Dancing to Budots and Being Chased by a Dog — 11.26.2020
VIVA ExCon was many things: (1) at its forefront, it was a conference that meant to convene on art issues in the Visayas; (2) it was an exhibition that sprawled through various locations within Roxas City; (3) it was a host to a blur of events and performances that bridged together the experimental and the traditional; and (4) it was a generator of discussion between artists, curators, researchers, and academics through a series of public and private conversations delegates had the chance of overhearing.
The exhibition itself spiraled across different parts of the city, utilizing public basketball courts, museums, parks, and community centers as venues for artwork. Collaborating with a hundred Visayas-rooted artists, VIVA ExCon’s exhibition engaged not only with artists from the region, but more concretely with an already established community of residents whose daily routines involved such spaces.
Past the seriousness and formalities of running an exhibition-conference, Don’t Even Bring Water (Bisan Tubig Di Magbalon) was much more of an exciting celebration-reunion of a community of cultural workers across the Philippines and the Southeast Asian region. With an eccentric lineup of programs, VIVA ExCon paved the way for organic connection between delegates that when I think about that week spent in Capiz, I cannot immediately recall the details of each talk. Rather, I find myself remembering the times I spent on tricycles, making new friends, dancing to budots, and being chased by a dog.
There are many parts of me that don’t feel right weighing in on VIVA ExCon. As much as I can say I enjoyed listening in on the conversations, I am aware of my own distance from being born and raised in Manila, without a province, having only visited the Visayas a handful of times. It has always been clear to me that VIVA ExCon was not a project that asked for or wanted my opinion.
I tiptoe over applying my personal experience in the arts towards VIVA ExCon. For many reasons, it felt like it was never my place to raise comments, complain, or to add any input, always being careful about the thought of imposing the same soft power from the capital that the biennale continues to fight against. As a cultural worker based in Manila, VIVA ExCon made me feel hopeful. It reminded me of the potentials of community-driven archives, inter-island collaboration, and the decentralization of art centers. But I also stop myself from painting an idyllic image of VIVA ExCon, as I know that I will never truly understand what it means to Visayans through the number of iterations and locations it’s gone through.
Each day, the conference proper was packed with talk after talk, one often bleeding into the next. Some well-meaning, yet strange and unenthused presentations left lingering feelings of exhaustion. The length of some talks felt like a fever dream that left everybody in a haze when the day was done. Despite most discussions being fruitful, the formal conference’s open forum often drew out, leaving us all running in a loop, rewording the same questions, yet not being able to arrive at sufficient points.
Information shared during VIVA ExCon was a clear reminder of concrete barriers looking for resolve. Heated arguments during the conference questioned funding preferences, accessibility, and current news. With a biennale nearly thirty years in, it is concerning to see the same issues played out and shared by many of the delegates, perhaps evidencing that these problems have been consistent and unchanging since the festival’s beginning.