Tag Archives: Angelo Suarez

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.

AVS
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.

DM
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.”

AVS
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.

DM
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.

AVS
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.

DM
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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Thinking I ♥ Chabet Thru, Part 1

Angelo V. Suarez (AVS)
When we say we ♥ Chabet, we’re not being sarcastic, are we?

Donna Miranda (DM)
No, we’re not. I’ve always assumed that we were not from the very beginning even if we never really discussed it.

AVS
I assumed the same thing. But one of the artists who purchased the shirt had overtly called it out, mentioning the suspicion that we were being sarcastic. Any speculation as to why some think our fanhood is insincere, or at least dubious?

DM
Well, first I’m guessing its because there is this default reading of many art(istic) actions as ironic. As if that were convention. Seems as though it has become this dominant frame of writing and reading things; almost to a point of cliche. But going back to our fanhood, I’m guessing its our proximity to Chabet that renders our fanhood as insincere or dubious.

AVS
But proximity isn’t at all something we possess in relation to Chabet — at least, not so much proximity but distance. Critical distance! Like we said in our earlier essay, being a fan requires critical distance, being outside of the idol’s or object of admiration’s immediate circle of acolytes. Is that it, the fact that we are not close enough to him to be so blunt about our fanhood? Is our declaration so blunt that it’s perverse to actually be sincere about it?

DM
If we are to speak of filial and even professional proximity. But at the same time, neither can we ignore our proximity to Chabet, moving somewhat in the same community both as active insiders and detached outsider/observers. Thanks to social networking, like Facebook, where the possibility of being ‘friends’ with anyone is possible, by virtue of one’s other affinities, we do inhabit an approximate nearness to Chabet. And yes, it is precisely our critical distance, being both outsiders in the “Chabet community” that allows us this privilege of fanhood, one which I’m guessing his students, protege or even other artists informally ‘schooled’ under his wings cannot overtly express lest it be mistaken as a patronizing gesture. Its not as if we are ‘strangers’ to Chabet, or belong to a distinctively different social/cultural class to Chabet the way Gerald Anderson’s fans are to him. So don’t you think it is perhaps our ambivalent position between the inside and outside and not our distance that makes our fanhood look dubious?

AVS
Granted, our declaration of fanhood is dubious & we seem to be aware that even declaring our supposed purity of intent is equally suspicious — why still choose to pursue this? Doesn’t that self-consciousness put us in a position where one can easily refer to the entire project as some kind of art prank? Sure, fine, it’s sophisticated, but still just a prank. Or are we, in a sense, using the platform of the prank to launch an implicit critique?

DM
Because its fun, happy, light-hearted and straight to the point: a direct expression of admiration. Even affection.

AVS
I mean, yes, we’ve always been conscious of the positioning of the work as a kind of critique — not of Chabet or his work per se, but of the apparent adoration he & his work receive — but does being conceived of as a prank render the enterprise sterile? Or to put it another way, does I ♥ Chabet restore some measure of agency back to the art prank, a mode of practice that has over the decades fallen in some kind of disfavor the same way the adjective “reactionary” has become insulting? I have to admit that even I might have been naive enough to not foresee that the work might be seen as insincere, as sarcastic, i.e., as a prank. Ranciere comes to mind, who argues that art praxis covered by what he terms the aesthetic regime is art that comes off as not art — that, in a sense, art must turn elsewhere for its ontology to hold. For art to remain art, it must cease to be such. By turning to the seemingly discredited (non-)tradition of the prank, is the project in a sense turning to this ‘elsewhere’ for the same reason?

DM
But we weren’t even going for sophisticated, we knew that this had to have a certain crassness to it. A crassness that we were in fact pursuing, because this is the only way sincere and ethical expression of fanhood should be carried out. But more importantly, this enterprise raises questions of the production and distribution of art among the community of art practitioners.Take for instance the breadth of Chabet’s influence over his former students, who are now important movers in the art (economy) seems to be the only stable, if not “progressive” channel of art education in the country but still remains unrecognized by formal institutions and channels of art in the country.

AVS
But even the falsity of that breadth, for instance, is one thing the project — I think — seeks to make palpable: Is Chabet even really influential? Is the work that his former students churn out at par w/ the quality of work he himself has churned out over the years?

DM
Agree!

AVS
Wouldn’t we be swimming in amazing work right now if his influence were truly so broad?

DM
And this is why I think a declaration of fanhood is the most appropriate and fit form of tribute to Chabet’s breadth of influence. The expanse of which has not really permeated the way of doing and thinking of art but one that has remained in the realm of admiration.

AVS
Hahahaha, w/c I suppose is really in the spirit of I ♥ Chabet — the performance of fanhood thru its declaration, analogous to Chabet’s influence being wide only because it has been declared to be wide. No need for empirical proof of it!

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What is the I (Heart) Chabet project?

The statement

Presented by The Lovegangsters—a performance platform for investigating performer-audience relations—curators Donna Miranda & Angelo V. Suarez acknowledge the value, impact, & eminence of Filipino artist Roberto Chabet’s work not only across generations but across artistic fields thru the I ♥ Chabet enterprise-project. The almost imperial scope of his praxis that spans both forms & decades progressively indexes how porous boundaries are between disciplines as seemingly disparate as painting & pedagogy—a porousness that testifies to these boundaries’ performability & performativity.

The tribute as a genre in artistic praxis is equally performable, & the self-conscious deployment of the tropes of tribute can also function as a critique of tribute. It raises such questions as “Are filial connexions w/in professional contexts productive?”, “What constitutes filial connexions w/in artistic communities?”, “Can social relations between mentor & mentee outside of & w/in formal institutions be considered viable alternatives to other systems of pedagogy in art?”, “To what extent can the topography of influence be historiographically mapped out?”, “Do such influences have any bearing not only in the production of art but also in its consumption?”, etc.—questions aimed at dismantling, understanding, & ultimately reasserting the mystique that surrounds Chabet’s name, w/c now bears the force of what Lacan has termed ‘the name of the father.’

While I ♥ Chabet is not tied up w/ King Kong Art ProjectsChabet: 50 Years string of exhibitions, I ♥ Chabet deliberately rides on this caravan of celebration as an unofficial satellite performance carried out by fans & for fans of Roberto Chabet, the fan being a subject-position that doesn’t necessarily participate in official discourse but holds agency precisely thru his/her proximity from the object of admiration or, if taken further, affection. But never love: the typographic icon of the ♥ maintains a critical distance from the object of affection [hence “I (heart) Chabet” & not “I love Chabet”], a distance necessary for the ontology of the fan to hold, for the fan to become visible. W/o this distance, the fan cannot express his/her affection, & it is this affection that constitutes fanhood.

In light of the above, The Lovegangsters’ enterprise-project I ♥ Chabet is meant to be at once a tribute to Chabet & a critique of the reception—& anxiety—of his influence by way of that most ubiquitous of merchandising materials: the statement t-shirt. The shirt, w/c makes a simple declaration—“I ♥ Chabet”—across the chest, reproduces the mostly unexamined pride & affection conjured by invoking the influential artist’s name, be it in conversation, a magazine interview, on the gallery wall or window that carries an exhibition’s title, or on Facebook.

But other than pride, what this shirt also reproduces is the terror of fanhood. When one encounters the statement on another’s chest & reads it, one is not spared the plasticity & variability of the first-person pronoun: S/he who utters “I” takes the subject-position of the speaker, such that whoever reads “I ♥ Chabet” in turn professes—whether advertently or not—his/her affection for Chabet. The shirt, in a sense, can thus also function as a kind of command—a command to admire Chabet, to pay homage to the name of the father—that interpellates both fans & non-fans alike. Is it possible for members of the same artistic community to have different fathers, or are those who look up to other fathers terrorized into admiring the same name?

The shirts come in Extra Small, Small, Medium, & Large. They also come in 2 editions. The 1st is purely an appropriation of the classic black, white, & red design of the I ♥ NY rebus by Milton Glaser & Bobby Zarem—mere assisted readymades. This already existent design is already more or less interesting; we do not wish to add any more. The 2nd utilizes the conceptualist trope of medium-specificity by way of foregrounding negative space, of foregrounding the material underneath. The texts become readable precisely due to their lack—that is, the cloth underneath the blue, yellow, & red prints (colors that Chabet’s oeuvre has exhausted over the years) spells out the statement.

Proceeds from the sale of shirts go into the production of more shirts, allowing I ♥ Chabet to endure for as long as Chabet’s (non-)fans endure.

This is a portrait of the fan as critic if we say so.

Yellow + red silkscreen print on black shirt.

[W/ special thanks to the generosity of Jay Amante, Carlos Celdran, Reneegrace Villarosa-Divina, Marta Lovina, Sandra Palomar, & Valentine Willie.]

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