Sunday Lifestyle

Manuel Ocampo: Painting is a zombie medium

Finale Art File has recently concluded the latest show by internationally renowned artist Manuel Ocampo. In typical Ocampo style, the rather uniquely titled "Mumu Territorium: jahar logic in times of mcarthurian transgressions multiplying on the borders of the concatenated post-duchampian theatre swastikating between love and hate" featured works by the soft-spoken but extremely talented young artist that featured the imagery that he is best known for.

Aside from your shows in the US and Europe, what has kept you busy since the last time we talked last year? Weren’t you going to teach for a while?

Basically, art and fatherhood has kept me busy. Since then I have been shuttling back and forth from Manila-Berkeley-Manila almost every other month. Yes, I taught at the California College of Arts in San Francisco for one year. Right now, me and my friends are busy developing a website www.arteleria.com about the glocal (global/local) art scene. We’re thinking of launching it by the beginning of next year.

How much time do you actually spend here in Manila nowadays?

It varies depending on how busy I am with shows. The longest I’ve spent in Manila is three months. Next month I will be flying to the Canary Islands for a collaborative project and then in January back to Europe again for shows in Luxembourg, Berlin, and Vigo. Although it doesn’t seem like it, I’m actually trying to slow things down rather than speed things up, i.e., thinking less about the next show and the ones after that. Producing new work only defeats the purpose, nothing new is really produced for once it leaves the "shop" they all get homogenized within the market for current novelties. Nothing is differentiated, but all is consumed. And so now I try to stop the feeding frenzy and the aging process by going back to some of the ideas I bypassed along the way when I was finishing for a show then moving ahead to the next. Who knows, maybe if I keep at it I’ll regress into a baby.

Who are the artists that have influenced you currently and in the past?

Currently, I enjoy watching Takashi Mike’s films. I think he’s keeping it real. His work is really not about shock value or the grotesque as some viewers might think; rather it’s about going into that threshold of the senses, which traditionally we called suspension of disbelief, and checking if there’s any transcendence beyond that.  Is there? Or maybe it is what it is, just us being who we are with no pretensions. Therefore if we see it that way, it’s laughable isn’t it?

As for artists from the past, I’ve always admired Francis Picabia. He was a man of the world, an avant-gardist and bon vivant, and innovative painter of the first order – yet somehow, he was never quite right and he still isn’t. The capacious mantle of respectability that could be cut to fit such creatures as Picasso and Matisse would never fit Picabia. During his lifetime, living in the midst of a high modernist culture that worshipped eccentricity, visual adventure, restless innovation, and willful autonomy, Picabia and his work were routinely dismissed and distrusted for exhibiting these same estimable values. It is only now, in fact, that the public is beginning to recognize his genius.

There have been a few aesthetic shifts in your art over the years. Artistically speaking, where are you now? Is it possible for you to describe your most recent work?

You say "to-may-toooow" I say "to-ma-to." I’ve never noticed any shifts. The essence of the work seems the same to me, which is the transparency of meaning in the signs, or that the signs can only be comprehended by initiates…maybe.

What I’m interested in lately is the structure of signification more than the signage themselves. By inverting the polarities of signification you can arrive at the reality of signs. As in the allegory of the dog with a bone, where he sees a reflection of himself in a puddle of water, mistaking that as his enemy, he barks and drops the bone to the Other. What that means is that the picture is never clear, or that dogs are perhaps stupid.

What do you mean when you say "painting is a zombie medium?"

Since painting has died several times beginning with the invention of the camera in the 1840s, film, TV, the video age up to the digital age and still painting is being made. It is safe to say that painting is the undead.

You have said that there were many talented artists here in the Philippines but "they fall flat because they lack substance. And that they are relying too much on their skills and showing how good they are technically." How do we compare to artists abroad in terms of technical skill or substance? Have you seen any recent changes – for better or worse – here in Manila?

I didn’t mean to generalize but I do think that a majority of artists depend on their hand skills. There’s this idea that the more work or refinement you put into a painting equals better art equals more value. It is also the market that is dictating this idea. I think gallery dealers here should learn more about art and the art business. They as well as the institutions have more of a responsibility in educating the public. I think if the market takes risks, so too will the artists. I do think that the artists who are Bobby Chabet’s former students make more challenging art on par with what’s being shown internationally. Chabet is the only artist/educator here who is taking his responsibility seriously by creating an interesting environment in regards to the art scene. Without him there wouldn’t be a Philippine art scene.

Do the educational institutions do enough to properly develop our young talent?

No, educational institutions would rather bus their students to the TV studios to watch Eat Bulaga than go to the museums, but then again there are no museums here to speak of. I would advise would-be artists to just go abroad.

What are your observations with respect to the differences between the local and international art communities?

Local equals no critics, almost non-existent market, no museums, no art publications, galleries in malls. Curators? Not. But you can have your fill of food and booze at gallery openings.

International equals art equals big business, museums are big tourist attractions, discounts and government subsidies if you’re an artist, artists have rights, art schools – big business, art scene – dog-eat-dog.

What to do to promote and develop our talents? Give them money and send them abroad.
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For comments, email me at [email protected].











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