No Chaos No Party: 28 Artists in Metro Manila
Photography MM YU
Using the concept of chaos as a positive starting point for a diverse set of artistic energies, artists in a perfectly imperfect city share their insights on surviving, thriving, and playing in a city full of contradictions. In these excerpts, artists speak of their creative practices and alternative spaces, as well as their hopes and frustrations about Metro Manila.
AND IN A MOMENT WE’RE ALMOST PURE (LAVA ROCK GARDEN SUITE) 2011, archival pigment ink print (101.6 x 152.4 cm) WAWI NAVARROZA
I’ve got mixed feelings about Manila. I was born and raised here so I’m a Manileña at the core. There’s so much to say, but nothing is more frustrating than the horrible traffic! It just makes anywhere seem like a different planet away. We try to take so many steps forward on an individual level, but the standstill and time lost is such a wet blanket. This city is a metropolicog not friendly to commuters or pedestrians; there are no bike lanes, no queues, no sidewalks, too many cars, buses from hell, flying MRT trains—it’s a sci-fi dystopia telenovela! But guess what, this is what makes Manila Manila—the GRIT, the living and the dead, the wet edges. And somehow we make it work.
My neighborhood is industrial and utilitarian, there are no nearby hang-outs, not even sari-sari stores; basically it’s pretty much isolated, though it’s very much within the Metro. I love the sense of space I have here, I’m left to my own devices and I can do what I want. It feels maybe like Brooklyn or Berlin before. I’ve lived here for eight years and I pretty much feel cozy in my surroundings even if people think I’m crazy for living in a warehouse. I’m used to coming home at night to an almost abandoned building, surrounded by freight trucks. But during the day, the light at my place is great. The space is big and I can work in peace, dream things up, and from time to time, host big gatherings for my friends. The not-so-great side is that I seem so far-removed and isolated that it takes a lot of effort to come out and resurface.
TERRARIUM N.I 2013, archival pigment ink on fine art photo rag (45.7 x 30.5 cm)
PLANT & WEEDS: Department of Environmental Services, Parks & Greens Division, Buendia Plant Nursery, Makati City
WEEDS: Reliable Safe Luxury bus station (Manila-Bicol), Quezon City GRASS: The Fort Strip, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City
SOIL & WEEDS: Philippine National Railways slums at Food Terminal Incorporated, Taguig City
SOIL: Department of the Interior and Local Government, National Police Commission, Southern Police District Crime Laboratory, Scene of the Crime Operation, Makati City
DEBRIS: Concrete from a Department of Public Works & Highways road excavation, Manila City
TERRARIUM N.XXI 2013, archival pigment ink on fine art photo rag (45.7 x 30.5 cm)
TOP / PLANT: Ninoy Aquino International Airport, Terminal 3, Pasay City ASH: Burnt photos & copal resin from the artist’s studio, Taguig City ASH: Manila North Cemetery, Manila City
SOIL: Land Transportation Office, Taguig City
SOIL: Roces Avenue island, Quezon City
MOSS: Greenbelt 4 Mall, Makati City
GRAVEL: SM Aura Premier, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig City
BOTTOM / FRAGMENT: Tree from Aduana Gap, Intramuros, Manila City LEAVES: Our Lady of Mount Carmel Shrine in Project 6, Quezon City PLANT: Pasig River along Guadalupe, Makati City
WEEDS: Ninoy Aquino International Airport, Terminal 3, Pasay City SOIL: Marikina riverbank, Quezon City
SOIL: Metro Manila Development Authority Pumping
Station flood control road dike, Taguig City
DEBRIS: Granite from Ayala Museum renovation site, Makati City FRAGMENTS: Concrete & pebble staircase at
Manila Film Center, Pasay City
On Hunt & Gather, Terraria. I thought it was brilliant to pay attention to plants as a signifier because they act as evidence. It’s almost a forensic study but softened with poetry because plants are so disarming. Plants have a kind of neutrality which I like. They express the exact kind of universality that I was trying to propose: to look at the city as a kind of organic, micro-historic setting of different things, whether it be socio-political or aesthetic. I saw that it was almost symbolic to give attention to these plants that exist alongside all of our histories, realities, challenges and issues. and since we were working with weeds and what people found along the way, it’s kind of more eye-level.
For non-residents of the Philippines, it’s place names you just read in the captions. but if you’re from here, you’ll see that it’s laden with various connotations. For example, there’s soil that was taken from a dumpsite in Payatas and then there are pebbles from a golf course that were placed in the same terrarium. My goal was to propose a kind of utopic habitat where these two can mutually benefit from each other, to spark the imagination of people on how these disparate elements, or things that don’t meet in the real world, could almost meet in the fabricated, symbiotic world of a terrarium. I always believe the political is also in the personal. It’s absolutely everybody’s realities intertwined altogether.
My works are records of various experiences from the seemingly idle act of strolling around random places in the city. At this point, I don’t know why exactly. What I do know is that I have always been here. This has been my environment. It’s fun and it’s chaotic at the same time. But I like it because the concrete jungle is my natural habitat. I always get inspired to shoot anywhere in Metro Manila. There are so many things happening and there are so many things that you can do. Photography has no limits. Art exists everywhere. It’s important that we sense art in our everyday lives, in our habits and customs, and in the spaces that we create and the spaces that we occupy.
On non-conventional materials. I print my photos using different materials—like manila paper, cartolina, newsprint, tarpaulin—simply because these are the materials that are commonly used and readily available. I like using unconventional materials for printing; materials that we normally use for other things, materials that imply distribution and reproduction— the packaging of common objects, paper used in advertising circulars and tarpaulin which is usually recycled as roofing material. When using cartolina paper, for example, the print comes out different, the ink of the paper mixes with the ink of the printer and the color of the cartolina paper becomes the white part of the image.
COMBUSTION COMPULSION CONTRACTUAL CONSUMPTION 2012, c-print (30.5 x 20.3 cm, 1 in a series of 2 images) GINO JAVIER
SUMAMPA NA ANG TAGA TIMOG AT SILAANGAN, NATANGGAP NA ANG TAGA HILAGA AT KANLURAN, BUKSAN NIYO NA ANG MGA BINTANA, PUMASOK KAYO WALA KAMING PINTUAN 2015, c-print on light green cartolina (35.6 x 53.3 cm, 1 in a series of 4 images) GINO JAVIER
A decade ago, I think the city made life really difficult, not only for me but for all of us artists. I guess there were just too many of us living or trying to survive in Manila, which made it harder to find resources (art materials, decent studio and exhibition spaces, funding support, the market, and a network), as well as to be able to create and live by your art. But the city has always been generous in providing relevant ideas, issues, events, sights, and textures that could be, in one way or another, used as subject matter or narratives in art. In this aspect, I would say the city is a fertile ground.
I think art in Manila is important because most of the signals and tendencies in contemporary art are being sent, seen, and showcased here. that’s why Manila should be conscious enough about the crucial position and role that it is playing. But contemporary art is not only in Manila nor is Manila always equivalent to contemporary art. We have 7,100 islands; I’m sure we have so many untold stories and unique narratives that we haven’t really tapped into and presented on a contemporary art stage. We need to decentralize, acknowledge developments in the regions, disseminate information widely, and share opportunities in art. It’s a jungle out there. My observation is that many Filipino artists today, especially the young ones, do not concern themselves of their positions and roles in this structure. Most of us are still in ‘survival of the fittest’ mode, hunting and gathering. But there are also a few who clearly know how to play within and out of it.
On Detritus. This was the kind of piece I had always wanted to realize—a work that is massive, charged, organic and dark. This piece depicts the simultaneous outpouring of several issues concerning society today. Utilizing the seemingly endless onslaught of natural and man-made tragedies and corruption in the Philippines as a standpoint, this piece also aimed at implicating the complexities of several universal issues such as globalization, civil unrest, power struggles, and spiritual decay that endlessly bombard our modern life.
MR. CHIN’S PET PROJECT 2008, oil on canvas (195 x 195 cm) LESLIE DE CHAVEZ
UNTITLED 2014, thread, ink, and acrylic on archival print (68.6 x 101.1 cm) DEX FERNANDEZ
There are many people outside my house. Noisy kids. It’s irritating. That’s why I have my music on full blast when I work. It is not a squatters’ area and not a subdivision. What would you call it? A below-middle class community made of lots of concrete houses near the road. So the community influences my work greatly. People are super normcore or super normal. I like observing them. I don’t know what kind of work they do because I don’t meddle with their affairs, and they don’t meddle with mine. actually, it’s like I have my own world in that community. Whenever people get near me, they just stare. Sometimes I create pieces based on them. Like when I hear a commotion, people are cursing at each other. “Hey you! You son of a bitch!” That makes me laugh. A visual is created in my mind and I apply this to my work. You know, the only thing lacking in our people’s lives is art. If you have art in your life, even if you don’t have a good education, I think you would be open to the world. You wouldn’t get smarter but you would understand things you previously didn’t. You would appreciate your environment, your actions, your work, because you learn how to read the images you see. In a sense, art is an educator that teaches audiences to think. It creates a path of different perspectives.
Places are what really inspire me. Places that go unnoticed. Coming down the road near where I live, you have everything from left to right, all these small establishments. I see these shops almost every day—hardware stores, tailoring shops, barber shops, junk shops and vulcanizing shops. It’s all within a very small radius, but you see the same things everywhere else. For me, they serve as a metaphor for what’s going on in Manila. You have this chaotic and crowded urban landscape that is constantly in motion and constantly changing. Things deteriorate and are left as is, or are ‘fixed’ with scrap materials and a bright coat of paint, or are simply replaced by something new—and the cycle continues. What’s left is this contrasting assemblage of a metropolis.
I think it’s reflective of the way people behave and the way they treat certain things. That also relates to the nature of decay in these places, they become so run down. It was once great, but then what happened? You see these dualities all the time. That’s what I want to capture, the clean versus the dirty, the structure versus chaos. You always see them side-by-side.
START-UP KIT: HAND TOWELS 2014, box with acrylic painting, towels, combs, and shears (103.5 x 39 x 7 cm) FRANCIS COMMEYNE
A lot of these places I frequent more than once just to have a look. Then I take photographs. But the photograph is never the actual painting. The images are selected, cropped, and sometimes altered. I want the image of the shop’s facade in its purest form. Some become very minimal in order to create an ideal. For me, when I see these shops, I see a sense of timelessness, in spite of their ephemeral nature. That’s another reason why I paint them: for people to actually realise that “Hey! these things exist!” There’s something more to them than just their pragmatic purpose. I’m creating a historical record of them before they eventually disappear.
Often times I combine these paintings with objects to generate a conversation between the two. I work with everyday objects that viewers can easily grasp and relate to. Sometimes I feel like the majority of the public tend to have more personal experiences with a common object than they do with a painting.
Renato Barja Jr.
At an early age, I was able to see beyond the sugar-coating of things. I once met a person with a glass eye. He sold rice cakes. In his trade, I imagined that he had already seen so many things. But having only one real eye probably lessens the amount of truth that one sees. Maybe it’s better to only have one real eye so you see half as much. You can’t really escape from reality. As a human being, you listen, you observe, you become sensitive to your surroundings and the people going through their everyday struggles. They all make up a cast of characters in my mind. So I don’t want to produce a piece that doesn’t say anything about them. As an artist, I want to share and elevate their stories.
GRAVEL AND SAND 2014, epoxy, wood, sand, gravel, acrylic, enamel, found objects dimensions variable. RENATO BARJA JR.
GRAVEL AND SAND 2014, oil on canvas (152.4 x 245.1 cm, diptych) RENATO BARJA JR.
There are artists whose direction is totally different to mine and there’s nothing wrong with that. Artists should feel free to experiment with their medium so they can best express what they want to say. But I think artists should also be aware of what’s going on. Social issues in this country are way too big and too loud that you can’t help but notice them. You can’t avoid them because this is the society you live in. Which also means you can’t avoid having them as ingredients in your work because you need to articulate what is happening around you.
One of the things Bobi Valenzuela taught me is that Philippine art, or art in general, should speak about the times. He challenged me to do what’s right, to do what’s needed, and to be real. During my early years as an artist, he would know when the stories I depicted weren’t real. He would say, “Your work is fantasy” or “This story is too un-Filipino.” He dared me to tell stories about the Filipino, not stories that were created in the mind simply because I thought they were cool. To tell stories that Filipinos themselves can relate to if and when they see my work. Eventually, I showed him my work about our house, my family, and my life. Bobi said, “This is it, Jo. this is what you should be doing. This is the story that you can tell even with your eyes closed, even if you should die right here.” What he said stuck as a constant reminder of what I needed to do.
When I take a photo I see it as being able to make a painting instantly by just lifting the image from the world rather than laboriously spending hours in the studio painting it. And because I paint mainly abstract work, composition pattern and form take the lead in selecting an image to photograph as well. This and the images I’ve taken in the past continually push me to search for images that connect and relate to each other.
MISC. 2008–2015, c-print dimensions variable, MM YU
My series Land Paintings are non-representational paintings of the real world. But it actually started as some sort of a coincidence. The first drip paintings I made used mainly red paint. At that time, there was a red-colored bridge that connected to the stairs of my studio. When I took the paintings outside to document them, I noticed that the bridge and my paintings had the same tone of red. These drip paintings were then exhibited in my first solo show at Finale. Throughout the years, I would produce these paintings and coincidentally still use the same colors or hues as the places I worked in; the wall in my grandmother’s house or the sari-sari (convenience) stores across the street or the neighbor’s gate. And I only noticed it when I took them outside the studio to document them. This process integrates my paintings with reality, creating my own landscapes. Since 2003, I have collected these photos and realized that the photo is as imperative as the paintings themselves. But it was only in 2014 that I decided to show these photos alongside my paintings in a solo exhibition at Silverlens Galleries.
Therefore, the process might differ but painting and photography do correlate in my practice. In photography I seek out images that I see as paintings outside, then I crop them from a limitless supply of imagery that we see every day. My paintings are a non-pictorial interpretation of my photographs.
Ryan Villamael: Epilogue
14 February–22 March 2017
2263 Don Chino Roces Ave. Ext., Makati
What I know is what I see and feel as someone who exists in the chaos and glory of Manila. It’s an ongoing process of getting to know the city and getting to know myself in the city. Manila is a beautiful but tired place. It’s weary because of the things that have already happened to it and the things that are continuously happening to it. It’s beautiful because it still mirrors our culture. It’s still a reflection of the different people and personal histories which populate it.
When you are in Manila—especially, downtown old Manila—you can’t help but be overcome with the feeling of slow decay. There’s a feeling that its best days have already passed and that it’s no longer a functioning city, but a ghost of its former shell. At the same time, though, the city still has a heartbeat. It reminds you that there’s still life there, although it might just be hiding from plain sight.
I used to go to Rizal Avenue a lot when I was in college. There’s an art supply store there we would frequently go to. I had just moved and it was my way of exploring the city and finding out where I stood in it. So I try to collect the memories of what’s in the city and what the city went through. You realize that it’s a sad place, but what can you do? And I ask myself “What is my role? How can I help?” Manila used to be so beautiful, so fascinating. So many good and bad things have been ingrained in me because of this city.
It has given me so much. If I leave it, who else will be part of it? Why would I betray it? No matter how nice it is to live elsewhere. When you are a creative, it’s good to know where you are. You are not just a floating entity being carried around by the tides of time. When you know what you want, what you are, you have more strength to work.
I have always been really fascinated with the city ever since I was young. I was raised in Malabon—it’s an hour and a half away from Manila if you take a jeepney. Every time our neighbors would go, they would tell me stories, which made me really want to see it. But my mom and dad said no because I was only in grade six. So I took a jeepney and went alone.
AUTRE DE FORCE. 2014, acrylic on canvas (198.1 x 152.4 cm) LOUIE CORDERO
I just wanted to go there. I think I wanted to buy shoes or something. Along the way, I got lost. But I discovered so many things. I went to Dapitan and then to Recto, but I didn’t know that I was in Manila already. Then night came and I didn’t know how to get back. I slept in the streets and when the sun rose, I told myself I would just take a jeepney. But then I saw an LRT station. I knew that the last station was near our place. And so I got home ok. I didn’t buy shoes but I bought a book. That’s how my relationship with Recto Avenue and the city of Manila started. Before I worked as an artist in Manila, I’d go there just to get something—energy, ideas, images. It’s like my starting point. It energizes me to work. I don’t know why but I have been like that ever since.
Chaos with moments of peace. It’s a city where you are never truly alone. Even if you’re alone in the house you still hear people and traffic. It’s in constant movement. Regarding my art practice, when I shoot film or do photography projects I discovered that being a foreigner makes it easier for me to get away with doing certain things or being in certain places. On the flip side, being a foreigner in Manila can make things very hard. Everyone always assumes I’m American or that I’m very wealthy. One thing I do find funny is that a lot of people ask me if I’m in the military. But really, for me it’s just the heat, the constant heat, so some days it’s hard to feel motivated to work. And having to commute around the city for materials can be very draining. It’s more that you have to learn to be patient and just roll with the system, even if it’s so crazy.
However, I don’t feel there is much scope here for my career as an artist, so I mainly show abroad. As progressive as the art scene is in Manila there are not a lot of collectors for the type of work I do. And one of the biggest things I miss is having constant dialogue with fellow artists. Most of the time, I just focus on the work and ideas, and dialogue with myself. I miss someone coming into the studio and telling me what I have been working on is crap. I really miss that.
NO CHAOS NO PARTY is a 218 page hard-back book featuring interviews, artworks and the personal archives of 28 contemporary artists who live and work in Metro Manila, Philippines. With Valeria Cavestany as Editor-in-Chief, Eva McGovern as Managing Editor and designed by Inksurge, the project aims to promote contemporary Filipino artists and the urban context in which their practices exist.
Participating Artists include:
Poklong Anading, Renato Barja Jr, Valeria Cavestany, Lena Cobangbang, Francis Commeyne, Louie Cordero, Vermont Coronel, Leslie De Chavez, Dex Fernandez, Carlo Gabuco, David Griggs, Gino Javier Javier, Eisa Jocson, Romeo Lee, Jose Legaspi, Pow Martinez, Maya Muñoz, Wawi Navarroza, Manuel Ocampo, Christina Quisumbing Ramilo, Iggy Rodriguez, Peewee Roldan, Mark Salvatus, Kaloy Sanchez, Gerardo Tan, Ryan Villamael, MM Yu and Maria Jeona Zoleta.