Museum of Three Cultures

Activating Spaces and Turning the Tables

There is an upfront cheekiness to Kristoffer Ardeña’s Dear Curator Curate Me (DCCM) project.  And it was that, coupled with perhaps not just a tad of foolhardy hubris, which resonated with what the independent platform, Back to Square 1 (BS1), poised itself to do this 2013.  For much of the last seven years leading up to the present, a gnawing sense of needing to apply himself beyond merely producing art had been weighing heavily upon BS1 Artistic Director Claro Ramirez’s mind.  Artists of his generation had been made to think that there were virtually only two routes one could tread past art school and pushing oneself to deliver at least one solo exhibition a year—certainly there were the obvious extremes:  thrusting oneself unhesitatingly into tending to the art market and living off the kind of work that was palatable at the moment, or only making the art that one could live with, sans much of the debilitating remorse that comes with the sinking feeling of knowing you’d sold your soul.  By 2000, Ramirez had gained enough critical cred to gain the Cultural Center of the Philippines Thirteen Artists Award.  Not long after, opportunities to thrust his practice even more decidedly toward new media, to teach, to curate, and lend artistic direction to projects within and off the radar of institutions came to pass, but so did the mounting sobering realizations about the narrowing channels of practice, reach, and validation of art hereabouts.  It was in the midst of this thinking upon alternate sites and modes of work, alongside the finding of kindred individuals that DCCM came into the horizon.

Posed as conceptual taunt patently directed at curators who have, arguably over recent years, become defacto gatekeeper-mediators in regard to what sort of work gets play in sites within the artworld,  DCCM, here in conjunction with the homecoming of another artist-initiated and auspiciously enough, Cagayan de Oro-nuanced project Siete Pesos, underlines how these circuits of passage, across venues and affinities, are in fact permeable and hardly monolithic.  As in any social sphere, the artworld and the domain of culture in general, functions according to an internal logic not always sympathetic to vaunted notions of the democratic and redemptive.  In such scenarios, one of the begging questions that could certainly be posed is, how does one skew the odds away from the already privileged and overly powerful?

In this sense, DCCM, alongside the Siete Pesos artists’ coming home is posed here as possibly both illustrative and exploratory .  For just as DCCM seems to ask:  how much leverage could an artist expect in negotiating the power to select, or frame a creative venture from the presumed ambit of the curator? Siete Pesos’s disaster-instigated homage to both motorela and the artist’s capacity to act as free agent in deterritorialized sites of despair and urgency also asks:  what are the operative terms of generosity that allow collaboration to happen amidst the estranged and/or dislocated?

To BS1, it is mere icing on the cake that the two projects dually brought to fore here also bring international/intercultural aspects of artmaking and reception to the table.  DCCM brings 15 video projects from as far off as Finland to as nearby as Singapore, along with the netherworlds of anonymous pieces taken off the vast cyberarchive.  Siete Pesos, on the other hand, brings upon an international art platform that is the Singapore Biennale 2013 the distilled experience of artists making sense of the avowedly local tragedy of typhoon Sendong descending upon the once regarded as storm-neutral province.  Both ventures are being hosted within a space unintentionally suggestive of convergences of intention and sympathies:  Capitol University’s Museum of Three Cultures.

Not entirely serendipitously perhaps, much of the videos making up DCCM invoke a trope of loss or an assertion of albeit transitory claim over space, inclusive of personal liberties.  Read alongside Siete Pesos’s own discursive strategy in relation to a sense of place and time, and how one might approximate a degree of agency amidst the most dismal and disempowering of conditions, this teaming up of creative energies hopefully suggest what might happen when artists are given room not just to craft work, but to productively encounter publics possibly previously alienated or unfamiliar with what art can do and be about.

Given that the rise of the curator-gatekeeper is still a fairly recent development in these parts, it ought be pointed out too that the artists working out of the islands of Mindanao are not entirely unfamiliar to how art producers and cultural workers themselves have, in decades past, taken the reigns, made space for their work, and set the tone for how they wish to be read and circulated.  What BS1 hopes to do in enabling this further comes by way of prodding more exchanges, both theoretical and pragmatically experiential, across sites and across artworlds too often delimited by preconceived notions of appropriate aesthetics, if not symbolic fiefdoms that effectively shut out the yet to be imagined and ultimately possible. 

View the PDF file of the event