The world is your dirty kitchen
The garage of Kamias Special Projects
The world is your dirty kitchen
PLATFORMS - M.C. Reodica (The Philippine Star) - March 9, 2020 - 12:00am

The 3rd Kamias Triennal, supported by the Canada Council for the Arts, kicked off its two-week run at the Kamias Special Projects (or K.S.P.) last Feb. 7. This iteration’s theme is Sawsawan: “Conversations in the Dirty Kitchen,” under which curators Allison Collins (Canada), Patrick Cruz (Philippines/Canada), and Su-Ying Lee (Canada) begin with the community and communal collide around the practice of cooking and eating.

What’s in a name? Aside from the literal definition of taking place every three years, a triennal is expected to present a varied program of film screenings, performances, and new publications. But the Kamias Triennal proves the use of “triennal” tongue-in-cheek, in the face of glamorous glasses of champagne being clinked at opening nights, while the rest of the crowd falls in a never-ending line to see art.

The Triennal’s opening party was held in a two-story house tucked in the residential streets of its titular neighborhood. There were copies of the publication “Our Place in the Struggle: A reader on Philippine Feminisms,” presented by Grrrl Gang Manila, which also has a digital copy online for those who couldn’t make it. After all, due to the Friday evening traffic, people were still arriving late in the night while the downpour corralled us under a roof.

Exhibiting contemporary art in a domestic space such as a house elicits a curatorial approach different from that of a museum or a gallery. The act of delineating the private from the conditionally public is a valid concern considering the occupational hazard of welcoming strangers into one’s home. Hiya, or propriety, is often enough to draw the line for visitors without “no entry” signs.

Issay Rodriguez’s “two trails (flores de mayo),” 2018 video, found objects, drawings drawings and some raw footage taken by Nick, Darren and other children of sitio Duhat

Marcos Castro’s mural which takes up a wall of the garage is the first work seen from the entrance, featuring a maritime landscape that includes a nod to the virality of the Coronavirus epidemic via meme humor. After that is Lesley-Anne Cao’s work “Recitation (Spirit),” which can only be viewed from the first floor, as a voyeur. On this particular night, to stand in the ideal vantage point from which to view her work would mean subjecting one’s self to the rain. The interior of the house was closed off.

There is a separate exhibition space in a room separate from the house, specifically intended to be a gallery complete with white walls and lights. Here, Cristóbal Gracia suspends kitsch Acapulco souvenir shirts over Donald Duck slapstick, to draw parallels between the subjugation of the Philippines and Mexico via the global empire of Disney. Meanwhile, Issay Rodriguez’s “two trails (flores de mayo)” positions found objects on top of a video monitor screening the residents of sitio Duhat in the process of self-documentation, realizing their own narratives.

The duty of delineating the art object from the household, taking into account the dynamic variables of weather, neighborly interference, and all domestic concerns, are curatorial concerns. A gallery is designed to be tweaked, to have every component fine-tuned to suit the art. Perhaps this controlled environment is the clean kitchen.

This is not to say that exhibiting in a domestic setting automatically liberates whoever’s in it from the commercial interests and machinations of the art world. When many of the artists participating in the Kamias Triennal also operate in the white cube, it’s time to consider the label “alternative” and the dichotomy it implies between this other, and the center. Given Kamias Triennal’s international linkages, its relationship with the Philippine landscape leaves a lot to be acknowledged.

Marcos Castro’s “Untitled” mural

K.S.P. does recognize the imbalance of power between a hyperlocal neighborhood from the global south, and an entire state from the global north. However, I’d refrain from conflating acts of resistance against colonialism with lived, everyday experience. Artistic practices are not meant to be plotted on a spectrum between alternative spaces and institutional large-scale exhibitions, when in reality, the seemingly opposite ends share the same art-makers and art consumers.

Kamias Triennal’s partners like Green Papaya Projects, Project 20, Los Otros, and Load Na Dito have been operating for years as literal artists in residence in Quezon City, which is particularly fertile for artist initiatives given its large residential areas and proximity to universities. These, among other initiatives in and outside of Manila, have emerged with their own approaches to integrating the art space and the domestic, if not demolishing the boundary itself.

For many Philippine initiatives, operating out of a domestic residence is not just a stylistic choice; it’s done out of necessity. The artists are many, but the spaces are few. Instead of paying for exorbitant rent in a small space in a business district, why not mount a show in the comfort of one’s home?

Furthermore, many of the aforementioned partner initiatives also aim to foster communities in their locale. This crucial aspect of community-building asks a different strategy of K.S.P.’s strategy, when it takes place once every three years with a number of artists in transit. The 3rd Kamias Triennale has yet to present conclusive answers. Then again, collective art processes and communities often takes years to, well, be fostered, and this process a state of constant becoming.

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M.C. Reodica is the winner in the 2019 Purita Kalaw-Ledesma Prize in Art Criticism.

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The Third Kamias Triennial ran from Feb. 7 to 22 in various spaces in Quezon City. For information, visit KamiasSpecialProjects.com.

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