Materialism is a Euphism — 09.24.2020

Excerpts from the first Kalampag Tracking Agency screening, UPFI Videotheque (2014)

The Kalampag Tracking Agency was initially started as “a screening program in the form of an initiative.” An organizational collaboration between Shireen Seno of Los Otros and Merv Espina of Green Papaya under its Generation Loss (GEN_LOSS) program, Kalampag sought to present some of the most singular, fragile, and striking moving image works by Filipinos over the past 30 years. The initiative was launched by two screenings and discussions, the first of which took place on 20 August 2014 at the University of the Philippines Film Institute (UPFI) Videotheque.

The impulse of Kalampag led to ongoing research and archiving of Philippine artists' moving image that branched off into other projects, such as the ongoing Light Leaks series currently hosted by the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design (MCAD).

Advancements and ongoing experimentation with digital technologies and artists’ moving image creation and distribution are ever accelerating at breakneck speeds, perhaps even more so now because of the conditions set about by the pandemic. Who could have imagined that in less than a decade since the first Kalampag screening that watching videos from our smartphones would become normal behaviour? Most of the artists, collaborators, and curators had no smartphones during the preparation work for the Kalampag in 2014.

Below is an excerpt from a lengthy post-screening discussion between Alice Sarmiento, Raya Martin, John Torres, Nick Deocampo, and Merv Espina. Shireen Seno, Kidlat Tahimik, Kidlat de Guia, Teddy Co, Jon Lazam, Martha Atienza, Malay Javier, and many others were in attendance and actively contributed to the discussion. What follows is an example of the performative and participatory nature of the screening program and the post-screening discussion that further enriches the materials and informs ongoing research.


Alice Sarmiento (AS): To append to what Nick [Deocampo] and Raya [Martin] were talking about earlier, I think one of the interesting things I noticed from the second half was this element of decay that was present in almost all the films. I know it has to do with bad prints or whatever, but the fact that it’s present in these films from the past, if you look at the current visual vocabulary especially with something like Instagram, you’ll notice that decay is something we simulate now using technology.

The thing with technology now is that we’re coming from a place of abundance where it’s super easy to flatten everything, but everything is also infinitely reproducible so we’re talking of a very different garbage pit altogether. We’re not talking about the dumpster behind LVN Pictures or Mowelfund, we’re talking about how to work and sift through a different pile of garbage. We now have concepts like infinite reproducibility, flattening, and simulating decay and the fact that there is no limit to what you can upload to YouTube. These really change the potential for what film is going to be in the future or what we’re experimenting with.

I have a really horrible example right now. I saw the trailer for Sex Tape (2014) earlier, starring Jason Segel and Cameron Diaz. One of the things there is that they have an iPad and they filmed themselves having sex for three hours which accidentally got uploaded to the cloud. So, we’re talking about a generation that’s born into this concept of the cloud.

To add to what Teddy Co was saying about communities earlier, we’re not even talking about forming communities. We’re talking about a population that’s literally native to this idea of filming themselves and publicizing everything they do. I think those are the things that are completely beyond our grasp right now. The fact that the common, the public sphere, and the act of disseminating something have all changed.

Of course, you have technology as the culprit for all of that but I think that, rather than feel nostalgic or like you’re being displaced, just understand that technology never really displaced or displaces us, but more like it adds to what is present. Thank you, Raya, for laughing.

Raya Martin (RM): No, I think I kind of understand it…

Merv Espina (ME): Well, I agree.

RM: Sorry, just a footnote, but what you said about that certain aesthetic of bringing together the older and newer works, of course we still don’t see it yet, but what if this sort of cinema from the ‘70s is now in this one big app or website?

AS: Well, yeah. Because if we think about it, the people who are using Instagram now are the people who have access to smartphones. Who are these people who have access to smartphones? It’s people who were born in the ‘70s and ‘80s. So, there will still be that hampering that, “When I was a kid, it was like this.” We’re still the generation that can recognize that kind of frame. I’m sure that if I show it to my nieces, they’re not gonna have any idea what celluloid and those frames are. They’re gonna think, “Oh, that’s the thing they have on Instagram right?” It has now become a filter. It’s another way of co-opting that language from the past, but that is something that came up. It’s something that they’re going to translate in their own hands.

RM: In the same way, I’d like to say that experimental cinema turned into a music video aesthetic.

AS: Yeah, that’s what I recognized also. I’m sure that Nick sees something else when he sees the videos of Roxlee, but I was like, “It’s like that Peter Gabriel video.”

Nick Deocampo (ND): This is the reason why I’m more of a historian than a filmmaker right now because the fear that I have in what we’re discussing is that you tend to efface the historical markings that are necessary to inform us of the state of technology, politics, economics, society, our mental well-being.

I’m sorry if I or some of us here may sound nostalgic because, in the end, I think it’s a kind of temporal framing. That’s also our legacy. One thing you may understand is that materialism is a euphemism of Marxism. You belong to that generation where the material reality, all of these were part of the process that we were in. That’s what I’m trying to caution ourselves; that unless you see that, it’s just a style that belongs to a certain temporal continuum, which technology enriches and adds up.

We still need to demarcate exactly that this technology in the ‘70s is different from the ‘80s. I’m sorry to be so chronological about it. Of course that kind of historical periodization can be put into a question or argument, but I feel that there’s still room for a historical nuancing for us to know what is still useful. Again, being informed is all I’m asking for and that’s why, as I’ve said, I engage in history because this country, our people primarily, tend to forget so easily.

AS: I think the fact that it’s becoming added to the argument is a result of a very interesting point that we started to realize what technology has to do with the formation of communities and how it influences aesthetic because you’re working from a place with limitations.

ME: There are still a lot of limitations with digital, so much.

ND: Codec issues.

AS: Yes, there is! I only mean to bring up how that is going to be augmented in the future especially now that you see 15-year-old filmmakers and 8-year-old app developers. I mean, those are very interesting developers right now. One of the things that concerns me at least, is how optimized it’s becoming with how people develop things. It’s becoming more convenient and more possible to just confine yourself to your room and do your own thing there without having to relate to people in this space because dissemination and screening mean something else now.

ME: We’ve all been very nostalgic about form, material, and how your works from the ‘70s and ‘80s were disseminated. Now that you’re focusing on the digital, no one has questioned or brought to attention the politics and possibilities of distribution when it comes to digital forms. There are so many ways to distribute. Cross-referencing with what you were saying about community, of course communities are developed from screenings and workshops because you literally had to be physically present in the workshops and the screenings.

ND: Now it’s all virtual.

ME: Yeah, and now, for example, some of the Marcos-era films can actually be seen online. Jon, what works do you have online? [Hindi sa Atin ang] Buwan (The Moon is Not Ours) (2011)?

Jon Lazam (JL): Yes, Buwan.

ME: You can see some of Raya’s works if you download.

RM: But I’m more old school, you have to pay for it.

John Torres (JT): I like watching in a big dark room with the others. Some people prefer to download and watch in solitude at home. Inside the cinema, I don’t have the remote so I power through a contract of continuous playback. If it were just me and the remote, I could take my sweet time and take breaks or naps. Or I could just decide not to watch altogether. I like both.

Teddy Co (TC): It’s also a discipline not to answer any phone calls!

ND: As a challenge to the curators here: why don’t you try to program something digitally? Because this actually questions the very practice of why you have to have a physical screening like this and bringing us together. Of course, we are rushing here because this is a sacred ritual as far as we’re concerned. Now, here’s the challenge: we won’t see each other. Let’s see what results you’re gonna have and inform us, maybe we’ll see each other. Again, it’s not a question of comparison of which one is better. We want to see exactly how we can move on from this old ritual of getting together, talking to each other, and trying to exchange or share some ideas. I know that on the internet, we somehow can, we can comment immediately. So, let’s move on to that.

If I sound so nostalgic, then I just want to correct one thing. It’s just an impression that maybe we sound nostalgic but personally, I’d like to say that we’re not. In fact we do recognize the materiality of video technology and that cinema has moved on. As I said before, my works right now involve digital technology and my documentaries have CGI. I’ve reconciled myself with the technology. It’s just that once again, we’re burdened by history. And don’t worry, 20 years from now, Raya, all of you will be speaking the same language when we are in the age of holograms. You know, I’m sure digital media will be over! Holograms will be here and that’s where the new masterpieces will be. We don’t even have to see each other, we’ll just be projected there.

This excerpt has been edited for length and clarity. Some parts were translated from FIlipino.

Images courtesy of Neo Maestro.