Not Counter but Parallel — 09.10.2020
Excerpts from Light Leaks 1 (2018)
2018 was an extremely busy year for Green Papaya. Somehow, between preparation work with VIVA ExCon Capiz 2018, Papaya still managed a collaboration with Los Otros, “Light Leaks 1: Tracing histories of Philippine experiments with the moving image” which was hosted by Yael Buencamino at the Ateneo Areté on September 12, 2018. Light Leaks developed from the research that started with another Papaya-Los Otros collaboration, the Kalampag Tracking Agency, a screening program and accidental archive of Philippine artists’ moving image that started in 2014.
Among the discussants and panelists for Light Leaks 1 were curator Clarissa Chikiamco, artist Pandy Aviado, and then NCCA Commissioner Teddy Co. Screenings included the cult short film Tronong Puti (1983) by Ted Arago and Roxlee, Philippine indie cinema documentary Beyond the Mainstream (1986), and a surprise preview of Rod Paras Perez's Conversation in Space (1962) courtesy of Odel Perez.
Coinciding with the current edition of Light Leaks at MCAD Platforms this month we are posting below the opening remarks made by artist and filmmaker Shireen Seno of Los Otros and an excerpt from the Q&A.
Shireen Seno (SS): Philippine moving image practice has a history of pioneering experimentation, but because of this very experimental and uneasily classifiable nature, not much is known or published outside of its more popular iteration: cinema.
Light Leaks is an attempt to piece together these disparate and mostly oral histories by convening a series of forums that consist of research presentations and focused discussions with key artists, curators, researchers, and cultural workers across generations. Along with key historical texts and newly commissioned essays, the proceedings from this symposia will lead towards publication that will hopefully inspire new generations of scholars and practitioners.
This first edition of Light Leaks focuses on a general overview of practices from the ‘60s to the ‘80s in Manila from the personal accounts of Pandy Aviado and Teddy Co and the ongoing research of curator Clarissa Chikiamco.
In her essay “Otherwise Video: Development of Video Art in the Philippines in the 1970s,” Chikiamco states, “When we talk about the development of video art, I believe it is important not simply to consider artworks which use video, but artworks which anticipated video art works. By that, I mean art works which foreshadowed art works that actually used the medium of video. These artworks, forerunners to video, may not have used video but we can name certain qualities which have overlapping identities with the video medium. In particular, these qualities are movement and time.” These experiments paralleled movements in the US and the UK with expanded cinema, installation, and performance. Starting in the ‘60s, expanded cinema practices featured artists moving away from the screen and finding creative ways to project and intervene with moving images. The emergence of video, and later digital moving images, opened new possibilities concerning what artists could do and what moving images could be.
I quote from Kim Knowles’ book Experimental Film and Artists’ Moving Image: “Existing outside the boundaries of mainstream cinema, the parallel fields of experimental film and video art present a radical challenge, not only to the conventions of that cinema, but also to the social and cultural norms that it presents. In offering alternative ways of seeing and experiencing the world, they bring to the fore different visions and dissenting voices. In recent years, scholarship in this area has moved from a marginal to a more central position as it comes to bear upon critical topics such as medium specificity, ontology, the future of cinema, changes in cinematic exhibition, and the complex interrelationships between moving image technology, aesthetics, discourses, and institutions. This series takes on exciting new directions in the study of moving image practice, from the black box to the white cube, film to digital, crossing continents and disciplines, and developing fresh theoretical insights and various histories. Concerning the terms “experimental film” and “video art,” we see these as interconnected practices and seek to interrogate the crossovers and spaces between the different kinds of moving image-making. Finally, we acknowledge the emergence of a new term—artists' moving image—in which to situate the most recent generation of filmmakers and artists alike who work with the moving image.”
Merv Espina (ME): I’m gonna read a question, this is being live streamed so some people are watching us online. I think this question is for all of us: “Since the program is framed under the development of video art in the Philippines and while most works within the oral history presented focus on experimental, avant garde, performative, and materialist films all rooted under the notion of expanded cinema, how do the curators see them as a kind of anticipation to our present concept of ‘video art’ and what could be the basis for categorizing them as leading to video art or into this more expanded category of artists' moving image from the rest of other experimental films done during that time?”
Teddy Co (TC): That’s an interesting question.
ME: From Cocoy Lumbao.
TC: Okay, Cocoy. All art is evolving, nothing is static. Because if anything remains static, it will die and no one will want to practice. The language of art, of the moving image, is developing. There have been high points and low points but it moves forward and to categorize all these video images under video art, maybe that’s a bit too narrow because it’s really expanded. Some people have said that the better word to use is not “experimental” or “video art” but maybe something more like “expanded cinema” because we’re getting into all kinds of forms, content, and platforms. On the internet, on the big screen, in virtual reality.
We’re living in very exciting times because it’s so diverse now and technology has leapt forward. Before, it was all flat. Now we have 3D, there are a lot of participatory and interactive elements with the works now, and also, the disciplines are getting together. For example, there’s a lot of dance programs now incorporating video creatively. Tad [Ermitaño] has collaborated with Denisa Reyes to produce some works. The dancer-choreographer Rhosam Prudenciado has collaborated with Annie Pacaña who had all these videos of telephone poles and then she had two dancers do a ballet across the poles. You’d think they’re on the telephone lines but that’s a video. I hope that answers the question.
ME: Also, since Johnny Manahan was mentioned earlier, there were also some collaborations between him and the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) dancers and Ballet Philippines, even using overhead and slide projectors around that time.
TC: I saw one performance but it’s by a foreign dance troupe in the CCP back in the ‘70s or ‘80s in which they did something—what we would now call “video mapping”—using slide projectors. They projected slides on the dancers’ bodies who were wearing skin-colored suits.
Clarissa Chikiamco (CC): Hi, Cocoy. I find the question very interesting. Even when I was writing my paper, I have to admit that I was also struggling because, if I were to expand simply on video art, you would be looking at all these other impulses. I was thinking, “where do you stop?” It just becomes this really large body of work. I’m sure when we continue to do research, even more will be uncovered. Even just the idea of categorizations, at that time, maybe artists were not really concerned with it. They were just doing these things. Artists alongside filmmakers maybe didn’t classify themselves and their works in a particular category. They were just making work. And somehow, decades later, we are trying to make sense of these things. We’re trying to fit these things into certain boxes or even break them apart. Where do you stop from here? This is also an ongoing question that I have.
ME: I’ll read the follow-up question. “In situating these diverse forms under the more encompassing category of artists' moving image, I just want to open the question on whether there might be a kind of “counterproductiveness” to research if these diverse forms are not explored under their own stream of either being under essentially cinema or film practice, or video being under the technology or tradition it was originally made like broadcast, VCR, video recorders, etc?” Do you want to react? Is it counterproductive?
TC: Well, I don’t think it’s counterproductive. I think we should discuss, talk, and exchange ideas. That’s why you have a forum like this, you have a panel. It’s very healthy to talk and discuss. It’s unhealthy to not talk and to shut up because that’s a different kind of atmosphere. Like I said, the whole thing, the whole movement or whatever, would have been much bigger if there had been a proper community of people who exchange ideas, people who read and would say, “Why don’t you read this book?” or, “Go to that screening” because a lot of these things were done in isolation unlike today.
Today, since you have social media, ideas spread so fast. Will we reach a saturation point? I don’t know. Things evolve, like I said. Not to put things into boxes like, “this one’s visual art, this one’s cinema” because things mix. They intermarry and there’s a lot of fusion going on, even and especially in food. If we just stick to our native food, we will be stuck with lechon. But there’s a lot of creativity in the food scene now, right? Because there’s a lot of fusion and intermarrying. Culture and art are like that.
I think that has been going on especially now because we’re a wild world. As [Marshall] McLuhan said, we’re in a global village. Of course in some territories, some people would say, “We have too many film festivals now, we have too many films.” But would you like to go back to 2004? We had nothing but the Metro Manila Film Festival. It used to be like that. Just that, every December. Your choices were limited to Vice Ganda or Vic Sotto.
Don’t take the market of ideas and the freedom that we have for granted. Last year, at the Yamagata International Documentary Film Festival, I met this Chinese filmmaker who made a film about the last independent film festival in China that was closed down by the government. They don’t have a Cinemalaya or Cinema One. They have nothing like that. We have to learn to appreciate all of this, all of the institutions that are helping us put up all these programs even with a President like that. There’s a lot of open and free space.
ME: In response to Cocoy, I think—at least for this series of forums and discussions that we want to convene, focusing on Philippine experiments in moving image practice—we’re essentially looking at works that were hard to categorize. We should re-examine these materialist considerations of works in film or video and also look at works that have fallen in between the cracks—and there are many cracks. Some of the works mentioned today fall outside major art and film histories so what we’re trying to propose is that we need space for more narratives, histories, and maybe not look at particular materialist media, film, and cinema-specific narratives. This is not counter but parallel.