Brainwave on the heath

12 04 2010

I just spent this lovely sunny Sunday hanging out on Blackheath with my wife and baby and came upon an idea for another visual element/theme in the project. Generally I don’t do any work on Sunday as this is the designated ‘family’ day.  As my wife is also a creative and academic, our poor 1 year old son faces a life dealing with over obssessive parents who bring their ‘jobs’ with them everywhere they go. The problem with doing somehting that doesn’t really feel like work is that it leaks into all that you do.  Rewarding and damning, the fact is there is no punching the clock in the vocation of artist or academic 😉

As our son was snoozing the afternoon away, we sat on a bench in front of a pond in Blackheath (my wife reading while I was sketching) and I thought of how if one is to stay in any given location for an extended period of time it becomes almost inevitable that one starts to set roots. In front of me was an old tree, rooted near the pond. It had it’s top cut off probably because it’s size didn’t fit the busy roundabout near the local pub. In someways it had taken root in an environment that it was not meant for. It’s top branches severed spoke to a profound dislocation of being. Soon after I saw a Canada Goose land in the pond and thought of how in England the locals I have talked to only refer to these regal birds as geese. In Canada the black and white geese reprent the country and are illegal to kill. I felt a strange kinship with this beast that I imagined flew over the vast ocean to find itself near the same pond as me (of course it most likely didn’t and had been in Europe for generations but I liked where this idea was going).

Visually  I thought it would be interesting to play with this concept of roots and rootedness with the image of a tree. Using a silhouette of branches could easily be morphed into roots when flipped upside down. The symmetry between branches that spread towards the sky and roots that burrow into the earth is remakable. I also like the idea of turning things around. Growing up in Canada, Asia was often described to me as being on the other side of the globe. As a child, I would often imagine people in the Philippines, at that very moment, living their life completely upside down. It was as far away as one could possibly imagine in Canada (both physically and culturally) yet in many ways my lived reality as a Filipino-Canadian had Asia close to my thoughts and identity. As a result what I’m working through is a visual of a tree that is going through it seasonal cycle of growth and bloom in spring and summer and shedding of leaves in autumn and winter. As the tree becomes bare the whole point of view revolves so that the branches become roots… there is something of interest in this metaphor but I still have to work it through.


A study in rhythm

19 03 2010

In developing my cinematic language I have been exploring a little more with rhythm and pace. This will become useful when trying to visually represent flow that parallels the viewer’s heart beat. Below is a collage of short clips of flowing traffic. From early on in the project I have been fascinated with the geograhy of the traffic light and how it represents a liminal space where people are physically in one place but mentally moving to another. This works well with my themes of migration and diaspora where community members are often living in one place but thinking about another.

BBC2 clip on The Great British Parakeet Invasion

26 10 2009

I’m still not sure how this random story fits into my own project… but something in the idea of a displaced tropical bird finding a niche in London is appealing to me. I like the parallel narratives… I like that it’s light… I like that my search for these birds has been about as elusive as my search for a ‘Filipino-town’.

Grey skies and green emeralds.

7 10 2009

It’s been a depressing week. Very grey and I’ve felt very, very stuck with the project. I’ve been told that a conscious effort at productivity through work or exercise is the best way to get over the blues (when you don’t have access to weekend jaunts in Barcelona). I have done neither (and I have never been to Spain). Coming from Toronto, Canada, three straight days of rain has me feeling that the sun has forgotten us and that something apocalyptic is brewing. I know I’m being silly. I spent half a year in Paris and three in Tokyo so I know what it feels to be constantly under an umbrella trying to stay dry… trying to stay warm. But still, I am hoping for a bit sun soon.

It didn’t help that I only went to one seminar this week. I was actually booked for two meetings but as they overlapped I only ended up going to school for the seminar. The seminar was facilitated by artist Sutupa Biswas. I came to the seminar prepared to talk about ‘The Politics of Aesthetics’ (a relatively heavy text by Slavoj Žižek regarding Jacques Rancière’s theories of aesthetics and its inherent connection with history and social dialogue), but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the seminar took on quite a different direction. Instead of finding answers, definitions and theories in the text, we located key questions, common problems and methods of viewing the world and its aesthetics in respect to our creative practice. My notes from the seminar are a mixed bag of my personal thoughts and quotes from Sutupa. They’ve been like creative springboards for me, helping me look at my artistic process through a different lens… keeping things fresh.

Always think of theory in respect to your practice… keep notes at the end of a critical day and relate it to your practice.

This is something that I am proactively trying to do more than ever in this project. The blog has been instrumental both as a physical forum for my thoughts and as a facilitator of ritual reflection and organization in my creative practice.

Failures are a good thing. In order to learn, you must be able to locate where you’ve failed.

Despite my planning, I’m certain things will not work out perfectly in this project. They never do. But it’s good to be reminded that this is all part of the creative process.

Unpick images to understand the means by which they are made… how do you personally respond to an image… What does this image tell us about aesthetics?

Hmmm. I think as artists we naturally go through this process of deconstruction. One must know their subject in order to create, recreate and produce something from it. One must be aware of the world around them in order to have something to say about it. One must understand the context of production in relation to the current society one is living in. But for most, myself included, we do these things instinctually. It is good to be mindful of this thought process though.

What are the things we borrow from to make art? How does life stick to you like velcro and bleed into your creative practice?

Sutupa talked of the serendipitous nature of creativity, a theme I have been hearing about in these last few weeks, but haven’t actually given due thought to it until now. I have been doing a lot of thinking about the visual nature of this MA project but I haven’t actually been writing much of it down. In truth a lot of the creative connections come to me in the early morning hour as I wake or just before I go to bed. Something that has been recurring is the South London Parrot.

In these moments of lucidity, I’ve seen flocks of green and yellow birds (I don’t even know what colour the parrots are but I imagine them brilliant greens and yellows) zig zagging London’s grey cityscape. Their streaks of tropical colour offer contrast to the cloudy trails of the jet planes that they fly alongside them. The planes are small like the birds. Or maybe the birds are big like the planes. Scale is not important. The birds glow as if illuminated by something other than the pale sun on this rainy day. They swarm through wet urban streets leaving a trail of feathers, like snowflake emeralds on the buildings, the pedestrians holding umbrellas, the cars churning noise and black smoke, the buses carrying sardine commuters and the trains… the trains are the veins of a city carrying life to each of her parts. The green gems are like shards of glass that embed themselves into an old grey dinosaur… then I hear Blondie’s “The Tide is High”… the Blondie bit doesn’t quite make sense yet but it may just be my subconscious making me feel guilty for ripping this song off the internet when I was last at Lewisham Library. I’m still not sure how lightly authorities take illegal downloading (it’s almost a non-issue in Canada) but I always worry about that sort of thing when living some place new.

Anyhow, coming home from the seminar I noticed several things. One, it was raining and grey. Two I was on a train. And three, more importantly, I started to notice the emeralds! They stuck to me like Sutupa’s velcro. I noticed the flashing disks of green light that urged commuters to press the ‘open doors’ button at each stop. I noticed the flash of yellow that occurred just before the lights turned green (this does not happen in Toronto, traffic lights simply go from a full stop, red to a full go, green) and thought about those seconds when the red and yellow lights were on. This is a moment and place of transition. Pedestrians and drivers are staying in one place but thinking about going. They are in a place of future movement. There is a mental momentum starting before the physical momentum even begins. In this transition place time is frozen. Time is caught in a loop until it is told it can go again with a green signal. Green like the speck of light on my power cord telling me my computer is charged. Green telling me things are ready to begin again. Recharged. New.

The Origin of the Nation, Imagined Communities

22 09 2009

Today’s TrAIN seminar was with Michael Asbury discussing an essay by B. Anderson titled ‘The Origin of National Consciousness’ in Imagined Communities. Anderson’s essay written in 1983 is almost picking up on Renan’s definition of a nation. Where Renan was revisionist in his definition of nation (a counter-action to the growing popularity of eugenic thought in the 1880s according to Michael), Anderson uses a historiographical methodology to define the nation. Anderson also has the luxury of a century to reflect on Renan’s previous postulations. Influenced by Marxist theories that history is determined by production, Anderson focuses on the advancement of print technology to help him define the origins of a nation.

The essence of the text, as I read it, points to the creation of a print language (as an early mass media) as the catalyst to creating a national consciousness. He broke it down to three main factors.

  1. print created a unified and accessible line of communication among the masses that circumvented regional disconnects that normally happen between spoken dialects.
  2. print gave a permanence to the vernacular “low” language creating and empowering otherwise disconnected communities.
  3. print caused a societal shift by creating languages of power outside of the elite (often inaccessible) administrative Latin

I immediately saw parallels to the lines of communication created by the internet in the last few decades and how it has propelled English as the global vernacular. I’m sure there are many arguments for the proliferation of English around the globe but I find it’s connection to digital media fascinating. Anderson cites modern examples of the Thai government actively discouraging missionaries from providing minority hilltribe groups from with writing systems and publication methods for their own languages. With printed text there is power. Community. Identity. Or so goes Anderson’s argument. I find myself thinking of the militaristic stance the Chinese government has put to firewall the internet and search engines such as Google. I say this with a grain as this is all coming from the popular media that I received from Canada when I was there. I had the good fortune of travelling through China for over a month and found the internet cafe to be quite a ubiquitous institution. These cafes were not set up for foreign backpackers looking to for a cheap way to check their email and skype people back home. These internet cafes were filled with young Chinese mainly gaming and chatting online. Not so different from anything in the west really.  I didn’t however try to google anything contentious like “Tibet”. Maybe I would have felt the weight of big brother if I did… I’m running on another tangent…

To stay on track, Anderson went on to cite factors that caused print media to come to the forefront in the mid 17th century.  At the time the international language of Latin was shifting to a more obscure Ciceronian that was increasingly inaccessible to more and more people. Furthermore, the Reformation, with Martin Luther’s Protestant campaign facilitated by the spread of print immediately created a print-capitalist dynamic (a profit driven creation of books to meet high popular demands of the masses), also caused print media to gain prominence.

The seminar was very stimulating and I appreciated it’s divergence into contemporary art.  Michael showed us some work from a show he curated where artists

Angela Detanico and Rafael Lain created a series works that referenced history, nation and digital media in a very clever way.  The artists created a typeface called “Utopia” that looked more like the pictograms one would find from MS Webdings only they made it open source which spoke to issues inherent in profit based digital products. Furthermore the pictograms were of idealized Brazilian landscapes of Neo Maya (not sure of spelling… will have to google this at some point) the architect who helped build the brand of Brazil the nation from the top down. When used as a functioning typeface, landmarks of beauty are strewn with power lines and gates, the reality of todays urban landscape that Neo Maya may not have envisioned.  Furthermore as a display piece, the artists translated a section of Thomas Moore’s “Utopia” when Rafael describes the landscape of utopia to Moore. The result was a noisy mess of buildings, discordant power lines, and obtrusive gates.  I think they were trying to show a parallel distopia but to me this was in a way beautiful as well.

utopia font

utopia font

The Utopian typography project has a blog too! Read on if you’re interested.

I found this work particularly inspiring in that I appreciate the way “Utopia” has successfully combined several different themes: reality of urbanism/ historical idealism, digital media/ print media and national identity creation. It works on so many levels… it just came to me that another level could be the disconnect between the signifier and the signified. These images of distopic Brazilian landscapes communicate a certain message as long as the viewer understands the context of Neo Maya and his dream of a utopic Brazilian nation. However by making “Utopia” an open source font that coud theoretically be used by anyone in the world, these symbols lose this particular context. Typography, which is generally designed to facilitate communication could now be seen as vehicle for a lack of communication.

Hopefully I can make such elegant connections on my own work. Factors I want to address in my project are the urban landscape, the Philippine diaspora and ultimately finding a way to represent the fluidity of the two through digital media. Some sub-themes that are coming to mind are authenticity of the image (digital manipulation puts into question the validity of the photograph/video as truth) and memory/ loss of memory.(can I somehow represent the changes that happen to the landscape through diaspora in terms of what is lost or forgotten?).