The Glow of the Ocean: An Interview with Ami Yamasaki
by Dominic Zinampan
Dominic Zinampan (DZ): How did you get involved in the 2018 edition of the Visayas Islands Visual Arts Exhibition and Conference (VIVA ExCon)? Were you able to participate in or attend any of the previous editions of VIVA ExCon?
Ami Yamasaki (AY): As soon as I arrived in the Philippines as a fellow of the Japan Foundation Asia Center (JFAC), Merv Espina invited me to a dinner at Green Papaya.1 He also introduced me to Neo Maestro, my navigator for the duration of my stay. During the meal, I was officially invited to the VIVA ExCon 2018 and was asked to give a talk and workshop at Ang Panublion Museum, a.k.a. The Water Tank Museum, as a pre-event. That was the first time I joined a VIVA ExCon.
DZ: Have you visited the Visayas or the Philippines, or worked with Visayan or Filipino artists prior to VIVA ExCon Capiz 2018?
AY: Yes. I met Janus Victoria, a Filipino filmmaker, in Japan in 2016. She won an award at Talents Tokyo, a filmmaker development program held during TOKYO FILMeX in 2013. She then got a fellowship from the JFAC and came back to Japan in 2016 to make a film about lonely deaths in Japan. It was during this time that Janus and I met through a mutual film musician friend. She was touched by my past experiences and my voice work that tackles silence as a form of sound, and decided that “encounters with silence” would be the documentary’s theme and title.2
The following February, in 2017, at Janus' invitation, I spent three weeks in the Philippines. It was during this time that I visited Green Papaya and met Merv and Norberto “Peewee” Roldan. The purpose of my stay was to make a film inspired by Yoko Ono's performance Cut Piece (1964), and to interact with Filipino artists. In order to promote the project and get actors for the film, Janus invited me to have a booth at the Escolta Block Party. From their stories, I made a film titled Black Cloth Poetry which features dancers, mobile library organizers, interior designers, and shopkeepers in the Escolta area that I met through the Escolta Block Party. This project is still ongoing.3
Also, since I was selected as a grantee of the Asian Cultural Council (ACC) in 2016, I contacted the ACC office in the Philippines through their Tokyo office, and the Director, Teresa Rances, introduced me to various artists. Through Teresa, I was able to visit the Philippine High School for the Arts (PHSA) at the invitation of Gerry Leonardo, see Ang Unang Aswang by the UP Dance Company at the invitation of Myra Beltran, and have a session with dancers at the invitation of Ea Torrado.
DZ: I learned that, in the months leading up to VIVA ExCon Capiz 2018, you gave a talk at Ang Panublion Museum on 27 June 2018, another talk during a Guhit Pinas Capiz meet-up shortly after, and a workshop at the Filamer Christian University (FCU) Chapel on 5 October 2018. Were there other moments that you were able to interact or engage with Visayan artists and/or cultural workers? What were these experiences like?
AY: For six months in the Philippines, I worked as a fellow of the Japan Foundation. The theme of my activities was "Towards New Possibilities for Collaboration: Research, Experiments, and Practices in the Philippines". I conducted interviews and research in various places in the Philippines and created a performance piece reflecting what I had learned from the dialogues with various people. The interviewees were not limited to artists and musicians, but included people from a variety of professions. In the interviews, we tried to get to know the backgrounds of the interviewees, their occupations and environments, and to see the Philippines through their eyes while finding similarities among their individual situations.
The people I met through the interviews were mainly residents of Manila. The following is a list of some of the interviewees — their names, occupations, and where the interviews were conducted.
Lav Diaz (film director), Marikina
Corinne de San Jose (film sound designer and artist), Makati
Jane Marie Obuyes (organic farmer), Cabugao
Cleo Anne Calimbahin (Associate Professor of Political Science, De La Salle University) Malate
Ditas Bermudez (freelance writer and former newspaper reporter), Makati
Meong Cabarde (lawyer and Vice Chair of Amnesty International Philippines), Malate
Jay Javier (photographer and lecturer at De La Salle–College of Saint Benilde), Malate
Eya Qui (founder of Free Forest School in the Philippines), Pamulaklakin Forest, Zambales
Charlie Co and several local artists at Orange Project, Bacolod
Ray Tiempo (Director of Y&R, a US-based advertising agency), San Juan City
Dr. Sal Teleg (neurologist) Kidney Disease Center, Department of Health, Quezon City
Janus and I also went to research the lives of people living in the cemetery in September 2018.
In July 2018, as part of World Listening Day, Teresa Barrozo and I facilitated a workshop and presentation with the scholars of Casa San Miguel in Zambales. I also did a mini-workshop and solo performance at the Ateneo Art Gallery in Quezon City and participated in a group performance conducted by Teresa.
I also conducted workshops, at various locations, through which I was able to see how participants interpreted the content of the work and how we differed in our perspectives and thoughts. The artistic workshop was an interesting time, but the interaction with the children at the "Free Forest School in the Philippines" in the Zambales forest brought me back to the importance of curiosity, which is the core of art.
During my residency, I gave several performances and joined some art projects, each time reflecting the results of my research. The director of VMLY&R Philippines contacted me after seeing the opening performance of our group exhibition at Mono8 Gallery, and we produced a video to raise awareness and publicize the damage caused by plastic to marine life. I had in-depth discussions with the production team about environmental issues in the Philippines and the video later won a number of advertising awards.4
As a culmination of these activities, the performance piece Ephemeral Knots was presented at the VIVA ExCon Capiz 2018. Through these various encounters, I think I was able to experience and capture the Philippines from multiple perspectives. Through their personal lives and work, I was able to gain a detailed process of discovering similarities, differences, and physicalities of people living in the Philippines.
DZ: What was it like participating in VIVA ExCon Capiz 2018? How was your experience working with the LIGHTWEAVERS? Were you able to execute completely the work that you had planned? If not, what were the obstacles?
AY: As the oldest biennale in the Southeast Asian region, I was impressed by its pride and flexibility in trying to be a creative counter to the concentration of culture and art in the National Capital Region, the center. It was an inclusive event that opened its doors wide to people from all walks of life, and I think it was always conscious of being an entertainment event. By broadening the audience's access to art, the event gave viewers the opportunity to think about the historical background of each work and the problems facing contemporary society. The collaboration with art activities in other Asian countries was also wonderful. It was not just a relationship of dots and lines, but something that gave us hope for expansion and development.
In the performance piece Ephemeral Knots, I asked three local artists to express the physicality found in the lives and personalities of the individuals I had interviewed. I was able to create a performance that was structured like a "mirror within a mirror," in that I asked other Filipinos to choreograph and dance around the physicality I found in their lives. After the performance, an artist who lives in Roxas City gave us a wonderful comment: "The glow of the ocean, the height of the sky, the sound of the rain, the dust... the various elements of this city that I see every day were reflected. It was like seeing myself."
I believed in the power of the performers, so I believe that we made no mistakes. Scheduling rehearsals and finding a place to practice was a little more difficult.
DZ: Has VIVA ExCon opened up more opportunities for you? Has it forged meaningful or lasting relationships and connections for you? Are there ongoing communications or future plans between you and Visayan artists or cultural workers?
AY: The purpose of my six-month stay as a Japan Foundation Fellow was to interview Filipinos from all walks of life and professions and create a new performance from it. It was a challenge to work with a very abstract idea, and the more people I interviewed, the more I felt like I was losing direction. However, because we had the clear goal of presenting the results of our activities at the VIVA ExCon, I think we were able to open our hearts and minds to people without having any preconceptions, and to learn more about the Philippines with its various expressions.
I gained a great deal from these activities, and the artworks and performances that I have created since then continue to reflect what I learned in the Philippines. Just the other day, a curator working at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, whom I met at VIVA ExCon, came to see my performance in Japan.
We don't have any concrete plans for the future, but we continue to communicate with artists and gallery owners in Manila and Roxas City, with Charlie Co and members of Orange Project in Bacolod, and with Tatsuo Inagaki — a Japanese artist who has a deep connection with the Philippines — through SNS and other means. We would like to plan online collaborative projects in the future, taking into account the situation of COVID-19.
1 Merv Espina was the Program Manager of Green Papaya Art Projects from 2013 to 2020.
2 For more information on Encounters with Silence: imdb.com/title/tt11744088/. The trailer for Encounters with Silence can be viewed here: vimeo.com/213509133.
3 For more information on Black Cloth Poetry or the Escolta Block Party: facebook.com/EscoltaBlock/posts/black-cloth-poetryby-ami-yamasakiwhere-future-market-escoltawhen-february-18-201/291250911292870/.
4 For more information on the video: vmlyr.com/en-ph/philippines/work/power-plant-cinemas-lending-voice-silenced.
This interview was conducted via email in November 2021. This interview was edited for length and clarity.
Ami Yamasaki is a voice and visual artist. She uses her ears, vocal cords, and skin to perceive her own voice and the echoes it makes. Using a method similar to echolocation to recognize a space, she transforms this space through a type of acoustic shading. Through performance and installation, she questions how the world is created. These questions also stem from her interest in quantum physics and her collaboration with scientists in this field. Asian Cultural Council (USA, 2017), Japan Foundation Asia Center (Philippines, 2018), Setouchi International Art Festival (2019). She will exhibit as part of WAYS OF TELLING (Tokyo Shibuya Koen-dori Gallery, 2021), KYOTO STEAM 2022 International Art Competition (Kyoto Kyocera Museum of Art, 2022) and JAPAN. BODY_PERFORM_LIVE Resistance and resilience in Japanese contemporary art (Padiglione d'Arte Contemporanea, Italy, 2022).