PhD Thesis Proposal

Over a decade after postcolonial theorist and artist Rasheed Araeen founded the art journal Third Text, Araeen lamented the “tyranny of postcolonial cultural theory” (2002, p. 336) and called for “radically new ideas, new strategies and a new discourse not only to produce art, but in order to recognize and legitimize it” (2002, p. 344).

My doctoral thesis, Building the Network, Crashing the System: Digital Art of the Philippine Diaspora, seeks to locate how digital, or computer-based, art is being used in the art practices, collaborations and identity discourse of the Global South.  In particular, I am examining the digital art contributions from the Philippines and its diaspora communities in London (UK) and Toronto. I am currently completing my first year of a full-time PhD in Arts and Computational Technology at Goldsmiths, University of London. My supervisors are new media practitioner Dr. Mick Grierson and postcolonial theorist Professor Janis Jefferies.

Since Edward Said’s seminal text Orientalism (1979), there has been a flourishing of postcolonial scholarship analyzing narratives on the periphery of dominant culture.  Strategies around the representation of marginalized voices have included interpreting marginality as a position of possible empowerment and resistance (hooks 1990) and addressing the issue of ‘essentializing’ people from outside the dominant culture (Spivak 1988). What has emerged is the theory of a ‘Third Space’ (Lefebvre 1991; Bhabha 1994; Soja 1996) which defines power relationships, spaces and culture within the framework of migration. With regards to diaspora communities, scholars have argued for the need to address hybridity between the culture of origin and the new country (Bhabha 1994; Soja 1996), as well as the formation of national identity (Anderson 1983).

Much of the research into the Philippine diaspora has come from the social sciences and focuses on issues of race in the context of postcolonial empires (Hedman and Sidel 2000; Kramer 2006) and female domestic labourers (Tadiar 2004; Parrenas 2007; Aguilar 2009). Cultural theorist Benito Vergara examines these issues in his empirical study of the Philippine diaspora of California’s Daly City (2008), in which he locates a disconnect between Filipino-Americans and their families in the Philippines due to growing economic differences. Research on Philippine identity in a digital context has explored how Filipinos around the world are representing themselves (Ignacio 2003) and how Philippine women are being represented online (Gonzalez 2003). My doctoral research will expand on existing sociological analysis by examining the uses of new media technology in the Philippines while providing an understanding of the way Philippine artists are using technology. Is there an emerging Philippine identity within digital art? If so, how does this identity relate to digital culture, Philippine society and the Philippine global diaspora?

Developments in digital art are intrinsically linked to cutting-edge new media (Paul 2000; Maeda 2004; Manovich 2001, 2008) and any serious ethno-cultural contributions to the field have been overlooked. Exceptions to this include art historians Maria Chatzichristodoulou and Rachel Zerihan who argue that a focus on technology “runs the risk of approaching [new media art] practices as static outcomes rather than (a)live cultural phenomena” (2009, p. 1). The problem that emerges is that if relevant digital art is connected only to advanced technology, there is a myopic association between digital art and wealthy nations despite the reality that parallel and unique trends are occurring in regions of economic disparity. For instance, under the backdrop of limited resources, BioModd 2009, a symbiotic plant sculpture, was created in the Philippines combining organic life with recycled technology and open source software.  The project was a collaboration between a community of artists, scientists and researchers from Los Banos. The free access digital art journal CTRL+P, founded in the Philippines, cites the “fluidity, immediacy, ease and accessibility” (Dautin 2006) of digital technology. Furthermore, Philippine digital collaborations such as the Asia Europe New Media Art Network and Interplay have involved artists from North America, Asia and Europe.

The aim of my thesis is to examine historical and current digital art practice through a postcolonial lens and locate paradigms in art production and discourse from the Philippines and its diaspora. I will specifically investigate the use of the Web 2.0 ethos of open source collaboration by artists and scholars. There is convincing feminist (Cutting Edge 2000), anti-capitalist (Strangelove 2005; Kelty 2008) and literary (Kirby 2009) scholarship on the subversive mechanisms of Web 2.0 and the internet that facilitate the empowerment of communities on the periphery of dominant culture which will guide my method of analysis.

The principal research questions I seek to answer are:

1.     To what extent is open collaboration being practiced in the spheres of digital art production and discourse in the Philippines?

2.     In what ways do limited technological resources frame this collaboration, and as a result create unique methods and forms of art production?

3.     Is digital art practice and theory in the Philippines a paradigm by which scholars and artists can explain identity and diaspora within the broader context of the Global South?

4.     How do wealthy, Western cities, which celebrate pluralism and integration as part of their identity (ie. Toronto and London), play a lead role in collaborating with the Global South thereby contributing to these trends in scholarship and art?

For the practice-based component of my research, I aim to organize a collaborative digital art symposium between Manila, Toronto and London. This event will involve organizations with which I am affiliated: the Goldsmiths Digital Studio (London), the Transnational Art & Identity Research Centre (London), the Digital Futures Initiative at OCAD University (Toronto), York University’s Philippine Study Group (Toronto), the SABAW Media Art Kitchen (Manila) and CTRL+P Art Journal (Manila).

Pursuing a PhD at Goldsmiths, University of London, is connecting me with a community of international scholars, artists and curators in the fields of digital art and postcolonial studies. In addition, I have access to a wealth of libraries, museums and art exhibits in the UK and elsewhere in Europe.  Of particular relevance are the Victoria and Albert Museum’s Computer Art Collection, the new media collections at the Tate Modern, as well as annual events such as the Computers and the History of Art Conference, Ars Electronica, the Kinetica Art Fair and the International Symposium on Electronic Art.

As a Philippine-Canadian digital artist and scholar with experience in both Canada and the UK, I am uniquely positioned to undertake this project. Through my MA research at Camberwell College, University of the Arts London (2010), I have become a member of the Computer Arts Society, and have received valuable guidance from prominent London-based Philippine artist David Medalla.  In addition I have presented my revised MA research in a paper, entitled Digital Art in the ‘Third World’ context of the Philippines, at the 2010 Computers and the History of Art Conference in London. In 2007/8 I was awarded an Ontario Arts Council grant to create a series of digital montages that explored the Philippine diaspora of Toronto. This work is now part of both the City of Toronto Art Collection and the Virtual Museum of Asian Canadian Heritage.

I look forward to returning to Canada upon completing my PhD at Goldsmiths, University of London with new research and art practice skills as well as international knowledge and experience in order to contribute to a vision of ‘Canada 3.0’ that prioritizes complexity, diversity and creativity (Gaffield 2009).

Works Cited

Aguilar, Filomeno V. et al (2009) “Maalwang Buhay: Family, Overseas Migration, and Cultures of Relatedness”. In Barangay Paraiso. Manila: Ateneo de Manila University Press.

Anderson, Benedict. 2000 (1983) Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London, New York: Verso.

Araeen, Rasheed. (2002) “A New Beginning, Beyond Postcolonial Cultural Theory and Identity Politics”. In The Third Text Reader: on Art, Culture and Theory. London: Continuum.

Bhaba, Homi K. (1994) Location of Culture. New York: Routledge.

Chatzichristodoulou, Maria and Rachel Zerihan (2009) “Introduction”. In Janis Jefferies et. al. eds. Interfaces of Performance. Surrey: Ashgate.

Cutting Edge, The Women’s Research Group. (eds.). (2000) Digital Desires: Language, Identity and New Technologies. London, New York: I.B.Tauris Publishers.

Dautin, Flaudette V. (2006) “About CTRL+P”. CTRL+P: Journal of Contemporary Art. Manila. Accessed  9 Nov 2010. <http://www.ctrlp-artjournal.org/about.html&gt;.

Gaffield, Chad. (2009) Canada as a Digital Nation in the 21st Century: The Innovative Contributions of the Social Sciences and Humanities. June 9. [keynote address] Stratford: Canada 3.0 Forum.

Gonzalez, Vernadette V. and Robyn Magalit Rodriguez. (2003) “Filipina.com: Wives, Workers, and Whores on the Cyberfrontier”. In Rachel C. Lee et. al. eds. Asian America.Net: Ethnicity, Nationalism and Cyberspace. New York, London: Routledge.

Hedman, E. and J. Sidel (2000) Philippine Politics and Society in the Twentieth Century: Colonial Legacies, Post-Colonial Trajectories. London: Routledge.

hooks, bell. (1990) “Marginality as a site of resistance”.  In R. Ferguson et al. (eds), Out There: Marginalization and contemporary Cultures. Cambridge, MA: MIT.

Ignacio, Emily Noelle. (2003) “Laughter in the Rain: Jokes as Membership and Resistance”. In Rachel C. Lee et. al. eds. Asian America.Net: Ethnicity, Nationalism and Cyberspace. New York, London: Routledge.

Kelty, Christopher M. (2008) Two Bits: The Cultural Significance of Free Software. Durham, London: Duke University Press.

Kirby, Alan. (2009) Digimodernism: How New Technologies Dismantle the Postmodern and Reconfigure Our Culture. New York, London: The Continuum International Publishing Group.

Kramer, P. A. (2006) The Blood of Government: Race, Empire, the United States, and the Philippines. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Lefebvre, Henri. (1991) The Production of Space, N. Donaldson-Smith trans., Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Maeda, John. (2004) Creative Code. London: Thames & Hudson.

Manovich, Lev. (2001) The Language of New Media. Cambridge MA, London UK: The MIT Press.

(2008) How to Track Global Digital Culture. April 22. [lecture] London: Royal College of Art.

Parrenas, R. (2007) The Force of Domesticity: Filipina Migrants and Globalization. New York: NYU Press.

Paul, Christiane. (2005) Digital Art. 2nd ed. London: Thames & Hudson.

Said, Edward. 1995 (1979) Orientalism- Western Conceptions of the Orient. London: Penguin.

Soja, Edward. (1996) Thirdspace: Journeys to Los Angeles and Other Real-and-Imagined Places. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. (1988) “Can the Subaltern Speak?” in Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture. Eds. Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg. Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press.

Strangelove, Michael. (2005) The Empire of the Mind: Digital Piracy and the Anti-Capitalist Movement. Toronto, Buffalo, London: University of Toronto Press.

Tadiar, N. (2004) Fantasy-Production: Sexual Economies and Other Philippine Consequences for the New World Order. Manila: Ateneo de Manila University Press.

Vergara Jr., Benito M. (2008) Pinoy Capital: The Filipino Nation in Daly City. Chicago: Temple University Press.

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5 responses

5 02 2011
Endalkachew

This is a well written proposal !

16 06 2011
Lian Ladia

Hi, I am a curator based between San Francisco, CA and Manila and I encountered your website while doing some research of my own with regards to Scenarios and Western art with regards to migration. I find your thesis relevant to our times and I commend you for doing this study. I would be glad to help if you just need a variable to any of your studies.

All the best,
Lian Ladia

19 07 2012
Alwin

nice seeing something like this. i have just put up mg thesis blog and was excited to chance upon your blog here. have you managed to pursue or finish your phd project? best regards, alwin

3 10 2012
Rod Dioso

Cheers Alwin!
I feel just as excited seeing your blog online. I am in the thick of writing my thesis right now and am also doing a little teaching in Canada. I wish you all the best on your research. Keep me posted if anything interesting comes your way and I’ll do the same.
Best,
Rod

20 01 2013
Alwin

sure thing! happy writing and happy new year!
alwin

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