Megan Wilson responds to Claire Light's "all eyes on the artists"

Learn more about the background of the Galleon Trade project here >
Learn more about the artists' work exhibited in Manila here >
Learn more about the artists' cultural backgrounds here >

photo by Juan Caguicla

Claire Light, image: Stephanie Syjuco

During Galleon Trade I: Manila, we were honored and lucky to have arts writer, Claire Light accompany the project as our "embedded journalist." Claire has been covering Galleon Trade on her Website: since July when the project was launched in Manila. Claire attended all of the events, talks, exhibitions, and perhaps more importantly, she was a member of our day-to-day activities.

Opening at Green Papaya, image: Stephanie Syjuco

As an art critic myself, one of the participating Galleon Trade artists, and someone who has been the initiator, curator, fundraiser, and primary coordinator of an international exchange project (Sama-sama/Together), I feel compelled to join in the dialogue and respond to Claire's most recent post "all eyes on the artists." I hope to broaden and add to the discussion from the experience as a participant/artist.

Galleon Trade Studio Visit, image: Stephanie Syjuco

First, a few clarifications:

CL: All of the Fil Am Galleon Trade artists had only ever visited the Philippines with their families before--as children, or as adults still stuck in a child's role. This trip was their introduction to their, or their family's, country of origin, not only in an adult role, but in their chosen profession as artists.

Reanne Estrada traveled to Manila to participate in the project/exhibition Sino Ka? Ano Ka? curated by Trisha Lagaso (Jenifer Wofford and Terry Acebo-Davis also traveled to the show in Manila). Gina Osterloh visited the Philippines for the first time in 2006 and met a thriving contingent of artists based in Manila - from video, performance, painting, all disciplines and everything in between. Johanna Poethig went back to the Philippines in the early 80's for about 3 weeks after she did her first mural about the Filipino community - "Ang Lipi ni Lapu Lapu" (History of Filipino Immigration to the US) and was sponsored by a Filipino American group that was part of the Senior Center she did the mural on (Dimasalang House in Yerba Buena neighborhood).

Also, almost all of the Fil Am artists had traveled to the Philippines as adults without their families: Eliza Barrios, and Stephanie Syjuco (in addition to Reanne, Gina, and Johanna).

Reanne Estrada, Stephanie Syjuco, Christine Wong Yap and Mike Arcega installing at Green Papaya, image: Stephanie Syjuco

CL: Before I went to Manila, I did stop to consider if the work the artists were bringing was going to be big enough. Most of the Galleon Trade artists work relatively small in any case, and had deliberately chosen cheaply transportable work--Christine Wong Yap even going so far as to make her work out of standard sized shipping boxes.

Size was never really an issue with regard to the work to be presented. Galleon Trade organizer, curator, Jenifer Wofford didn't put any limits on the work we would exhibit. In fact, she was very clear about providing deadlines for shipping if any of the artists would be incapable of transporting their work with them on their flight to Manila. Also, almost all of the Galleon Trade artists' work is generally presented on a relatively large scale, not small.

After-party at Mag:net Katipunan, image: Stephanie Syjuco

The following is my repsonse as one of the participating artists to Claire's post "all eyes on the artists:"

CL: I somehow had it in my head that expanding horizons meant BIG galleries. That turned out not to be the case. The galleries were, if anything, smaller even than typical storefront community spaces in the real-estate-starved Yay Area.

Despite all of that, the work was still too small. By this, I don't mean that I hold it in any disdain, or that, after moving into an international context, I suddenly saw the poverty of the artists' point of view. It was rather that the work was made by artists who hadn't been on the Galleon Trade trip yet. The work wasn't triangulated to three points. It worked in its context, and out of its context it became ... well, not trivial, but almost beside the point. (Two possible exceptions are Megan Wilson and Mike Arcega because they made their work while in Manila, but I'll talk about that in other posts.)

Green Papaya Art Space, image: Stephanie Syjuco

MW: It was interesting for me to read Claire's perspective on the size of the Manila galleries that hosted the Galleon Trade exhibitions. I found the galleries to be fairly comparable in size to many of San Francisco's past and present alternative arts spaces (Galeria de la Raza, Intersection for the Arts, Ampersand, Traywick Contemporary, The Luggage Store, Chinatown Community Gallery, Gallery 16, a.o.v., Four Walls, ESP, Scene/Escena). However, more perplexing to me was the perception of the work itself being "still too small" and "the poverty of the artists' point of view."

In her introduction to Galleon Trade Jenifer K. Wofford states:

California, Mexico, and Philippines share tremendous historical and cultural connections, but these have rarely been acknowledged in a creative setting. These post-colonial histories, contemporary transnational relationships, globalization, religious-, and commercial concerns all provide ample inspiration for creative output and dialogue across multiple communities. Statistically, Mexicans are the largest immigrant presence, and Filipinos are the largest or 2nd largest Asian immigrant presence in the USA, particularly in California. Despite these numbers, both groups have limited- to no representation in the US media, politics or the arts. Given California's position as the primary locus of these two groups, it seems essential to open as many pathways to exchange and understanding as possible.

Fashionistas posing with Stephanie Syjuco's couture, image: Stephanie Syjuco

Based on this framework, I believe all of the participating artists put a great deal of thought, consideration, and research into their creations and/or contributions for the Manila exhibitions, inspired by both literal/historical translations of the galleon trade and contemporary social/political constructs in a global economy. The artists who traveled to the Philippines also spent significant time onsite planning and installing our works at the galleries. The fact that we (artists) "hadn't been on the Galleon Trade trip yet," seems beside the point to me; one of the most interesting layers to Galleon Trade in its initial phase is just that. Each of the artists came to Galleon Trade with her/his individual experiences outside of the project as a collective; therefore the work presented in Manila had the unique position of reflecting a broad range of perceptions and approaches to the Galleon Trade concept without these already established relationships.

Eliza Barrios installing, photo by Eliza Barrios

CL: Because the trip, the exhibitions, weren't about the artwork actually, at all. It was about the artists themselves, about their waxing, their ebb, about their arc through Manila. The artwork they brought was by way of credentials, yes. It was their gauntlet thrown down, a bit. It was their conversation piece, the thing that got the kids in the neighborhood talking to them.

But also, it was--or it will be--a growing mark on their doorposts, against which everything they make subsequent to Manila will show significant growth ... significant expanse.

But hey, no pressure, right?

A concentrated gaze is to an artist like sunshine to anything vegetable. (Well, the artist has to be ready. I've noticed that really green artists experiencing their first public success are far more likely to be stopped in their tracks by the attention--by the combination of fear and ego--than to flourish under it. But more seasoned, yet still emerging, artists who have cut their teeth, filed them, and had some fillings put in as well, know how to use the energy-concentrate that attention offers them.)

Just as plants in a greenhouse grow faster and out of season, I'm expecting a more radical growth in Galleon Trade artists within a short period of time. Because they have just been placed in a greenhouse.

Installing at Green Papaya, image: Stephanie Syjuco

MW: Again, as an artist who put a considerable amount of time into the planning, research, and creation of the work I exhibited (as the others artists also did), it feels a little demeaning to read that the exhibitions "weren't about the artwork actually, at all." However I do understand what Claire is referring to here. The exhibitions and work that we presented provided the apparatus for meeting and developing relationships with the arts community in Manila. The time spent onsite planning and installing at Green Papaya and Mag:net, the openings, the events, the panel discussions, the dinners - all were invaluable. The friendships that developed, the creative sharing, the discussions on global culture, politics, and practices (especially with our hosts Carlos Celdran, Romeo Candido, and JuanCaguicla and artists/gallerists Pee Wee Roldan of Green Papaya and Rock Drilon of Mag:net Galleries) were by far the best parts of the experience, which is why cultural exchanges, such as Galleon Trade are so important. The afterlife of these projects takes on a life of its own, leading to relationships that expand beyond the initial participants, additional creative projects, and unexpected influences that deepen the connections between cultures.

Romeo Candido and Juan Caguicla, image: Stephanie Syjuco

I do believe that the experience in Manila will have a significant influence on the artists who spent time there. However, how this manifests will be different for each of us - for some it might be apparent right away in the subsequent work created. I know for myself, and others, such profound experiences evolve over time and the creative results develop subtlety.

Carlos Celdran moderating in The Living Room, image: Stephanie Syjuco