Sunday, November 29, 2009

An Excerpt of a Clutch Brainstorm!

The Clutch ladies have been brainstorming a title for their final exhibit, to be held at the Kapisanan Philippine Centre on February 20. This is a little snippet from one of their email conversations (written by Des Gamotin). We'll have to see what they finally settle on. - a.a.


After our "Web of Word Vom," we noticed that many of our recurrent words and themes involved FEMININITY and STRENGTH (not the "I want to be better than boys" kind, but the confident, beautiful kind, independent of any attempts to become more masculine). The imagery of WATER and NATURE kept cropping up as well, and the idea that the Philippines continues to go through abuses, but keeps gaining strength from those abuses and rape of the land, giving HER the will to fight back. Therefore, even after much successful brainpower, we still want to keep the title of "Mother Land" for the exhibit, although there's still room for wordplay and/or layout, so as to make the wording appear thought-provoking at first glance. What do you think? We kept the paper we brainshat on, for future reference, so you could take a look at it the next time you're at KPC. I loved how Kristina mentioned that "Mother Land" reminded her of how they would shout "Inang Bayan!" ("Defend your Motherland!") during war... it kind of reminded me of the female guerilla units Mithi talked about in class. Also, "Mother Land" could have multiple meanings, like we mentioned before, such as the Philippines as a nation, the concept of the feminization of migration and movement of people between "Lands," AND the pack-rat nature of our nanays and lolas. It's actually a perfect title for what we're all trying to convey!

Friday, November 27, 2009

Photography is a language

This past Saturday, the CLUTCH ladies had back-to-back workshops, beginning with a lesson on the socialization of women in the Philippines, with Mithi Esguerra. With a background in social work and a keen interest in women’s issues, Mithi revealed her extensive knowledge on the history of Filipino women from the pre-colonial times leading up to today. While we briefly touched on the role of women in the revolution during Filipino History class on Thursdays, we never delved beyond names and facts until Mithi’s workshop. Here, we learned about the gradual degradation of women’s status in the Philippines, leadership roles and structures today and the different movements initiated by Filipinas. Cool (yet semi-depressing) things we learned about involved women’s guerilla units, “Babaeng Bayaran,” consumerism geared towards Filipinas and the feminization of migration.

More importantly, we were able to openly discuss, to each other, our personal experiences and relationships with the main Filipino women in our lives: our mothers... and how their values and belief systems were shaped depending on the "Filipino-ness" of the culture they were brought up in. It seemed as though each of us in CLUTCH was raised quite differently, ranging along a spectrum between “the typical strict Filipina nanay” to “the liberal free-spirited Westernized mom.” It was really interesting to share and even more so interesting to relate it to historical and cultural constructions.

After a brief break, we went ahead with Part 2 of the day-long workshop with our Filipino History teacher himself: Alex Felipe a.k.a. World Photojournalist Extraordinaire ( Seeing as it was a Photography Workshop, I was under the impression we were going to be handed cameras for the day and told to run around the city, trigger-happy, clicking away like a little kid with a toy gun. Turns out the workshop was a lot better (and a lot more beneficial!) than I had imagined, sans camera. Having had his work featured in publications like Toronto Star and This Magazine, Alex shared his trade secrets, his photo-philosophy and the technical rules of what makes a great photo: “A great photograph is NEVER about a person, place or event; it’s about symbols, signs and icons composed together artfully.” It makes sense—but we never think it. Nowadays, photos are taken for granted, judging by the arms-length “self-portraits” cropping up on TwittMyFaceSpaceBook every second.

When Alex talks photography, it’s tough to keep up with. He rarely takes a breath in between his words. He tells a story about each of his photo as if he is back in the same setting looking into the same lens all over again. He talks about developing a level of trust with your subject and how a combination of timing, patience and chance is key. He could enter a room and assess what angle with which sort of lighting would convey this sort of emotion from that perspective. You could tell he was born to do this. And I’m jealous.

After a presentation on composition, we were taught how to use Photoshop on our laptops to enhance photos, adjust colour and lighting, contrast, etc. It wasn’t easy and Alex’s speedy mouse-clicking skills were no match for my now powerless MacBook touchpad. But I have a feeling my newfound relationship with Photoshop is only the beginning.

Our photography critique is next week. Can’t wait to see what we each come up with…


Monday, November 16, 2009

Spray painting workshop

We finally had our spray painting workshop last Saturday, November 14. Jabari Elliott, (, a well-respected and established graffiti artist, was the one who conducted the workshop. He invited us in his house, which was also his studio. We were all amazed at his supply of art materials and artworks that he hung on the walls of his apartment.

He decided to show us around the few alleys in the city where there were a lot of very good graffiti art made by various artists including himself. He's such an animated character. He went on and explained the different groups of graffiti artists,
the disputes between these groups, the unofficial rules that go about with all real graffiti artists and many more.

I agree with what he told us about how the only works which no one ever dare touch are the ones that are very old or/and very good. People, at least most people, respect old graffiti art and the ridiculously good ones. All graffiti artworks are vulnerable to a lot of factors once they're out there on the public place. Others can vandalize on them or cover them up with another artwork. I can't help but admire the ones that managed to endure on the public walls of Toronto.

He then took us to visit his friend's studio. He called this friend, "Uber". He mentioned him earlier that day because he explained that his group of friends tribute each other by including their names on some of the artworks that they've done all over the city. The guy named Uber is apparently fixated on chickens. Should we ever come across a chicken, spray-painted on any wall in Toronto, we should know that they're all done by that one person. It's actually
pretty neat. The chicken is almost like his signature. Jabari's works have a certain distinct characteristic in them too. The caricature-ish quality, sometimes a bit gestural, and the contrast of the colours all combine into Jabari's style.
His friend's house was also interesting. He had a lot of artworks displayed on his walls. I couldn't help but ask them both a million questions because they're really in the current industry. We learned a lot from what they shared about their lifestyles as artists in the city. He recommended a few books that will definitely be useful to us, as visual artists.
It was getting dark so we had to move on and actually start trying out the spray paints. He demonstrated it first then let us try it out for ourselves. It reminded me so much of Zen Buddhism. In spray painting, we've observed that there is no room for hesitation. The motion and the speed is everything. There is no holding back to it. It is a forgiving medium for sure, because you can just spray paint over the ones you've done if you're not satisfied with them, but at the same time, the result is also very instant. An error can occur in a matter of less than a second. I got very fond of it because of that quality. It demands fearlessness from its user. Fearlessness during time pressure. You have to make up your mind where you're going to direct the can in just a matter of seconds.
The lessons we've learned from the experiences and stories they shared were really inspiring. Learning a new medium is always refreshing because all art materials/mediums have their own characteristic that not only we could use to do art, but also to learn from and perhaps apply in our own lives.

By the way! Thanks a lot, April, for driving us around that day. It made the workshop very convenient and smooth-sailing!
Also, thank you Flerida for the pictures. Des, I didn't use the pictures that you sent me because I don' t know how to flip it. Do you know how to do it? Thanks Des!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Desiree On: What Makes an Artist?

With a whole day off this past Friday, I set aside time to finally finish my encaustic collage, which I began about three weeks ago with Leah Gold (see Oct. 11 post). I’ve been struggling with it—aesthetically, I wasn’t too happy with how it turned out the first time. I couldn’t even decide if it was too flashy (was there too much gold leaf on one side? too much glitter?), too tacky (did the three-dimensional mini shells and pearls resemble my third grade macaroni project?), too harsh (I think I went overboard with the dark blue wax I layered on the corners), or too empty (the sketch I drew on the bottom left corner reveals too much white space). Quite frankly, I felt like this was something you would hang up above my bathroom toilet.

So I decided to melt off the entire left side, start off fresh, maybe make something brilliant out of it. I tried putting in a photo I took in the Philippines to replace the sketch. That didn’t work. Melt. I tried engraving new words on the wax. Didn’t look so good. Melt. I tried mixing colours, writing poetry onto tracing paper, drawing up new images to go with my lonely compass-unicorn. Even worse than before. Melt. Melt. Melt. What ended up happening was I melted off the entire collage until all that was left was a beaten-looking board and a red-waxed corner with the words “Feed your” on the right corner. I was frustrated. I had to redo a completely different collage on a smaller board and I left the place disappointed, especially considering the therapeutic high I felt the last time I worked on the first collage.

I felt like one of those obnoxious diva artists, who need their water at a certain temperature before they could perform. I was fussy. Everything from the music to the studio space to my mindset at the time was just not right. Why was I acting this way? Was I simply masking my insecurities about being creatively uninclined through petty excuses? Why was I so hard on myself about something entirely new to me? Was I experiencing “artists’ block”?

It got me thinking about what actually makes an artist an artist. I remember I was telling a friend’s girlfriend about the CLUTCH program, our upcoming exhibit and the many projects we’re working on. She asked me, “Are you an artist?” “Oh, no no,” I stuttered. I think I even chuckled a little. But what is the criteria that allows one to use the title “artist”? Is it their portfolio of work? The popularity of their exhibits? Their reputation in the artistic community? Is it self-described, or do others have to officially christen you with the title? I write and I draw and I paint and I do photography and I make music. But nay, I am no artist! And it irks me when pretentious, self-righteous hipsters call themselves artists simply so they could justify wearing their acid-wash skinny jeans. Okay, that may be a little harsh. But I think the reason why I hold the title in such high regard is that I know some of the most creative, talented and innovative people, who I consider artists—many of them being at the Kapisanan Centre. And I wouldn’t consider myself even close to being in that same category.

But I guess that’s what this program’s for—for really instilling the confidence to call ourselves artists and not being afraid to dabble with multi-disciplinary forms. CLUTCH challenges all of us in the program to think out of the box and explore our creativity and listen and learn from other artists and their work. Being surrounded by these mentors, people who live for art and don’t care about the title, are the true artists. I’m hoping in the next few months, I am able to feed off of their energy and really be much more patient with myself and each project thrown at us. And to stop being such a freaking diva.