An­gel Ve­lasco Shaw cu­rates two si­mul­ta­ne­ous ex­hi­bi­tions


“The In­verted Tele­scope,” an ex­hi­bi­tion cu­rated by An­gel Ve­lasco Shaw at The Draw­ing Room and the Cul­tural Cen­ter of the Philip­pines, ad­dresses what Shaw in­ter­prets to be transna­tion­al­ist ex­pe­ri­ences of Filipino artists and the prac­tices of ap­pro­pri­a­tion, adap­ta­tion, and co-op­ta­tion.

Could you ex­pound on what you mean by “transna­tion­al­ist ex­pe­ri­ence,” and why it in­spired you to cu­rate si­mul­ta­ne­ous ex­hi­bi­tions and a sym­po­sium? An­gel Ve­lasco Shaw:

By transna­tion­al­ist ex­pe­ri­ences in this con­text, I’m re­fer­ring to how

Filipino artists who had left their home­lands to ei­ther study, visit, or live in western coun­tries were in­spired and/or in­flu­enced by these cul­tures, art prac­tices, and mind­sets.

The ex­hi­bi­tions and the sym­po­sium are born out of some­thing deeply per­sonal. I re­al­ized that even if I’m Amer­i­can-born, the con­ver­sa­tion sur­round­ing the Filip­iniza­tion of a cul­ture that has been deeply col­o­nized is of ut­most im­por­tance to en­gage in. But it is not up to me to say what that process is, how one does it, why, and when. Filip­iniza­tion means many things to dif­fer­ent peo­ple. The themes of adap­ta­tions, co-op­ta­tion, and ap­pro­pri­a­tion lend them­selves to the Philip­pines be­cause of its colo­nial his­tory and how that his­tory res­onates in Philip­pine so­ci­ety to­day.

Talk­ing about the im­pact of the West and it’s in­flu­ence on Filipino artists is al­ways a sticky sub­ject isn’t it. Do you see this is­sue be­ing re­solved?

When I first started look­ing at Philip­pine art in a se­ri­ous way in 1985, at first I thought a lot of the work I was see­ing, ex­cept for the so­cial re­al­ists’, was de­riv­a­tive of the west—that they were ei­ther ap­pro­pri­at­ing, co-opt­ing, or copy­ing western mod­ern and con­tem­po­rary art. Over the years, I re­al­ized I’d been brain­washed by my own ed­u­ca­tion and by the way the art world was look­ing at non-white art. I started to re­think or, rather, an­a­lyze what this means. Who is ap­pro­pri­at­ing whom, who’s adapt­ing what, who’s co-opt­ing what and how? I think it’s too much of a gen­er­al­iza­tion to say Filipinos are mak­ing “Filipino” art or Amer­i­cans and Euro­peans are mak­ing Amer­i­can and Euro­pean art. It’s not sim­ply about na­tion­al­ism.

Over the years, as I looked at more art and talked to more artists, I no­ticed a lot of “un­even­ness” in the prac­tices of many artists. Be­cause I’m in the Philip­pines, I’ll say Filipino artists, but I think this holds true glob­ally—I think this is im­por­tant to say. This is why the crit­i­cism of Western art crit­ics and cu­ra­tors are wrong. Whether Filipinos are con­sciously or un­con­sciously do­ing this, I think many Filipinos prob­lema­tize the de­bate about what makes con­tem­po­rary art “Filipino” or what “Filipino” con­tem­po­rary art is. It’s im­por­tant to ques­tion if art made in the Philip­pines needs to be “Filip­inized.”

How are the themes of ap­pro­pri­a­tion, adap­ta­tion, and co-op­ta­tion ex­plored in the ex­hi­bi­tion and what is their re­la­tion­ship to the “in­verted tele­scope”?

First, the phrase, “in­verted tele­scope” is coined by the late po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tist Bene­dict An­der­son in his in­tro­duc­tion of The Spec­tre of Com­par­isons: Na­tion­al­ism, South­east Asia,

and The World. The way An­der­son wrote about the ex­pe­ri­ence of be­ing in an “in­verted tele­scope” has to do with his in­ter­pre­ta­tion of a pas­sage in Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tan­gere. When Ibarra comes back to Manila from Europe, he rides a car­riage that passes by the botan­i­cal gar­dens. And for a mo­ment, there is a sense of the fa­mil­iar: He feels he is back in Europe. But when he turns his head, he sees that he’s re­ally in Manila. Sim­i­larly, artists who have gone abroad for how­ever long and come back to the Philip­pines ex­pe­ri­ence the coun­try through a dif­fer­ent lens, which can be quite dis­com­fort­ing and haunt­ing.

The tele­scope has two lenses that I see as meta­phoric for per­cep­tions and ex­pe­ri­ences that are bi­nary op­po­sites (near and far), and not nec­es­sar­ily seen as a space for con­ver­gence that hap­pens in­side the tele­scope. Sym­bol­i­cally, it’s the space be­tween the lenses where I feel these ques­tions about and prac­tices of ap­pro­pri­a­tion, adap­ta­tion, and co-op­ta­tion hap­pen. This space

re­flects where the artists have been, their in­flu­ences, how they trans­late and em­brace an ex­pe­ri­ence, and then cre­ate some­thing. The artists in the ex­hi­bi­tion are al­ready ad­dress­ing these prac­tices. They’re uti­liz­ing and crit­i­ciz­ing them si­mul­ta­ne­ously.

Is crit­i­cal work ap­pre­ci­ated and do you see a dif­fer­ence in the way this kind of work is viewed de­pend­ing on the spa­ces they oc­cupy?

Yes, ab­so­lutely. But first and fore­most, I was con­cerned that The Draw­ing Room’s space would be too small to ac­com­mo­date seven artists and one artist’s col­lec­tive so I thought of ex­pand­ing the ex­hi­bi­tion to the Cul­tural Cen­ter of the Philip­pines. Also, be­ing an artist, teacher, cu­ra­tor, and cul­tural or­ga­nizer my­self, I’d been work­ing with these ex­act themes through­out my life. This light bulb came on in my head about how con­nected my ob­ses­sion with ques­tion­ing the tense re­la­tion­ship be­tween pub­lic and pri­vate spa­ces was with “The In­verted Tele­scope” ex­hi­bi­tion—in this case, the com­mer­cial gallery which is for profit and a gov­ern­ment-run cul­tural in­sti­tu­tion. Does the mean­ing of the works change in these spa­ces? Does it mat­ter? Are the artists con­sciously or un­con­sciously cre­at­ing for these two dif­fer­ent spa­ces? I’m a firm be­liever that the process of cre­at­ing a piece of art­work is more in­ter­est­ing and is of a dif­fer­ent kind of im­por­tance than the end prod­uct. The viewer sees what they want to see and doesn’t nec­es­sar­ily think about what the artist went through to make the piece. We all have our in­flu­ences. There are so many is­sues an artist thinks about when they’re cre­at­ing some­thing: hav­ing the con­fi­dence just to make the work; and if they are sell­ing their work, the ques­tions of what be­ing “orig­i­nal” means and what makes their work bet­ter than some­body else’s comes up. Who’s to say, be­cause so much is sub­jec­tive any­way?

The art mar­ket­place, which in this case is rep­re­sented by the gallery, af­fects the artists in a huge way be­cause there’s al­ways the con­cern of [their sur­vival] and all this other stuff. But the mar­ket is driven and dic­tated by some­thing be­yond the artist’s con­trol. So when you think of art be­ing a com­mod­ity, there are so many con­tra­dic­tions that the artists them­selves are feel­ing. Duchamp, when he de­cided to call him­self Richard Mutt and made “The Foun­tain” (the uri­nal piece) a cen­tury ago, he was chal­leng­ing art as it was prac­ticed and known then. I don’t think he was think­ing about orig­i­nal­ity and au­then­tic­ity. He was chang­ing how an ob­ject is viewed and val­ued. That’s why there are so many con­tra­dic­tions within the con­cepts, prac­tices, and crit­i­cisms of ap­pro­pri­a­tion, adap­ta­tion, and co-op­ta­tion. •

Above and be­low: “Framed: Mabini Art Project” by Al­fredo and Is­abel Aquil­izan

Above: Sketches posted on the walls of the hall­way en­trance Right: “Mine me not-mine me not-mine me not-mine me-mine me not-mine me not..” by Gas­ton Da­mag

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