Recalling International Participation in VIVA ExCon
by Tatsuo Inagaki
I had been in the Philippines for one year from April 2018 during my sabbatical leave as Faculty of International Culture at Hosei University. I was conducting practice and research on contemporary art education in schools and communities as a visiting researcher through the Department of Art Studies at the University of the Philippines in Diliman. I participated in VIVA ExCon Capiz 2018 and Aurora Artist Residency, conducting several art projects. I also conducted workshops on contemporary art at elementary schools, high schools, and universities in the Philippines. I returned home on 21 March 2019.
I participated in the second VIVA ExCon, which took place in Bacolod, Negros Island, in 1992. Norberto “Peewee” Roldan, founder of the Black Artists in Asia (BAA), requested my participation through an invitation sent to the Lunami Gallery in Ginza, Tokyo. The Lunami Gallery was a rental gallery but, at the time, it was also a pioneering art space, serving as a window for international exchange activities. In response to this request, the gallery owner, Emiko Namikawa, initially encouraged the senior generation of artists, then in their 30s and 40s, to participate. However, at that time, they were actively participating in foreign art projects. From such circumstances, the bowl came around to me who just completed graduate school. Namikawa said, “I have never been to the Philippines, and I do not know it at all, but it looks interesting!”
Other artists who participated in VIVA from Japan were Komatsu Tsunetaka, Harada Akatsuki, Kobayashi Tei, and Utami Hitomi. Other than them, Japanese drum groups also participated and gained popularity at the venue. Artists of the Baguio Arts Guild (BAG) from Luzon Island also participated; they were artists such as BenCab, Roberto Villanueva, and Santiago Bose. I had many exchanges with young artists from Baguio.
Later, in 1992, we invited Filipino artists to Japan to participate in the Naguri Lake International Outdoor Exhibition, and others. We invited Norberto Roldan, Charlie Co, Dennis Ascalon, Roberto Villanueva, and Santiago Bose. At the time, Kidlat Tahimik, who stayed at Takedera in Saitama Prefecture to produce documentary works, also joined in. Akatsuki Harada and I supported their artmaking during their stay in Naguri. The support of the Executive Committee and members of the public government was wonderful. I think it was excellent to be able to participate in Naguri, considering the situation in the 1990s in which contemporary artists could only make presentations through a rental gallery.
The following year, I participated in the 1993 Baguio Arts Festival. Since that time, the connection has been broken for some reason. Given the Philippines’ situation, some people did not feel comfortable inviting artists from abroad or outside the Visayas. I heard that VIVA had stopped inviting foreign artists. On the Japanese side, the situation was that the artists who had gathered at Lunami Gallery had ceased their activities. (I was still young at the time, ignorant of how to collect money, and I could not bear the financial burden.)
Artistic Influence Based on My Relationship with the Philippines Since the 1980s
The first time I was conscious of the Philippines was in 1983, when the assassination of Benigno Aquino, Jr. occurred and, in 1986, the EDSA Revolution. As I moved to Kobe and entered the university, I was inspired by this revolution. There was a reverence for the Filipino people, who gave their nation the power of the people.
At that time, while contemporary artists of a generation slightly older than me intensified their criticism of sects such as the Nitten Group, it was common for me to present in rental galleries. I felt disappointed and was unsure about the future. In 1989, I became Executive Chair of the exhibition The Site of Expressions 1989 at Tama Art University in Kaminoge Campus. During the exhibition period, there was a panel with a gallerist, a critic, a curator, and the students on how to face society as an artist in the future. We had a discussion. The exhibition itself was also changed to a style where students belonging to the parliament group and students interested
in contemporary art could participate. Still, many were unable to gain widespread approval. After completing graduate university, I had almost lost interest in exhibitions at the rental gallery, which was the standard. In that sense, participation in the VIVA ExCon in 1992 was a breakthrough for my international activities as an artist.
Since the 1990s, after participating in the art festivals in the Philippines, I have conducted art projects with fieldwork and collaboration, focusing on overseas exhibitions, including in Europe. Regional art became popular in Japan during the 2000s. It feels like “a thing different from the project you are implementing.” I started to rethink my work. Currently, the process of review is progressing better than before and we are trying to compare results, such as with socially-engaged art and social practice.
There are several roots of my work and one influence from my life was my father, a journalist. VIVA ExCon in 1992 provided me with an excellent experience as an artist, and I am focusing on examining VIVA ExCon meetings. In 2014, I started re-contacting Bacolod artists and Norberto Roldan in Manila. I visited the Philippines in 2015 and reunited with some people. I also participated in the VIVA ExCon held in Iloilo City in 2016, the first time in 24 years. In 1992, there were many factors that made it difficult for me to gain a deep understanding of the ideas of Filipino artists. It was my first exposure to Filipino culture and there was a language barrier, but I have overcome these problems in recent years. There was a meeting place with artists in 1992, and I was able to meet with many more people related to the arts and exchange various opinions with them.
VIVA ExCon Iloilo 2016 was heated, with a focus on the conference. At this very well-crafted conference and exhibition program, I still remember that Charlie Co, one of the founders, proudly told me, “This is the evolution of VIVA!” I could understand the purpose of holding the VIVA ExCon events. I witnessed the development of Iloilo’s cultural situation, where art museums and various art events have been sustained until now.
VIVA ExCon Across the Regions
VIVA ExCon was first held in 1990 by the Bacolod art group BAA. It was conceived as a platform for artists in the Visayas to exchange information. The event is carried out mainly by artists from each region of the Visayas. One purpose of this event is to compete with Manila, the Philippines’ capital, in all aspects of culture, politics, and economy. (Unfortunately, members of BAA have repeatedly told us that the fastest and most convenient way to get to and from the Visayas was via Manila.) The main feature of the four-day event will be the conference, where we will discuss important topics of the time, centering on the Island Reports about each region’s activities.
The venue for the succeeding VIVA ExCon is formally decided by the plenary on the last day of the conference. At the 2016 VIVA ExCon, Norberto Roldan announced his bid for Roxas City, Capiz, to host the 2018 VIVA ExCon. (By the way, the Bohol artists group also campaigned for the biennale to be held in Bohol, but Roxas City won in the voting.) Whether each VIVA ExCon will be participated in by artists other than those in the Visayas region depends on the executive committee for that year. Compared to previous iterations, VIVA ExCon Capiz 2018 has been the most open internationally, reflecting the organizers’ intentions.
I would like to mention the impact of VIVA ExCon on the current Visayas art scene. I have had many opportunities to work with artists in the Leyte region and other Visayas regions; and the respect, trust, and influence of BAA as the founder and legendary artists of VIVA ExCon are immeasurable. For example, I talked to a young painter from Ormoc in Leyte Island, and he told me that the work of Nunelucio Alvarado has greatly influenced him and he is working on improving his own work while studying it. Charlie Co, a central figure in the Bacolod art scene, actively helps develop young local artists by providing a place for them to work at Orange Project, which he runs. Dennis Ascalon also has much influence on young artists. Norberto Roldan runs the alternative space Green Papaya Art Projects in Quezon City, Metro Manila, and is a leading figure in the Philippine independent art scene. He is also a key contact point for artists, curators, and researchers visiting the Philippines from overseas.
Capiz 2018: Balay Sugilanon (Story House)
I participated as an artist at VIVA ExCon Capiz 2018 held in Roxas City, Capiz province, from 8 to 11 November 2018. I conducted an art project with the local artists in collaboration with the local community. I had gone to the Philippines several times in 2017 and visited Roxas City with members of the executive committee to look at the area. I started preparing for the project around May 2018. I stayed in Roxas with VIVA ExCon Capiz director Norberto Roldan close by, and I had many opportunities to help with other projects. About 60 of the local artists participated in our project.
The Idea of the Project
In 2018, a workshop for local artists was held at the Gerry Roxas Training and Convention Center (GRTCC), organized by the VIVA ExCon Capiz 2018 Executive Committee with facilitators from Manila and from overseas. Facilitator artists presented their general proposals, and the local artists were divided into teams, with each proposing different areas of interest. I participated in this workshop as one of the facilitators.
The project I proposed involved interviewing the local communities in the Roxas neighborhood. My proposal was to focus on people interested in making social contributions through art such as local painters, artists who also worked as elementary school and university educators, designers, and tattoo artists. Many members of the artist group Guban Handuraw in Pilar, as well as students of the Capiz State University (CapSU) in Pilar, also participated.
In the park next to the Ang Panublion Roxas City Museum, there is a café made of simple tents that caters to a regular gathering of the local people. Before this café opened a few years ago, the immediate environment around the museum was not so beautiful because of all the trash and discarded materials in the area. Our team was consulted to carry out a project focusing on the people of this café. The idea for this was initially drawn up when I was brainstorming together with Marika B. Constantino, a member of the VIVA ExCon Executive Committee and one of the curators for the exhibitions.
Process of Production
We asked the café owner, Maricel Cuenca, to help us select ten persons of various ages from those who regularly visited her café. The interviews were then conducted with them on 23 and 29 October 2018. We were aided by a team of university students led by Jennifer Perez-Benliro, Associate Professor of Capiz State University. In the interview, we asked about their
personal experiences in the area and about their family and friends. Important portions were extracted from these 20-minute interviews, then translated into English and Hiligaynon.
We decided to make a traditional bamboo structure next to the café area and the Ang Panublion Museum. The design was based on the ideas of Jonard Villarde, an artist and an elementary school teacher in Roxas City. This became an exhibition area for interview texts written in English and Hiligaynon. In addition to the text, I asked the project members who are painters to create portraits of the people we interviewed. A documentation video was also added to the exhibition. A display of some small boats to symbolize the thriving fisheries of Roxas completed the installation.
The project was open to the public starting on the opening day of VIVA ExCon on 8 November 2018. The members of the project also sold souvenirs such as T-shirts and keychains, and this venue became one of the most visited places of the entire exhibition. The exhibition continued until the end of the year. It became a gathering place for many people.
Another Balay Sugilanon
One of the project members, tattoo artist Jason Rufino, added the idea of creating a Turtle Stage adjacent to Balay Sugilanon. Local musicians developed rap battles during the VIVA ExCon sessions there and, every night, a broad array of people attended these rap battles.
The subject of the work is the daily lives of individuals in the area, on which the attention of the local people was focused. The voices of the people in the installation show the personal activities that are associated with the area, as well as the various affections and exchanges between people. Many people stimulate their minds by visiting the café every day and speaking to their friends about their lives. We can look again at these individuals in such places and share in their conversations. This is one of the most significant things about the project.
Congratulations and Acknowledgments
Balay Sugilanon was one of the most significant projects that I had pursued in the Philippines in 2018. I am indebted to the café owner, Maricel Cuenca and her family; as well as to the people of the café who responded to the interviews. I am thankful to Agnes Q. Villaruz of the Gerry Roxas Foundation, Cheryl Anne del Rosario of the Ang Panublion Roxas City Museum, and other staff and security personnel.
I would also like to express my gratitude to Norberto Roldan, Art Director of VIVA ExCon Capiz 2018, who has been my friend since 1992, as well as his family; to Iris Ferrer, who worked at the office from morning till night; my roommate, Merv Espina, who slept mostly in the bed next to mine; as well as Marika B. Constantino and Liby Limoso, with whom I enjoyed spending time as they put together the other exhibitions. The communal living with the Executive Committee was energetic and very meaningful. I became very familiar with this team, and I was not conscious of being a foreigner.
Finally, I would like to thank the team behind Balay Sugilanon for implementing the project. Reden Aguadera, the chairman of Pilar’s artist group Guban Handuraw, delivered excellent leadership. We would not be able to complete the project without the cooperation of Jennifer
Perez-Benliro and her students, who were in charge of interviews and text translation. The Turtle Stage was also a great achievement by Jason Rufino, Jonard Villarde, and their friends, fellow artists, and musicians. The portraits of the interviewees provided by the members of the team were each full of character and very excellent.
During my one-year stay in the Philippines in 2018, I was able to understand a lot about the local culture and life that I did not fully comprehend during my stay in 1992. It was a meaningful year for me to feel the goodness of accumulating time and experience. The following matters can be considered as practical issues of art that I discovered during my one-year stay:
First of all, the activities of Norberto Roldan and Charlie Co, centering on VIVA ExCon, reveal that art-related people — artists, curators, educators, and spectators — have a rich, organic relationship across generations. This seems to be the ideal for an art scene to be formed. In that sense, artists from all over the Visayas region who participate in VIVA ExCon expect also to play
many roles in their own hometowns. Artists are often the organizers of local exhibitions; they hold workshops for senior citizens and children and they give form to the realization of their social responsibility as pillars of the local art scene.
As society moves toward conservatism, the fact that BAA formed in the aftermath of the EDSA Revolution is instructive. I think that artists can play a more organic role in society, even in Japan.
After VIVA ExCon Capiz 2018, I visited various islands in the Philippines, met with artists, and held workshops for students and young artists — in places such as Tacloban, Ormoc, Bacolod, Cebu, and Bohol. I am trying to start collaborating with artists on themes such as gender, ethnicity, and immigration, and I am looking forward to new developments in my work.
This text was initially commissioned as part of the forthcoming publication on the VIVA ExCon Capiz 2018.
Tatsuo Inagaki is an artist based in Japan. He participated in VIVA ExCon in 1992, 2016, and 2018.