In 1998, the Philippines National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) brought together young writers for a workshop on art criticism, in recognition of the fact that this kind of gathering was long overdue, given the following problems that workshop Director Patrick D. Flores foregrounded at the outset. I quote him almost word for word:
1. As contemporary art continues to be produced, and while international art organizations have expressed active interest in the country’s production, art criticism in local broadsheets and magazines is languishing and is inversely proportional to the number of press releases in ‘lifestyle’ sections. Are there no editors willing to publish art criticism? And just what kind of criticism or critic is deemed media-genic and publishable? Are there no critics willing to write?
2. The Philippines enjoys the reputation — deserved or not — of having some of the strongest writers in Southeast Asia, if not Asia. Most of them are trained in academe, [at institutions that] include the workshop co-organizers, the Department of Art Studies, University of the Philippines, and the Young Critics Circle, [and represent] an elite, multi-disciplinary group of teachers, historians, art practitioners and cultural workers. But while the Philippines may not be wanting in scholars and art researchers, the problem seems to be one of disseminating academic knowledge to a wider public in a more accessible language and form. Is it possible then for people in academe to compromise with media language and take part in writing [about] art for a popular readership? While it is true that there must be a limit to the compromise, we feel that the academe-mainstream divide needs not so much to be bridged as crossed and negotiated in all its peril and promise. Certainly, we do not want to see an industry of art criticism whose members speak only their jargon and are locked in their own esoteric reflections. But we also do not want to see criticism watered down to the level of publicity release and lifestyle-page commentary in the name of the much-abused criterion of comprehensibility. Both tendencies are equally elitist.
3. Museums and galleries rarely publish catalogues of exhibits and so are also remiss in setting the parameters of discourse for the art they display and market to their audience and clientele.
4. Among those who are more or less active in art writing today, there are but a few who are ‘young’, and whose ideas are equally young. While we do not discriminate against senior critics, there is also a need to ensure that a new generation of art critics speak on behalf of the art and artists of their time. The term ‘contemporary’ need not only be assigned to art, but also to critics.
At the time of the workshop, Pananaw (meaning opinion, viewpoint), was the only journal devoted to the visual arts. Pioneered by Filipina artist Imelda Cajipe Endaya under the auspices of the organization Pananaw ng Sining ng Bayan (Viewpoints of the Art of the People), with support from the NCCA, the publication was a watershed. It addressed and continues to address the above problems, not only by focusing on Filipino art and artists but by expanding the playing field of the Manila-centric art world. Devoting an issue to each of the three major islands of Mindanao, the Visayas and Luzon, it zeroed in on artistic practices beyond Manila, thus reaching out to new locations, and initiating hitherto submerged domains for critical debate and dialogue.
After the workshop, a slim, now out-of-print volume on its proceedings — Context in Writing, Writing in Context — was published and is now standard reading, especially for students in art criticism at the UP Department of Art Studies. This workshop also probably inspired the artist Jose Tence Ruiz, one of the speakers who engaged the young participants in spirited debate, to produce Transit, which was almost entirely self-funded, with support from an NGO, the Creative Collective, Inc.
During the workshop, as we locked horns with the problems Flores so eloquently mapped out, there emerged a classic workshop joke: in a cash-strapped Philippines, the ‘Volume One, Number One’ syndrome besets us all. Thus, as we debated from our ‘high theory’ perches, we consoled ourselves with the fact that while issues of the hardbound, full-colour, expensive Pananaw are few and far between — once in every two years — it has at least breached the Vol. 1, No. 1 boundary. And as we enthusiastically buckled down to the business of writing, we looked towards the more low-cost Transit to complement Pananaw and fill in the gaps. Distributed at almost no cost — a dollar per piece (P50) — in galleries and other ‘underground’ outlets, Transit itself crossed the Vol.1 No.1 line, giving floor to new writing and bravely riding out storms in its passage. But after two years or so, Transit surrendered to the vicissitudes of time and logistics, and is now — temporarily, we hope — inactive and in transit towards other incarnations and possibilities.
It is in this context of despair and hope that Ctrl+P was hatched one day in March 2006, when Filipina artist Judy Freya Sibayan spoke before my graduate class on Contemporary Arts of Asia at the University of the Philippines. While we lamented that publications on art in the Philippines are either short-lived or erratically printed if they manage to survive after Vol. 1, No. 1, she blurted out: ‘there is always the internet’ — a productive ‘elsewhere’ that can provide a testing ground for a whole new culture/praxis of art publishing in the Philippines.
With the internet as space and technology, the ‘printing’ becomes very fluid, and unlike traditional publications, Ctrl+P is not pegged at coming out weekly, quarterly, monthly, or bi-annually, and we need not wait for a long time for a number of essays to make up an issue. Once there are at least three essays ready to see print, we upload the content, which is labelled through a tracking system that looks something like: ‘Uploaded Issue No. 2 Articles 9 and 10, 2006’.
To be sure, there are many glitches in negotiating the internet, which in the Philippines remains inaccessible to the poorest communities outside Manila and other key cities around the world. Those who do have internet access have to reckon with slow connections and defective browsers. Because we freely circulate the journal, we also have to confront copyright issues. And although we operate with zero funding, we are beginning to realize that, as our uploaded issues become more and more complex, we could use a little help in such mundane but very time-consuming tasks as proofreading, layout, and responding to letters to the editors, among others. But we consider these problems as challenges, rather than limitations.
After all, barely a year ago, we started a very modest, backyard class production; now, we have our own URL link hosted by www.trauma-interrupted.org, and hope that we will have our own website in the near future. In April 2007, we turn one year old, with at least six issues under our belt, two of which join around 90 other publications in the Documenta12 Magazine Project. At the time of writing, we have just uploaded our fifth issue, which is devoted to the Documenta project theme ‘What is Bare Life?’, and we look forward to uploading our anniversary issue (No. 6), which focuses on the Documenta theme of education, in April 2007. So, we have not only passed the Vol. 1, No. 1 syndrome, we are also diligently heeding the call of the 1998 Manila Workshop: to write about the art of the moment through criticism that sets the agenda for debate by raising issues, problems and questions, and soliciting not consensus or agreement from the art world, but engagement and negotiation.
To access Ctrl+P, please visit http://www.ctrlp--artjournal.org/.
- Sun, 1 Apr 2007