Ideas

Registers of Text

Carlos Quijon, Jr., explores how the Philippine Art Supplement plays a crucial part in shaping the narrative of 1980s art history

 

Image: Cover of <i>Philippine Art Supplement</i>.
Image: Cover of Philippine Art Supplement.

In prospecting how vital a publication is in the development of specific narratives and histories of art in a particular milieu, and how a publication's vitality plays out in the context of a developing contemporary art ecology, I find the case of the Philippine Art Supplement exemplary. By way of proffering different registers of text and being attentive to artistic emergences and urgencies of the period—be it modalities of art or logics of practice—the Art Supplement plays a crucial part in shaping the story of the art history of the 1980s.

The Art Supplement was initiated by curator, visual artist, and poet Raymundo Albano, who became the Director of the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) Museum in 1980. It was a bi-monthly magazine for the arts that ran from 1980 to 1982; the pool of writers later became some of the most important annotators of the Philippine art scene during the period, including artist and performance-maker Judy Freya Sibayan, critic Marian Pastor Roces (Managing Editor), painter Phyllis Zaballero (Special Assignments Editor). Ginny Dandan, who was also a professor at the College of Fine Arts at the University of the Philippines, served as the publication’s editor. Aside from this roster, the publication also had art historian and critic Alice Guillermo and printmaker Imelda Cajipe-Endaya as contributors in some of its issues.

In looking at the Art Supplement, of interest is how the publication understood its position in relation to the curatorial and critical labour that Albano engaged in at the CCP. As Albano declares: "As supplement, it will be an addition to something more established."1 Albano contemplates here of supplement in relation to being established, intimating the emergent, or using a trope on which his practice turns, the developmental, rather than an idea of supplement in relation to importance. Textual production becomes as important an aspect of artistic production, practice, and art history, in this sense, since it rounds out and complements the already instituted, the already existing. It also becomes as important not only because there was a practical absence of critical texts in particular. Textual production about art in general was glaringly absent during the period. As Albano explains:

The remaining critics—remnants of past generations—have not only become dated and commercial, they simply cannot cope with the demand. The problem is that there are no writers for art anymore; in fact, writers per se are near-extinct nowadays, surviving on more practical means of utilizing their craft.2

It is by way of the Art Supplement that Albano supplements the motivation of the Center during his tenure to speak to and spur thinking about contemporary artistic concerns. This becomes a form of curatorial intervention in the understanding of the contemporary via a foregrounding of specific artistic practices that speak to it with the publication of special features on specific modalities of art, such as printmaking, photography, and site works. Moreover, the Art Supplement also became crucial in an elaboration of art historical and critical trajectories of practices and phenomena that flourished during this time, such as performance or alternative art spaces. This also included essays that annotate contemporary sensibilities in art practice, such as installation, which Albano aligns with the vitality of the local fiestas against "the alien intrusion of a two-dimensional western object like a painting."3

Perceptive to the developing contemporary artistic landscape, the Art Supplement also engaged with the practical logics and institutional frameworks that structure the artistic ecology of the period. A volume on Art and Education (1981) offered essays on the making of an artist, creative growth, art for the child, and on the Philippine High School for the Arts.4 An earlier issue included an essay by Alice Guillermo on the University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts that was imagined to be a part of a series of essays on art schools. In addition, there were also essays that looked at the foremost circuits of legitimation in the local art scene: the Art Association of the Philippines (AAP) Awards5 and the CCP Annual.6

The range of registers of text that the Art Supplement published also speaks to a moment in art history when engaged thinking about an international art parallel with national and regional art were in currency. Texts varied from reprints of papers delivered in conferences and symposia, such as Indonesian painter Mochtar Apin’s essay excerpted from his paper presented at the Asian Pacific Conference on Art Education in Taipei, Taiwan, entitled "Artist’s Education: From an Asian Point of View,"7 and Albano’s "Philippine Art: Tradition and Westernization," which he delivered as a delegate to the "Symposium on Asian Contemporary Art" at the Fukuoka Art Museum,8 to important exhibition reviews such as Marian Pastor Roces' "The Show of the Century” on the The People and the Art of the Philippines exhibited at the University of California in Los Angeles,9 and "Five Directions in a Steady State" on Rod Paras-Perez’s show Five Directions10 held at the Museum of Philippine Art (MOPA)—two of the most important essays to have marked a register of critique that is attentive to the curatorial and its affects and labours. The logic of the special feature is also worth looking at, as for example, the special issue on photography documents the Philippine Photography Festival of 1981 held at MOPA.

Textual registers encompassed artist interviews, exhibition reviews, and papers presented elsewhere. A section called "On the Road" showcased capsule reviews that mapped out what was then currently ongoing in the local (interesting pieces are Tita Lacambra Ayala’s essay on the exhibits by the Art Association in Davao, an AAP affiliate in the southern part of the Philippines11; and modernist Victorio Edades writing on painter Javy Villacin’s exhibit also in Davao12). Sections such as "On the Road: Travel Reports" and "On the Road: Foreign Exhibits" teased out what was happening in the international art world. Artist folios introduced by a critic were also an interesting register that opened up tendencies of writing about art. Glenna Aquino introduced Ami Miciano’s photographs,13 and Marian Pastor Roces wrote about Butch Perez’s photographs.14 Equally of importance are Albano's seminal essays that elaborated on his ideas of the international and the developmental, two tropes that shaped the trajectory of projects under his tenure. In one essay, Albano declares: "Today, Philippine art is competent, sophisticated, in the level of international art. Our artists work with the sense of humor of a Filipino, the stamina of an Asian, and the thinking of the world."15 The contemporary is fleshed out in the Art Supplement’s attentiveness to what is currently unfolding in the art world, as one letter to the editor attests: the supplement "plunges heartily 'in medias res'."16

Art writing, within the ambit of the Art Supplement, becomes a matter of a "Third World intuition," in Albano’s terms, a way of"tak[ing] pride in saying that we want to create our own styles, our own terminologies, our own set of measures which we address to our readers."17 This inflection resonates with Albano’s own practice of intimating declensions of the contemporary in art inflected by a tendentious attention to the necessary international attitude of any interlocution that stipulates the local and the regional.

Perhaps it is this Third World intuition that also intuits the logic of practice of the artist-critic, which Albano was exemplar. Albano proffers: "If this is indeed the case (and critical writing is still indispensable for our art), we thought that maybe the artists themselves can possibly solve their own problems."18 The disposition of the artist-critic, for Albano, was an inevitable incestuous arrangement:

If one realizes that most of us are artists, conclusions can easily be made. What could we do but write first about what we know or what we are familiar with? This seemingly incestuous arrangement was inevitable. We thought it would not only ease us from other-party damnation but also provide a better ground to affirm our literary-critical standpoints, no matter how fast they would eventually shift.

It is here that we see clearly what art historian, curator, and critic Patrick Flores writes about as Albano's "polytropic subjectivity": "quickening his metis at every exigency, constantly modifying the language of the institution, sometimes mimicking the very idiom of the state, and sometimes venturing beyond its grammar to offer an utterance that is, in his words, uncategorizable. It was almost like a kind of skippership, with Albano feeling the sea and the sky in an inclement archipelago."19

What emerges out of this emergence of the artist-critic are questions and concerns that comprise an ethics of textual production ("If this is indeed the case [and critical writing is still indispensable for our art], we thought that maybe the artists themselves can possibly solve their own problems."20), which also becomes an ethics of textual registers ("Which is why we call our writing not 'review' or 'criticism.' That is not yet our business, we must admit. Ours is a simple case of existence: write about art so art exists even after all events have transpired. Our duty is to write."21), or even a general ethics of art writing as labour ("Starting with lofty feelings, we looked around for people who have been writing about art. Initial problems arose with regards to qualification [Can anyone with no art history background write?], ethics [How can writers be artists at the same time?], incentives [How much is he getting paid?]…"). Perhaps, it is by way of its very supplementarity that the Philippine Art Supplement has nurtured the emergence of such a latitude of concerns, ethical considerations, register of texts, and the dynamic, in the words of Flores, "polymetic/polytropic," agency of the artist-critic.22

 

Carlos Quijon, Jr., is an art critic and curatorial coordinator based in Manila. Most recently, he was a research resident at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Seoul and was also part of the Transcuratorial Academy both in Berlin and Mumbai. 

Notes

1. Raymundo Albano, “Footnotes,” Philippine Art Supplement [n.d.]: 8.

2. Raymundo Albano, “As We Move On,” Philippine Art Supplement 3, no. 3 (1982): 3.

3. Raymundo Albano, “Installations: A Case for Hangings,” Philippine Art Supplement 2, no.1 (Jan-Feb 1981): 3.

4. Philippine Art Supplement (Art and Education Issue) 2, no. 4 (July-Aug 1981).

5. Ginny Dandan, “The AAP Art Awards,” Philippine Art Supplement 2, no. 1 (Jan–Feb 1981): 19.

6. Marian Pastor Roces, “The CCP Annual,” Philippine Art Supplement 2, no. 1 (Jan–Feb 1981): 17.

7. Philippine Art Supplement (Art and Education Issue) 2, no. 4 (July–Aug 1981).

8. Mochtar Apin, “Artist’s Education: From an Asian Point of View,” Philippine Art Supplement (Art and Education Issue) 2, no. 4 (July–Aug 1981): 17–18.

9. Marian Pastor Roces, “The Show of the Century,” Philippine Art Supplement 3, no. 1 (1982): 8. Roces writes: “Through the instrument of an affectionate and (to us at least) omnipotent curatorship, the whole nebulous body of Philippine traditional art entered the rarefied universe of world-class connoisseurship and elite-corps scholarship… By some staggering magic, the most handsome Philippine tribal and historical specimens known to have survived in collections all over the world were gathered together for a once-in-a-lifetime pageant. Most all-time charismatic relics of our cultural past were there, submitted to the program of revealing a uniquely Philippine contribution to Art History.”

10. Marian Pastor Roces, “Five Directions in a Steady State,” Philippine Art Supplement [Special Feature on Printmaking] (Nov–Dec 1980): 8. Roces writes: “It took all of MOPA’s five commodious galleries to discuss, record, offer for meditation the various permutations, perplexities, the five identifiable tendencies, the ambitions deemed characteristic of Philippine art. The curatorial procedure is syntagmatic. It is a sorting out of a perceived chaos. Dr. Rodolfo Paras-Perez, the curator, is the country’s compleat art historian, and the exhibition is a compleat art historical act.”

11. Tita Lacambra Ayala, “Notes from Davao,” Philippine Art Supplement 2, no. 2 (1981): 29.

12. Victorio Edades, “Javy Villacin at the Asiatic Gallery, Davao City,” Philippine Art Supplement 3, no. 3 (1982): 22.

13. Glenna Aquino, “Ami Miciano: A Portfolio,” Philippine Art Supplement 3, no. 5 (1982): 5.

14. Marian Pastor Roces, “A Folio of Photographs by Butch Perez” Philippine Art Supplement 3, no. 2 (n.d.): 5.

15. Raymundo Albano, “Philippine Art: Tradition and Westernization,” Philippine Art Supplement 2, no. 1: 14.

16. Letter to the Editor, Philippine Art Supplement [Special Feature on Printmaking] [n.d.], (Nov– Dec 1980): 17.

17. Albano, “As We Move On,” 4.

18. Ibid., 3.

19. Patrick Flores, “Revisiting the ‘Developmental’ and Reconsidering the ‘Alternative’,” in How Institutions Think: Between Contemporary Art and Curatorial Discourse, edited by Paul O’Neill, Lucy Steeds, Mick Wilson, (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2017), 108.

20. Albano, “As We Move On,” 4.

21. Albano, “As We Move On,” 3.

22. Flores, “Revisiting the ‘Developmental’ and Reconsidering the ‘Alternative’,” 108.

Imprint

Author

Carlos QUIJON, JR.

Topic
Notes
Date
Tue, 20 Mar 2018