Thinking I ♥ Chabet Thru, Part 2

Angelo V. Suarez (AVS)
Of course a sweeping dismissal of Chabet’s students is not only unwarranted. It is also unfair, shedding an unkind light on the work of Gerardo Tan & Nilo Ilarde & some of those who are younger than them — Poklong Anading, Bea Camacho, Yason Banal, a handful of others, Gary Pastrana in his more spartan moments, Nona Garcia back in the day?

Donna Miranda (DM)
Well Bea Camacho was not a student of Chabet but its interesting how she or her practice has eventually been subsumed into the “Chabet” group or the “Chabet historical line” And then you also have those who have been his former students but at the same time excluded from the progeny.

I knew that about Bea Camacho, but strangely felt it was easier to categorize her as a student of Chabet’s than not to. In this sense, Chabet does appear to be the father of ‘Philippine conceptual art,’ — okay, I’ll take out the scare quotes now, Philippine conceptual art — in the sense that whoever practices w/in such a field is subsumed under some kind of “Chabet historical line,” a Chabet progeny, a Chabet genealogy. I remember Nilo Ilarde ambitiously attempting a genealogical diagram when he curated “Cube” at Finale Art File, w/ Chabet’s work in the middle as some kind of Freudian primal scene. But while that show was helpful in giving one an idea of the range of the father’s influence, the show wasn’t really representative of each involved artist’s larger body of work. Then again, the show might not even have intended to be such a diagram, & it could be just me enforcing such a reading onto it.

Or it could also be that the works they’ve submitted for Cube are the kind of work that they want to be represented as “sons of the father” and not necessarily the one which is is representative of their larger practice. As if that were possible; to be identified as something else other than the filial relations you keep without having to completely cut off one’s ties with it. Its interesting to observe for instance how some artists perform the need for approval on Chabet’s Angel Flores, Jr.’s facebook page. What I’m saying is that I feel that the need to perform the admiration towards Chabet’s work and influence appears to be external to the artistic practice that his students have pursued; like a social thing, a social obligation that has nothing to do with the way they do their art. With the exception of Nilo Ilarde and Gerry Tan, perhaps and to some extent Ringo Bunoan’s “Archiving Roberto Chabet” and Annie Cabiting’s “Sir Looking at Nona’s Work.”

True. This falls right smack at the center of Nilo Ilarde’s praxis, for example, w/c in admirable singularity mostly constitutes a dialog w/ his conceptualist, proto-conceptualist, & pseudo-conceptualist forebears. I mean, of course all works by anyone always have an implicit — even if unintentional — dialogic relationship w/ tradition, w/ everything that has been accomplished in the field one works in, but I guess one of the tasks of working in contemporary art is to overtly call out & openly play w/ what aspects of context have turned their work into what it is, a kind of foregrounding of what is usually in the background — indexing or, dare I say it, framing the frame. Frame-work: the real work is not to create what is in the frame, but very act of framing itself. Wasn’t this in the 1st place at the very heart of conceptualist praxis? (& here I am again dangerously conflating conceptualism w/ contemporary art…) This was why I thought Ringo Bunoan’s “Archiving Roberto Chabet” was important — 1stly because finally here was someone who was flagging the tedious & seemingly menial work of archiving as in itself & on its own a creative endeavor, & 2ndly because of the artist’s choice of whom to archive: The project would’ve worked anyway on the elementary level had she archived any old artist, but she chose to archive one who was particularly influential on her own praxis — an elegant confession that even if she weren’t archiving Chabet, her work would still be an archive of Chabet — that thru her work she builds Chabet’s legacy, that thru her work she constructs Chabet better than even Chabet could construct himself: What is any artist’s work but the extension of a tradition one cannot get out of? In the occasion that one cannot escape context — & that occasion is always — one is left w/ only one thing to do: to short-circuit context by calling it out, by flagging it, by turning context into the very text of one’s work.

This brings to mind how Ringo Bunoan expressed how there has been disproportionate discourse about conceptual art compared to social realism in Philippine art scholarship; obviously almost overtly saying that her archival project is a way to fill up that void and/or more pointedly claim a historical territory for Philippine conceptual art. Wherein the real motive is to draw a genealogical line that supports such claim. In short the point of the exercise is not really posterity but more so to secure one’s place in history (something which I guess is inherent in any historiographic endeavor, in fact it almost sounds cliche to even point that out here) than giving credit due for one’s forebears. But a genealogical line based on nothing else but the traditional mentor-protege dynamics and/or accidental filial connections as in the case of the Chabet cliche. As if to be associated with Chabet is equal to being acknowledged as having a conceptual practice and conversely, any attempt to position (or posture) oneself as conceptual has to be validated by Chabet, either directly by him or “his trusted associates.” In effect what Philippine conceptual art really is, is nothing else but an encyclopedic enumeration of Chabet’s influence as a teacher and mentor. An arbitrary company kept by a certain group of people brought together by their camaraderie and parochial connections rather than distinct ideological, philosophical or aesthetic lines as regards their artistic practices.

But even that validation has become a product of nothing more than pure — & possibly unfortunate — historical circumstance. Bea Camacho, like we’ve already mentioned, practices w/in a conceptualist frame but was never really a student of Chabet’s, & yet is subsumed whether implicitly or explicitly (or: whether she likes it or not, or: whether she cares about it or not) as belonging to the Chabet line of visual artists. Could it be that she has come to be affiliated w/ this crowd only because there is no other crowd remotely associated w/ conceptualist-leaning work that an artist can be affiliated w/? I am tempted to say yes there are alternatives to fraternizing w/ the so-called “trusted associates,” that there are artists like Buen Calubayan who may have publicly identified themselves w/ artists who lean more toward the SR (social realist) side of the conceptualist-SR spectrum yet at the same time practice what seems to be work of a thoroughly conceptualist pedigree — but that decision of Calubayan to not make a choice between camps has led to an art praxis that has minimal visibility, a visibility that rivals even Beuys’ in hermeticism. I’m a great admirer of Buen Calubayan’s work — & while I wish more people had access to his work, I also worry that access to his work might force him to affiliate himself w/ a camp that might be unproductive & unnecessary for his praxis. Let’s also mention the fact that just as there are conceptualists who weren’t Chabet’s students but now appear as if they belong to that crowd (Bea Camacho) & that there are conceptualists who have affiliated themselves w/ what seems to be the camp in diametrical opposition to conceptualism (Buen Calubayan), there are also some interesting figures like Robert Langenegger who appear to be part of the Chabet progeny but whose praxis doesn’t even remotely look like it has been properly thought thru, let alone be characterized as conceptualist.

You’ve raised a good point there, as in Buen’s Calubayan’s case. That yes, it would be great to see more of his works out there but that means having no choice but to be affiliated with a certain camp, the SR (social realist) camp or the conceptual/Chabet camp. A fact that is telling of how far we’ve really gone in making art a viable career in this country, or how the art organization in this country still solely relies on parochialism, patronage and being associated with who you know. How it is not possible to have a career in art without having to swear to silly loyalties that have nothing to do with art and art production at all.

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