The exhibition “You Have Every Right” responds to Manila’s international ranking of eighth on the World Economic Forum’s 2012 Gender Gap Report.
In an interview with Art Radar, independent Filipino curator Lian Ladia describes her process of curating and organising related programmes for the 2013 exhibition, which gathered eight prolific contemporary women artists to respond to questions of the role of gender in contemporary art.
From 16 February to 20 April 2013, a compilation of videos, paintings, photographs and videos are on show at Ateneo Art Gallery, a museum at the Ateneo de Manila University. Prior to the opening, a month-long residency sponsored by the university and The Ateneo Library of Women’s Writings (ALIWW), in cooperation with independent organisations, Light & Space Contemporary, Green Papaya Projects and 98B, allowed the artists to research and to mentor volunteer apprentices. Throughout the duration of the exhibition, various artist talks and roundtable discussions were also arranged in the collaborating spaces.
Through an email interview, Ladia expounds on her curatorial process, on how the exhibition came about and her thoughts about process-oriented works, women’s position in contemporary society and the Philippine art scene.
How did the idea for the exhibition, “You Have Every Right” come about?
The idea for the exhibition was really inspired by Maria Cruz. I worked with her in Galleria Duemila and met her again in a residency in Berlin. She introduced me to these female artists who had a strong grip in discussing power or sociological structures in their work. While in Berlin, we mounted an exhibition with Claudia del Fierro and Annika Eriksson, and it was called “Signal” – discussing the idea behind, “the personal is political”.
How did you choose the artists? What drew you to them?
I think the dynamics developed organically. While in Berlin, I was inspired by the different concepts that Maria Cruz discussed in her work, significant yet presented within its simplicity (things like labor and currency), Annika Eriksson is a pioneer in putting social interaction on video, and she did this with particular groups – like a group of Berlin punks, the staff behind a museum, even a group of stray cats. Claudia Del Fierro has created [a] performance/video entitled Identica wherein she purposely joined a TV noontime show in Chile, and in the process experienced shame in the candid illustration of the contest… I could go on and on about the rest of the artists. I’d say it’s very easy to be drawn to the works of these female artists, all of them have discussed very important issues in their past work, and all of them are interested in creating work together [or] creating work about Manila.
Why did you choose to include foreign artists in the exhibition, to respond to your idea?
I selected women who were interested in creating work about Manila, including local artist Kiri Dalena. All of them had a history of discussing power structures in their past work, and some even on very loaded topics like institutional critique, oppression, discrimination, or even corruption. Since Manila is ranked very high for gender equality, I thought it would be a good playground to open up these discussions and see how these factors will all come together.
Why did you not opt for an all-Filipino roster of artists? How different would the exhibition have been with only Filipino artists?
I thought it would be interesting to invite artists outside of Manila, to respond to Manila. Sometimes it takes a fresh perspective for someone to realise what needs to be discussed/ or what is instructing to discuss in your periphery. Although one artist was representative of Manila and that was Kiri Dalena who lives in Manila, I thought these factors are good supplements in the current work that she has been exploring.
Why did you choose to hold the exhibition at AAG?
Of course in terms of exploring concepts, exhibitions in universities or schools tend to be less self-limiting. We didn’t want to mount an exhibition for commercial purposes. Two artists on the show are also part of the the permanent collection of Ateneo, and the university has a history of supporting artists who are part of their collection. Choosing Ateneo Art Gallery was a really good choice, because they had access to material shared by the university – this turned out particularly helpful to the artists who decided to do a residency in Manila and conceptualise/create the work here.
Where did the title “You Have Every Right” come from? Why did you choose this title for the exhibition?
The title was inspired by Maria Cruz’s aesthetic in choosing text for her work. If you notice she creates text as paintings, things like her Yoko Ono-series “A thousand times yes” and so forth. It was also taken from a very encouraging letter by Sol LeWitt to Eva Hesse, something which always resonates to me and which reminds me [of the] collegial/familial support in the general artist community.
Why were you particularly drawn to the idea of exploring gender roles?
The idea of discussing gender is particularly interesting if we put Manila as the take-off point. Manila is ranked eighth in the World Economic Forum’s research for gender equality. This means we are the top in Asia, and globally we are right next to scandinavian countries which are egalitarian. The United States is in the 20-something slot [Editor’s note: The United States is ranked 22nd].
Are there any ties between this and your past exhibitions, or is this a complete departure?
Now is always the right time. Yes, it goes in line with my research and interest which is process oriented works and processes in art-making.
What makes this exhibition different from the other exhibitions that you have curated in the past?
I’ve always done this in the past, but what I think is different is the fact that the dynamic of what this exhibition presents, a feministic tendency of collaboration, mentorship, and non-hierarchical, non-patriarchal process in exhibition making was created in an institutional setting.
Which piece do you relate to the most?
I relate to all the pieces in the show, although there was a process which I feel a deep connection with and this is the mentorship programme in the exhibition. All the artists were paired with mentees for a short mentorship in creating their work. I thought that this opportunity is rare, and something outside the university curriculum is sometimes the most useful when you really want to learn something. You learn by experience and oftentimes with a mentor. At least to me, that is always the case.
Which artworks were already existing? Which were produced during the residency?
The works that were submitted were Annika Eriksson’s, “A great good place”, and Tracey Moffatt‘s “Love”. These artists could not come to Manila for a residency because of their current commitments, but felt that these works would resonate to the culture and geography. The rest were produced specifically for the exhibition.
Can you tell me more about the month long artist residency that was organised alongside this exhibition?
The month-long residency was a complicated process because we don’t really have any legitimate residencies in Manila, I think as an art community, this is something that needs to be developed. Ateneo Art Gallery however, sponsored a month of the living residence of the artists who wanted to create work in Manila and we partnered with Green Papaya Art Projects and Light & Space Contemporary who gave partial support to either living or studio space for a particular time.
How successful were the talks? Which was the most memorable talk for you?
The talks were very successful in the manner of discussions and interest taking place. The memorable talk for me was with Lilibeth Cuenca Rasmussen at Green Papaya Art Projects. Lilibeth was just awarded a sculpture prize from Denmark so it was so special to hear her talk about her past works which were researched and inspired by Manila. At the end of her discussion, Green Papaya’s director, Norberto Roldan, suggested [that we] bring all the artists together on a roundtable discussion. It was the only time the artists talked about their work all together. The conversation was transcribed in the catalogue.
Can you explain the idea of process-oriented works in more detail? Do you think this is particularly lacking in the Manila art scene? How so?
I don’t think it’s lacking in Manila. I for one am living in Manila so I think it also represents what the scene is interested in. Process-oriented works are a series of actions or instances oftentimes involving collaborative, performative, interdisciplinary, dialogical, and even pedagogical strategies to communicate and engage with the audience. When there is emphasis on process over product, there is a nurturing undercurrent that it suggests. Contemporary art in Manila is very exciting, it’s there and it’s developing. Apart from the commercial aspect which primarily feeds art production in manila (art market), I think that, yes there is a need to put more emphasis on criticality and the art process, rather than production. I am an independent curator so I have the privilege to take these chances. In my practice, I like to discuss things that are bound to germinate, as opposed to an end product.
Personally, how important is audience engagement and discourse in an exhibition?
It’s a matter of preference. It varies on each person’s priorities. But for someone like me who is more interested in things like the planning and actual work before an exhibition takes place… the exhibition is just an afterthought. Of course It’s a welcome opportunity. If it stimulates engagement and discourse, then all the better. However, I don’t limit engagement and discourse to a particular moment.
In spite of the ranking given to the Philippines, you still produced this exhibition, which means although you are not giving any conclusions, you think that there is still something to think about. How would you describe the position that women hold in contemporary Philippine society today in comparison to the past? What about in comparison with other Asian and/or European counterparts?
I think the place of women in Manila compared to other countries in Asia or the West is very strong. This is something we should all discuss and be proud of. I think especially in the past, when we talk about post-colonial history, women in the Philippines were highly regarded in our political and sociological structures. Sometimes though, it can be discouraging, because the development of feminism in the West is late, and we are a post-colony, we experience these transfers of feminism and postfeminism. Even in contemporary art, we experience the transfers of postmodernism and post-postmodernism. It is something we struggle with. This is also something that Lizza May David says about her work in discussing her knowledge of modernism, and articulating the Philippine modernist collection. The discussion of the “periphery” and the “central” is brought about. It cannot be avoided especially if art education is loaded with references that art history started in the West. In one of the conversations I had with the ladies over drinks, it was sort of agreed that “the centre is where you are at the moment, and the moment is now”. It is very subjective.
I think the position of women artists in Manila is strong. The power struggle between gender roles in contemporary art in Manila is not an issue. Women are so comfortable talking about domesticity or sexuality. All-female or all-male shows are of no issue. Younger female and male artists imbibe feminism in their works somehow. Of course there is also the macho culture in the periphery, which can also be an interesting existing counter-culture.
Do you think this exhibition was a success?
There is always room for improvement. However, the main fact that these artists made it to Manila and had memorable experiences engaging with the city – is priceless. The effect of the artists in the mentorship programme was a good turnout. The discussions that happened on the talks were much needed. Overall it was successful.
Do you think the Philippine art scene is progressing, regressing or stagnating?
The art scene has always been progressive. Despite/inspite of the lack of cultural infrastructure from the government, the art scene is alive – it reproduces on its own, inspiring and unstoppable.
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