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Journal notes from 2020's Kamias Triennial

Thursday, March 5, 2020

According to the curatorial notes :

 

Sawsawan/dipping sauce from Filipino cultural writer Doreen G. Fernandez, who considers it as representative of the cultural ethos of sharing labor, authorship and power.  “Dirty Kitchen” is the name for the outdoor kitchen where the foundational , but sometimes messy task of cooking is done. It is an extension of the home where nourishment takes place and friends and family gather. The title is a metaphoric  underscoring of practices that resist colonialism and a stated expression of our foundational value, the domestic as a figurative and literal space.

 

The venues span across six sites: There were private homes hosting exhibits and screenings, there was one which is an occasional bar that used to be a private residence/project space for artists, another venue was at a university where most Filipino participants at Triennial studied, and the other venue was at a ferry station—a literal fluid conduit of mobility.  The residential sites beared the most number of events. It is also where most eating and drinking was done.  I was curious about the curator’s use of ‘sawsawan’ when it also bears somewhat a negative connotation colloquially—sawsaw as in to dip, makisawsaw as in to join but not be fully immersed especially in something that someone else has already prepared, to merely dip from a shallow pool or dish, because it’s not a soup. There’s also this unwritten rule when eating skewered street food and dipping, you don’t ever double dip food that has already passed your mouth, to avoid contaminating the whole jar of dipping sauce. 

‘Dirty Kitchens’ today are a quaint remnant of rural life.  Dense urban living has mostly eliminated it as residential spaces are increasingly becoming cramped.  Grilling is done in whatever available space there is outside of the home or in the extended unclaimed space of the streets or the curbside.  For a local, all these functions beyond the metaphorical, they are but a means of survival. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

7 February, Friday: Launch of Kamias Triennale

 

The opening party with exhibits and performances was held at Kamias Special Projects (KSP) – Patrick Cruz’s (organizer and founder of the Triennial) aunt’s home in Kamias, Quezon City (QC). Kamias is a sour fruit used to garnish grilled and fried dishes, also a souring agent for soups such as sinigang and paksiw,  best also with fermented fish and shrimp sauce and tomatoes and onions

 

That night it rained, the air was dense and humid but the place was teeming with more people than previous iterations of event.  It’s like a casting call for a Benetton ad. There were free canvas totes for the first 100 attendees. Who doesn’t want a freebie, right?

 

One of my first artist interactions was with Mexico City’s Carolina Magis Weinberg who was looking for traces of Mexico in the Philippines because of the shared colonial histories of both countries.  Vic (Balanon of Lost Frames) and I pointed out that the town Pampanga which is a three-hour drive from Metro Manila, where the first wave of Mexican migrants has settled. These migrants came via the Manila-Acapulco Galleon trade route.  But differing accounts contest this. 

 

Fastwürms (duo of Dai Skuse and Kim Kozzi from Canada) performance/engagement was the most popular. There was a long line for their Tarot card reading. Dai Skuse explained that the kind of reading they do is not about fortune telling but rather a conversational guide for the seeker’s inner self and how it is manifested in the real world. These are interpreted in cards they themselves have drawn and shuffled from a deck. Dai further tells me that they are witches who are against animal ritual sacrifices, and that their spirit animal is the turtle. Coincidentally, a year ago, in KSP, a group of artists who call themselves or named their project as Pawikan 5 has exhibited there as well.  The site beckoned psychic connections.

 

 

 

 

A pabitin of mangosteen; a type of local fruit, to make it more festive. A pabitin, which literally means, to hang, is a device lured up and down to a crowd who fight over the items hanging from a bamboo trellis as pictured above. It is played in fiestas or birthday parties as traditionally no one should go home empty handed. 

 

Pets, especially dogs, are considered much as family members in most Philippine homes. Patrick’s aunt has 9 of them.  They were the silent observers of that night’s proceedings. 

 

 

 

 

Present that night was Alice Sarmiento of Grrl Gang Manila (a feminist collective). Sarmiento gave out copies of Our Place in The Struggle; a pamphlet of collected articles pushing for public policies for safe spaces for women and cases of workplace misogyny.   There are of course more issues that go beyond the slim single volume, and it cannot just be addressed by one collective alone.  Sadly, most collectives have brief runs, like a short fused bomb, especially when priorities of survival have to be considered.  Why don’t all collectives with similar advocacies collaborate and help each other? Language, or how one chooses to converse their politics is a factor that probably hinders this.

 

Also present was Maharlika, a collective composed of Filipino artists Zeus Bascon, Catalina Africa, and mother/daughter duo Tanya and Luna Villanueva. The group’s multi-disciplinary works involve invented rituals of healing  and regaining cultural consciousness and roots that affirm their native identities rooted in nature.  Their works are often collaborative with the community and hint at magical realism. 

 

It must be remembered that the Triennale happened after the alarm on the impending explosion of the Taal volcano in Batangas in Southern Luzon. It lowered to level 3 only to put most of us back on our toes  with the rise of the pandemic COVID 19/corona virus which has affected global trade and economies.   Social activities and events were postponed indefinitely including HK ART Basel which announced its cancellation less than a month of its purported schedule in early March.  The virus is said to be highly infectious and easily transmittable through the air or even through indirect contact.  It is a weird and surreal scenario where commuting now involves a face mask and the habitual, almost OCD levels of hand sanitizing.  Yet, on that night, so many handshakes were exchanged, including hugs, bottles and cups shared, face-to-face maskless conversations,  dipping from  the same shallow saucer.  Cultural identities floating viral for each anecdote told, transmitted, infectious banter with beer, the gift of the colonizer. 

 

 

 

8 February, Saturday: UP Film Center Videotheque, QC

 

Screening of documentaries  Thrilla in Manila and Beyond The Walls of Prison as socio-political backgrounder for the Philippines.  The screening was introduced by Rosemarie Roque, an audio-visual archivist, who was able to obtain the copies of these never-before-locally screened videos while on her MA residency in the Netherlands Institute of Sound and Vision. 

 

A still from Thrilla in Manila, A TV documentary by Andre Truyman made in 1976, made in the guise of following the Muhammad Ali’s Thrilla in Manila tour but inadvertenly focused instead on the disparatity of living conditions during the  Marcos regime, especially the years following the proclamation of Martial Law.   This was followed by Beyond The Walls of Prison, the post EDSA documentary on released political prisoners and the immediate tumult from the unresolved reforms that besmirched Corazon Aquino’s presidency. 

 

There were only two comment for the Q&A portion: as expected, locals who have lived to tell through many failed governments since the Martial Law years.  I wonder how foreign viewers took all this in. I was just fortunate to have seen The Kingmaker; the documentary by Lauren Greenfield on the implied machinations of Imelda Marcos on the political campaign of current president Duterte a week before the screening  of these two documentaries.  One thing that threads these documentaries is the access of outsiders (most frequently white)  to information/ figures of power that locals are usually forbidden to get  hold of or if they ever have would cost them their lives.  It’s a privilege that foreign media  wields and by which these power figures still try to manipulate, ergo, foreign media is unbiased and is distanced from the local issues, therefore, can objectively depict the subject matter-of-factly. Does it really?  Framing always slants to an opinion otherwise what’s the point of documentaries. However, I still wonder what these documentaries mean to these foreign participants?   Their heads must be full of questions.  After the screening, everyone went out and tried to figure out where to go for dinner, especially after such a seriously damning political awakening.

 

 

12 February, Wednesday; Project 20, Maginhawa QC

 

The afternoon was spent for the collective making of a Naj flag spearheaded by Prras! Collective (Tamara Ibarra) and Colectivo Amasijo (Martina Manterola Serra and Cecilia Castro).  Naj is a Mayan word that holds several meanings including house and destiny.  All participants were asked to bring a material that they like to include in the flag and share a story on that particular material and why it matters to them.

 

This event irked some local artists for its exclusivity. Some finding it quite absurd and unfair.  Even the appointed Triennial documentarist for the day, and the volunteer coordinators Neo and Gerome were also excluded from this event.  It was stated in its event’s notice that it was just for women and women-identifying individuals only, so as to create a safe and privileged space which is a rare occurrence as explained to me by one of the curators, Allison Collins.  I’m on the fence here though because I always see collaborative work as something that goes beyond gender. But if the specific activity is meant to be done in a safe space, what does safe space mean?  Can men join in to understand the conversations happening in such a space?  Why the divide when the goal is equality and empathy towards each other, especially when oppression and harassment happens/can happen to any gender? I didn’t push the issue further. It’s a rather complex and head throbbing subject to discuss that night. 

 

 

 

Later that evening was a staged reading of The Mexican Husband by Fabiola Carranza. The play is adapted from Bertolt Brecht’s The Jewish Wife.   The readings were performed by local artists Sidney Valdez as The Husband, Mio Aseremo as The Wife, and Fabiola as the Narrator.

 

It was quite refreshing to see a play acted by non-actors, but artists playing as artists living precarious existence especially in these dark political times –   confronting discrimination and censorship in the real world.  A line from the play says “Equality is an illusion” – which  can be translated to the political context here as “freedom of expression is an illusion” and then perversely quoted by Imelda  in The Kingmaker “perception is real, truth is not”  which shatters our trust in the word itself.  (that’s what despots want us to think anyway) “What use is reason in such a world” – again from the play. 

 

 

13 February, Thursday; Green Papaya Art Projects, Kamuning, QC

 

Green Papaya project space intermittently runs programs in the same space as a bar (Catch 272) and on this night, it saw a lineup of performances. First was Christian Vistan and Gabi Dao’s performance which included texts booklets given out for free. The performance was originally performed and conceptualized as part of Elisa Ferrari’s Media Arts residency at Western Front in Vancouver in 2017.  This  Kamias Triennal iteration was called lilithlithlithlithlith : May Tunog (there is sound). Gabi started the performance with a recitation of words, some recognizable Filipino words, that gets repeated and relooped until they just sound like sonic utterances. 


Following that was a live scoring and mixing of a digital film/video by Miko Revereza and sound artist Former Boy from California. Miko’s imagery reverberates the pained poignancy of his family’s  tenuous migrant status in the US,  the score was equally evocative of a certain nostalgia of a scrambled memory,  as they flow as panoplies of anecdotes from a suspended citizenship  - “A giant white hole of tears being drained into the void.” 

Next to perform was Navajo chamber music composer, experimental noise musician and installation artist, Raven Chacon. The piece he’ll be performed included field recordings from the 2016 Standing Rock encampment, ‘integrating these sounds of gathering, prayer, rest and quiet protest with electronics and tape machines”.  I was awed by the intensity of the whole performance. Starting loud with feedback and ending with it, it was thunderous.  Later that night, in a more casual banter with him, I learned (and suspected as well) that he used to play in a metal band called Tenderizor, and still do intermittently. He also has a record label that’s based in Mexico.

 

 

 

 

 

15 February, Saturday; Hulo Ferry Station in Mandaluyong City. Performance, boat ride & picnic with Prras! Collective & Colectivo Amasijo

 

We were all supposed to meet up at 12-noon at the designated ferry station. It was after Valentine Day; a Friday compounded by extended traffic hours, payday, mall sales, plus the lingering residue of a hangover from the other night, Ch3x ( Casuay of Heresy, a women-centered curatorial platform for new media arts) and I made our way to the meeting point with our leaden bodies only to miss the ferry, or to find out that all seats have been taken. I just asked the porter if I can just get on the dock to take photos of their embarkation. 

 

I sorely missed this as I was looking forward to this 2nd phase of their Nao Naj. But for the most part, I was very keen on partaking in the authentic Mexican food they prepared for this boat ride.  I will just have to keep wondering if they ever came near to the menu fare served in the so-called Mexican restaurants here which comprises mostly tacos, nachos and quesadillas.    

 

Half of the contingent got left out as well as off the boat party. Some just took a cab to go to the ongoing art fair on the other side of town in Bonifacio Global City. 

 

Theresa and Jordan, who also missed the boat, just had lunch at the nearby carinderia.  She’s having fun trying out the various street food in Manila. I’m just amazed how she doesn’t get tummy trouble. She said  the secret is to drink warm water with meals;  sage advice passed on from generations of Chinese aunts. Meanwhile, Ch3x and I, having  foregone retracing the Manila (represented by Hulo Station) – Acapulco (represented by Mexico station in Intramuros where Nao Naj will disembark) galleon trade route, chose to detour via the Silk and Belt road to feast on Dong Bei dumplings in Manila’s Chinatown in Binondo.  I skipped the film screening at Los Otros later that night as the day had been long and exhausting. 

 

 

 

16 February, Sunday;  Kamias Special Projects

Flex Talks hosted by Load Na Dito (a mobile research and art project founded by Mark Salvatus & Mayumi Hirano)

 

As described by Allison [Collins: "Flex is a game and situation where the conversation is forced to move and morph between participants. An active gesture to reframe speaking away from one opinion on what is known to a responsive set of rejoinders, departures and reviews on the spot". 

 

Before the game started, everyone did their introductions as they caught the ball thrown at them by the previous speaker.  It got everyone more or less acquainted with each other beyond the familiar “you-again” looks. But with the overwhelming number of participants, it’s still quite daunting to keep up with all of the introductions. I jokingly suggested we all just sport name tags.

 

The game from what I surmise, was to allow for a continuous banter between the participants but it dragged on and took a curious trajectory when halfway through it became a confessional or a sharing encounter akin to an AA meeting.  There was a bit of disconcerted-ness upon hearing something very personal, yet they certainly leave a mark.  The crowd around the spinning bottle began to thin out and wander into smaller groups. The game wasn’t a waste though, it was just a confused logic of the mechanics; a long drawn out ice breaker game into a deeper conversation.

 

Later in the afternoon there was a sound performance by Kat Estacio and Joee and I. Kat Estacio is a sound artist who mixes traditional ethnic instruments such as the kulintang with synthesizers in her aural experimentations.  A founding member of the Toronto-based  kulintang ensemble Pantayo, she also does a number of collaborations with Jooe and I for the Manila-based all-women new media  performance and research platform Heresy. 

 

 

 

Soon after they’ve performed, I revisited the works again on exhibit. This is by Sarah Rose who was inspired from the unevenly paved roads of Metro Manila.  Looking like a crocodile emerging from a concrete swamp, the work is somewhat a satirical commentary on its referent, a camouflage that fails to hide its hide by its improvisational quality (as its made of a type of epoxy and cut-up Mountain Dew plastic bottles).  

 

 

 

 

The work by Scott Rogers bewildered me the most. It was accompanied by a text handout. It mentions something about traps and decoy birds. In speaking of traps, there is always the prey and the predator and the whole game of hunting. Decoys are used as tactical bait. But here they are perched in a line on a glass. I asked him, isn’t that harmful to the birds?  He has considered that but no bird has yet to crash unto it unwittingly.  He draws from his experience as an avid bird watcher and relates it to the practice of observing from a distance, through the lens of a camera, from a scopic view to be exact, as a distanced immersion.  I wondered if the whole Triennial felt as much for him: where the environments they try to immerse in is mirrored into a reality they try to project themselves into and where the decoy is an art project they bait themselves into?

 

 

 

22 February, Saturday; Project 20 Maginhawa QC. K3 Feedback Forum : After Everything Has Been Dipped

 

Kamias Triennale’s culminating activity brought to the table an immediate review of everything that has transpired within its two weeks.  The panel discussion was graced by:

 

Andy Butler, a writer/ artist/ curator based in Naarm, Melbourne. His initial connection with the Philippines was through the Asialink residency with Green Papaya in 2019. He raised issues about white colonialist gatekeeping in curatorial programs in Australia and most international exhibitions.  Later, we chatted on how this kind of gatekeeping is often adapted by even the non-majority that thence produced a kind of stereotyped tokenism in the international stage.

 

Thian Zang, a curator based in Sydney has worked with Australia-based Filipino artist Alwin Reamillo on his project Bayanihan Hopping Spirit House. This project was first set-up in Bankstown, Western Sydey in 2014. This was then transported to Manila Biennale in Fort Santiago in 2018, then finally settled in the Children’s Museum in Manila in February 2020.

 

Pong Yananissom is based in Vancouver but established Charoen Contemporaries Bangkok; a curatorial collective with three other Bangkok-based curators. Their first project was an exhibition in one of 

Bangkok’s first post office as part of Bangkok Biennial in 2018. He is most concerned of the lack of collectives in Bangkok despite the presence of a robust critical discourse.

 

Desiree Nault, artistic director of M:ST Performative Art, a multi-disciplinary arts organization based in Calgary. M:ST, Stride Gallery and Kamias Special Projects are in a joint project in support of Fil-Canadian filmmaker Stephanie Comilang’s participation in M: ST’s 10th anniversary biennial in September of 2020. 

 

The curators of Kamias Triennale moderated the talk with 10 prompt questions that increasingly became more challenging to answer. 

 

Product endorsement for the talk’s sponsor: in vino veritas. With booze, let loose.

 

 

 

 

The talk started with stating their reason for being in Manila. All pointed to Patrick as the nexus of it all being the progenitor of the Kamias Triennial of course.  Having started it in 2014 as a garage-band-like mini festival,  the Triennial’s scope has greatly expanded into more participants, more activities, more venues, more discourses,  more insightful engagements. It was fortuitous also that this edition of the Triennial happened in February, a period where a whole lot of arts and culture events are happening in Manila in celebration of arts month. Sandwiched somewhat in between two local artfairs – the new AltFair (run and established by a consortium of 10 local commercial galleries) and Art Fair Philippines (where for this year it has decided to invite artist run spaces and initiatives to participate). The Triennial acted as a median hybrid between these two institutionally-backed events.  At one point it was being called as an anti-art fair festival, which wasn’t the point of the Triennial.  What it did however was shatter the projected binaries of power structures that typically host and produce cultural events (either by the state or a corporation). I think it was Andy who mentioned that in lieu of ample funding support,  and in retaliation to the continual cooptation and appropriation by institutions of cultures of former colonized nations, artists, should and are actually licensed to commit institutional thievery as well.  Patrick cites his mimicking and using the term “triennial” for this project as an example of such.  It worked in ways in how it was granted funding from the Canadian Council for The Arts (for this third edition), how it was able to invite more collaborators, how it has gained more following, how it has adapted a more focused curatorial premise, how it has grown its organizational structure from a solo act to a power trio ;)  (borrowing from Raven Chacon ).  In its third iteration, it is still in its pubescent stage. There are still missteps, loose connections, mistranslations. It’s not perfect but it works, it rocks. I think it should be forever punk rock.  

 

What this Triennial served best is hope in affirming faith in collectives and community art events, especially in these times, in these dark uncertain times.  This carcass seem to represent that hunger for shared connections and actions to survive through it all.

 

 

The above are reflections and images from the 3rd Kamias Triennial all by Lena Cobangbang. Cobangbang is an artist whose practice extends to curatorial projects, independent publishing and satirical merchandising. She is based in Manila Philippines. See more of Cobangbang's images from the Triennial here

 

 

 

 

 

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