based works by Costantino Zicarelli and Buen Calubayan.)
When conceptualist frontman Joseph Kosuth proposed art to be an analytic proposition—away from the prized pedestal of sight and toward the backroom of the mind—he was met with skepticism. After all, this entailed the dematerialization of the artwork, becoming pure concept incapable of being sold by commercial galleries. While decades have passed since this radical reformulation, and discourses regarding the nature of artistic activity continue to be produced (have in fact become artworks in themselves), the same skepticism cannot be avoided upon contact with the work of Costantino Zicarelli and Buen Calubayan.
Which may well be indeed one of the most salient points of Zicarelli’s recently concluded exhibit I’m with Stupid / I’m Not with Stupid and Calubayan’s upcoming Idiot Show for Idiots. In a welcome respite from painting and teaching—and possibly in a gesture expressing disillusionment with both practices—each comes up with a separate affair that equally straddles both their previous practice of demonstrating visual dexterity (on canvas) and performative finesse (in the classroom where pedagogy is also a kind of performance, and elsewhere). With their material work taking the backseat in this artistic ride, language takes the wheel as these two set on a collision course with conceptual practice, rabidly running over pedestrian aesthetics in their way.
Home is where the art is
But skeptical in what manner? you might ask. Where Kosuth’s analytical conceptualism stops at a tautological questioning of what constitutes art objects as such, Zicarelli intervenes to reveal his skepticism of what constitutes reality per se, playfully reveling in the fallacy of visual and linguistic reference by locating his work in a broader social context. Playing up the role of context in approaching a work of art by refusing to house his project in a gallery, he resorts to turning his own literal house instead into both a gallery and the very project itself in simultaneity.
For an entire week on October, the Zicarelli household was open to the viewing public, each welcome within certain hours to look at everything inside, from sleeping quarters to appliances and the most commonplace of objects—so absurdly commonplace, in fact, that they become the spatial equivalent of experimental poet Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons, where words for household terms like Duchamp’s readymades are unshackled from their referential/functional context and brought into a poetry/art environment in a hyper-Formalist (whether intentionally or unintentionally is irrelevant) gesture of defamiliarization.
However, Zicarelli complicates the Duchampian conceit exactly by not taking his goods to a gallery for display. He simply labels each object with a title and declares their variable dimensions, consequently alluding with ease to the more-than-familiar art contexts viewers are deeply acquainted with. This, in turn, cleverly evokes not so much art’s reliance on social institutions but the arbitrariness of this reliance.
In turning the Zicarelli household into an art environment, I’m with Stupid / I’m Not with Stupid demystifies what is usually perceived as the neutral or passive role of the gallery or museum and points with acerbic humor (in the manner of ‘I’m with Stupid’ t-shirts) at the covert processes institutions manipulatively play a part in—if not outrightly instigate—in shaping aesthetic dogma and the standards with which ‘authorities’ measure a work’s quality of and art-ness.
It is by way of such subtlety that this Fil-Italian artist becomes graceful in his work, in spite of its political overtones. And to heighten this grace and subdue his politics—isn’t politics after all more potent when discreet?—he juxtaposes against it a sly refunctioning of ‘I’m with Stupid’ in classy-kitschy counterpoint. It’s a two-way extension Zicarelli commits herein: he first partners the affirmative statement with its negation (hence ‘I’m Not with Stupid’), only to drag these conjoined sentences and turn them into titular templates. In this fashion, a simple kitchen toaster is therefore labeled “This is a toaster / this is not a toaster,” a bedroom he shares with his brother is “This is Alessandro and Costantino’s bedroom / this is not Alessandro and Costantino’s bedroom,” and the stairway is—well, you get the picture.
The ‘grit’ in ‘Magritte’
Which is exactly it: whatever they do, audiences get only the picture and never the hand that makes it—flat in its concealment of real social occurrences. Ironically, this is achieved by Zicarelli without having to rely on constructed images, as in a painting or photograph, unlike Magritte who emphasized on his work’s pictorial quality. Allusion to the Belgian surrealist is inevitable, for it was his “The Treachery of Images” with its infamous depiction of a pipe and painted textual accompaniment “This is not a pipe” that jumpstarted an entire tradition of verbo-visual discourse about the complex nature of verbo-visual discourse itself.
But while Magritte only goes so far as calling attention to the simulacral character of pictures and representation (the pipe he depicts after all is, in its depiction, but an image of a pipe), Zicarelli takes the extra puff that reveals the smoke of simulation to cover up more than merely the picturality of pictures but the equal picturality of everything else. A toaster thus is not essentially a toaster, but a toaster only insofar as toasters have been socially constructed for us by the dominant classes: rectangular and electric, with double slots for dual slices of bread mysteriously analogous to the principle of binary oppositions most systems of thought are founded upon.
And there’s hardly any surprise when even the basic linguistic reality of grammar is subjected to this critique of arbitrariness. The keen observer will notice not just awkward nomenclature (e.g. “This is a DVD table / this is not a DVD table,” where the so-called DVD table is an ordinary desk on whose surface is a stack of pirated discs) but blatantly inconsistent syntactical patterns and ungrammatical moments as well (e.g. “This is light switch / this is not a light switch” [sic]), as if to bring to fore the artist’s problematic heritage. As a minoritarian cultural figure, his idiosyncratic utterance is always in danger of being rendered insignificant because incapable of proper signification—all under the hegemonic aegis of grammaticality, now unfortunately held sacred by the dominant Filipino academy.
Who knew that through sheer demystification, one could put the ‘grit’ back into ‘Magritte,’ recalling the latter’s earlier discourse into newfound utility for contemporary times? “One object suggests that there is another lurking behind it,” goes the Surrealist artist, and Zicarelli goes out of his way (while paradoxically staying home) to expose the objects that lurk behind the objects that lurk still behind other objects—systems of power that ironically loom large in spite of their concealment.
Duchampioning the invisible
To stretch the previous metaphor of travel, the path to collision with concept takes a drastic turn toward the gallery after an insightful stopover at home. But Calubayan makes sure this road is a dead-end, recalling a 1969 exhibition by Robert Barry where “for the duration of the exhibition, the gallery will remain closed.” Quite literally on a similar note, Calubayan hangs by the entrance to CCP’s Bulwagang Amorsolo the assertion that his show is “inaccessible to viewers.” By doing such, he commits the verbo-conceptual pun of simultaneously Barry-ing and barring the audience from entering physical artistic premises—acts that at once look back to conceptualist tradition yet also celebrate the spirit of transgression.
And what could be more renegade than transgressing an art model formulated by Marcel Duchamp, the prince of renegades himself? For moving beyond playing a trick on the viewer by closing down the gallery in the event of his exposition, Calubayan completely displaces the viewer in artistic practice, rendering the latter irrelevant—this in spite of Duchamp’s championing of the audience as co-creators in the completion of artistic work, as what his influential lecture “The Creative Act” indicates.
The nuances of Idiot Show for Idiots’ departure from Barry’s exhibit are critical: while the former’s strategy is personal in its rejection of the viewer, the other is spatial in its shutting down of the gallery. Additionally, this shutting down was but a one-time affair where the gallery’s closed-ness became the show itself; Calubayan’s exhibit on the other hand is serial, making use of multiple venues: the same concept is carried out in a mix of popular and unpopular locations that range from Big Sky Mind to the artist’s private studio Jelo Submarine, projected to even be brought to commercial sites like stores within malls. In this multiplicity, Idiot Show for Idiots is a kind of insistence, passing up the opportunity to relieve the audience of significance for the benefit of one specific show in favor of relieving them of significance for good.
And yet an alliance with Duchamp is strengthened by the specificity of viewership: while Calubayan could simply have opted to close down the gallery or completely bar everyone from experiencing the show, he instead chooses to single out the “viewer,” putting into question art’s common relegation to the realm of sight and visuality. What becomes of the feeler and of the listener, the smeller and the taster? In sly reversal, Calubayan arouses suspicion in the excluded audience (thereby involving them again), subtly exposing the hypocrisy involved in much of artistic practice and management. When even in the supposed age of multi- and intermedia, in a culture that professes to celebrate difference and plurality, monolithic structures and exclusionary meta-narratives are still very much in place—and one such structure begging to be subverted is the privileged position of the visual in art.
“I have forced myself to contradict myself in order to avoid conforming to my own taste,” declares Duchamp, and Calubayan treads the same path of paradox: in critiquing the exclusionary character of art systems, he himself has to commit the act of exclusion. Idiot Show for Idiots thus is both a subversion of and homage to the great French rebel—for there lies no better way to extol the virtues of artmaking than to boldly give it the finger.
With the deceptively simple yet multi-layered strategies employed by Zicarelli and Calubayan, one wonders if the two have made fools of their audiences. The narrow-minded traditionalist will probably say, “No, they have merely made fools of themselves,” and s/he is likely to be right—for in their critique of art systems they have in turn been co-opted into these very systems. And in doing so, without having to raise a pen or a brush, they have created portraits not only of the Filipino artist as a moron, but of the audience as well, of the critic and the aesthete—and most cynically, of themselves.
Zicarelli’s I’m with Stupid / I’m Not with Stupid ran at his home in Quezon City from October 6 to 15, 2007. Calubayan’s Idiot Show for Idiots opened 6:00 p.m. at the Bulwagang Amorsolo of the Cultural Center of the Philippines on November 29 and ran until December 31, 2007.