24 February 2017

Metro Manila through the Eyes of Local Artists in the No Chaos, No Party Artbook

No Chaos, No Party is not your ordinary artbook.

It should be obvious at first glance – the reflective, kitschy foil cover; the brightly-colored bookmarks; the obvious energy that inundates each page. It’s the kind of item that sends any collector to their knees, much akin to an ultra-rare trading card or specie of butterfly.

No, this artbook is in a league of its own. One might even be tempted to call it otherwise – you won’t find that clear-cut, academic look that permeates a majority of them. Nor will you find that minimalistic, Kinfolkian way of presenting images. No, what you’ll find inside is an explosion of creativity, a pastiche of aesthetic that differs from chapter to chapter, from artist to artist. The inside front and back spreads pounce on you with pop-ups of the title. No two sections are ever the same, and you get this nifty map insert detailing the places and prizes of the local art scene, beckoning you to take a look at it.

This is not coincidental. The artbook, after all, takes Metro Manila as its primary subject matter – weaving in narratives and perspectives from 28 artists who have taken the area as their muse. It’s an interesting exercise in blending the city and its dwellers, the art and the artist; pushing the boundaries of medium in order to get its message across. This is the nature of art: to be true to experience, no matter what that experience might be.

Behind all of this is the dynamic duo of Valeria Cavestany and Eva McGovern-Basa, who are no strangers to the art world. Both, however, have taken to it on different fields: Valeria, the book’s mastermind and Editor-in-Chief, is herself both an artist and a patron of the arts. Taking to the brush as her medium, she has been exhibiting work since the 90’s alongside other artists and artist collectives, such as the Bastards of Misrepresentation. On the other hand, Eva – the book’s Managing Editor – has worked with museums and galleries both here and abroad, notably the Serpentine Gallery in Hyde Park, UK. Dealing mostly with knowledge production and content creation, she takes a more practical approach to art, evident in her curatorial and writing ventures.

Valeria Cavestany (Photo by Wawi Navarroza) and Eva McGovern-Basa

We were quite fortunate to chat a bit more about the book with Eva. Valeria, unfortunately, was out of the country at the time.

Can you give us an introduction to the concept of No Chaos, No Party?

The design was a very important aspect of the book. We really looked very carefully for the designers, and we got some advice from people at GRID Magazine, people who would really understand what we were trying to do.

Eventually, [we] decided to work with Rex Advincula and Joyce Tai from Inksurge, because their practice, attitudes, and relationships to design, Metro Manila, risk-taking, and experimentation felt very complementary to what we were trying to do. We really allowed them the freedom to respond to each of the artists’ [needs].

Apart from re-selecting certain images and removing a few elements, the design is pretty much [the designer’s] vision, [which were] based upon lots of conversations with me. [The designers] are really equal collaborators in this book.

The book came about through the vision of Valeria Cavestany, who is an artist, patron, and very, very passionate about promoting Philippine art. She and I have worked together for a number of years for various things, and she felt that it was really important to produce an exciting, dynamic book on contemporary Filipino art [which] also [tried] to push the book format, and have a certain “wow” factor.

I think that is the beauty of working with an artist as your patron, because she’s so visual, so creative. She really wanted the book to have that visual experience. Oftentimes, you look more at the images rather than the writing – the writing is something you could return to when you have the time, but the images are something you immediately respond to. So for [Valeria], it was very important to be visual, to be playful, so that’s why we got our very colorful bookmarks [and other creative executions].

We have this photo essay of alternative [art] spaces in the 90's, and it’s kind of supposed to feel like a yearbook collage, or like a scrapbook. We worked with Ringo Bunoan [for this], who is an artist and an archivist of the Roberto Chabet archive.

[We also] decided that even though it’s impossible to map the city, if the book is about Metro Manila and the art world, we needed to create some type of map. So the designers came up with this sort of infographic –  a mapping of the city which shows where the volume of galleries are, and we’ve done a type of incomplete list of spaces, galleries, museums, and art prizes, just to give a very loose overview of the city.

Are you guys also planning to produce other books after this?

I suppose this book is an experiment really, to see how people respond to it, whether there’s need for this type of book – and subsequently, more books – or whether people are not [responsive]. So at the end of the day, we need to weigh out the costs involved, and we need to recuperate some of those in order to be able to do more projects.

You mentioned previously that you had to consult with a lot of artists and designers for the book. How was it like behind the scenes? How did you guys bring it together?

Basically, we started out with this very excited and enthusiastic dream of doing a book on Metro Manila, and the artists of Metro Manila. We had a series of development meetings with myself, Valeria, and our project manager to figure out the content of the book. We knew we wanted to do artist interviews, so we came up with a series of questions around a series of topics, including personal history, the history of their practice, themes involved in their practice, interesting anecdotes from their career, their relationship to their mentors [and] to other artists, if they were involved in any type of alternative space, and their hopes and dreams for the city and the art world.

And we wanted to figure out [what else] would be in the book – but in the end, it became clear that the artists would form the bulk of the book. Four of the artists [involved in the project] have their own spaces associated with them, so we felt that it tied in nicely to have a photo essay on a particular period of time [that revolved around artist-run spaces].

After lots of different ideas, [we] decided them to [primarily] be interviews. We made a wish list of all the artists that we thought would fit the brief of the book: that all the artists had to be inspired indirectly or directly by the city of Metro Manila. Whether through a certain playful, anarchic, chaotic style; a very observational style where they would just photograph or paint the urban environment; or whether they had a type of personal attitude that reflected people who live in Manila. For example, the reason we put [Romeo Lee] on the cover was that we wanted to put an artist on the cover… and he really reflects the spirit of the book – free-spirited, playful, energetic, punkish – being the godfather of the punk scene.

So once we decided on who the artists were [and once] the artists agreed to participate, we scheduled all interviews. The interviews themselves took about eight months, because we went to all the studios, sat down with them, and recorded a conversation that was about two, three, to four hours long. That audio was [then] transcribed, and I, along with my project manager, edited the text from like 14,000 words to 1,500. So all the interviews are roughly 700-3,000 words long, depending on how much the artist had to say. (laughs)

And then we collated all the visual materials, which included images of their artwork. MM Yu - our photographer for the project, who is also included  in the book as one of the artists - then had to schedule a photoshoot where she would go to the studio, photograph [the artist] portraits [and] studios. If we had to re-photograph any art, we’d do it then as well. We also asked the artists to submit any supplementary materials – any sketches, or handwritten notes, or any ephemera that would give a more human glimpse into who they are. All this material was given to the designers, and the designers would create the designs for about 2-3 artists every couple of weeks. We went into this design-editing phase of working through the texts, proofreading, copy-editing, as well as polishing up the design, and so forth. Once we had the digital design done – which took quite a long time – we went into our pre-print development phase.

We worked with a local printer, but their operations are in Hong Kong and China. So the local printer was the one who developed with us the construction of the pop-up, we played with different effects for the cover, the material for the bookmark, that type of thing. And once we had the final mockup of the book, we went to print. And I suppose the challenges of something like this is just the sheer scale of the project. I mean, getting 28 artists to submit materials to meet your own deadlines – ‘cause they’re all busy, they’re all doing their own projects, some of them are traveling, some of them got artist residencies, some of them don’t pick up their phones, or emails – you know, they’re very busy. So that was a lot of chasing. (laughs) A lot of chasing!

And then, I suppose the production of the book was a very steep learning curve because – I mean, I’ve done books before, but never with a pop-up, the paper, you know, how the images respond to the paper, the bookmarks, and the map – all of this construction side of the book took a really long time to develop. And, you know, we all have other jobs. (laughs)

Our initial goal was to get the project done in a year. Then, it took about 2 and a half years to do.

Is this because of the production of the book itself?

Well, first of all, it’s coordinating when we can do the interviews, and getting all the content together. It’s just coordinating, you know, the images from the artists – like all of it, these are physical things collected from Romeo. So they were either photographed or scanned by the designer, and if we didn’t have what we needed we had to go back to the artists and get more images. If the images weren’t hi-res enough, we needed to get [a] different more print quality-based images. And we had to supplement questions, you know, if the interview felt a bit imbalanced then we had to do a little follow-up with the artist, and so forth. So all of the logistics of the content generation really took a huge amount of time. Once we had everything, it was just going through the process of execution. But yeah, it was really getting everything done.

All the artists review their pages. Everyone signed off on their page before we went to print. That was really important, because we wanted everyone to feel invested in the project so they had some ownership on how they were represented. Maria Jeona Zoleta, for example (flips to Jeona’s page), wanted a very specific design, and so she actually put [her page] together and gave [it] to us. And for her interview, she wanted it to have a very specific type of language.  So that process also took a lot of time, because it was very important to me that the artists were involved… We obviously had to make certain editorial decisions, but that was important to us.

Valeria’s in the book [too]. Her work is inspired by the kind of chaos, energy, the colors and textures of the city, and she has this interesting Spanish-Filipino heritage as well. You know, that sense of hybridity, it was important to us. A lot of artists we had were quite global, [having] done a lot of residences abroad, [living] in the States for a period of time – David Griggs is Australian, but he had chosen Manila as his home – so, all these different perspectives, inside and outside, local, global, international [were important to us]. [The book is] supposed to be very, very heterogenous. Making every page so unique was one of the challenges.

I’d have to ask though – for this artbook, why did you choose the chaos of Manila? Was this something important to you and Valeria? How did you guys decide to use this as your starting point?

Well, Valeria is loosely part of the Bastards of Misrepresentation – I don’t know if you’re familiar with them – it’s a loose collective of artists… the Bastards is all about [the] Manila vibe, and they have done numerous exhibitions both here and abroad, trying to share all [the] kitschy, crazy, chaotic, weird, and wonderful elements to Metro Manila that they extracted in their practices.

So we were wondering what type of book we would do. Would we do a book on the Bastards, would we do a book on the city? Then we thought it would be nice to kind of broaden out the book by selecting Metro Manila rather than a group of artists, and really take something that everyone says is chaotic, crazy, intense, contradictory, and  turn it on its head; use it [for] something positive and instead share how artists are inspired by it, how they intervene within the city, and what strategies they use not just to survive, but thrive.

Metro Manila [then] becomes some sort of important kind of inspiration rather than something people are just trying to cope with. It’s a rich and fertile ground for creativity – you know, [there are] all [these] exciting things that a lot of people don’t really know about [happening] in the scene! So many people, so many collectives that we could have included – I would love to do a follow-up book, because people think there’s not a lot going on [even if there is]. And there are so many events, so many collectives – so many blogs, so many other books that a lot of people just don’t know about, because the platforms to share these are quite small, or you know, have a small following and so forth.

So this book is really this love letter to the city. It is a tough environment, but somehow people make it work, and they innovate – our designers, our artists, even the bookstore. We’re only working with one bookstore – a local, independent, bookstore, and they only focus on Filipino art, creativity and culture. Even that is an important decision, ‘cause they’re amazing – people don’t necessarily know who they are.

So it’s about getting them out there as well?

Yeah! It’s really a community – in my head, it’s a very romantic community contribution to just allow them to speak for themselves. I mean, I’m not Filipino, this is not my personal context; but I’ve been living here for 4 years, my husband’s Filipino, [and] I’ve been coming in and out [of the country] for 7-8 years. I have this very deep relationship with Metro Manila that’s good and bad at the same time.

So this book is just trying to share that, and say that there’s all this stuff happening, and it’s interesting - [just] take 5 minutes to read about Manuel [Ocampo], or Gerry Tan, or Kaloy Sanchez, or Eisa Jocson. And we try to be very [well-rounded in] all areas, so we got painters, we’ve got installation – we’ve got this fantastic movement-based artist, [Eisa Jocson], [who’s] been doing this really interesting body of work about macho dancing in the Philippines. So what we’re trying to do is to give a voice – you know, [to] people who we think are interesting, exciting, and…

Who can best represent the city?

Yes! Exactly. And not just be completely negative, [or] completely positive, but present multi-layered thoughts and opinions on Metro Manila.


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