Expat

Monday, March 31, 2008

If You Want Closure In Your Relationship, Start With Your Legs

Big Boom's self help book "If You Want Closure In Your Relationship, Start With Your Legs" has won the Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year. As Joel Rickett, Deputy Editor of The Bookseller, who run the competition, said "It makes redundant an entire genre of self-help tomes. So effective is the title that you don’t even need to read the book itself."

"If You Want Closure in Your Relationship, Start With Your Legs" joins other great titles that have won the Diagram Prize such as "The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: A Guide to Field Identification" and my personal favourite "Big and Very Big Hole Drilling". That latter title no doubt would intrigue Geoff Manaugh of BldgBlog fame.

Artist's Talk with a 2015 update


Below is a transcript of the talk I gave last Saturday (. "Through Australian Eyes" exhibition is still up and continues for a few more days through to 4th April.


The first time I got paid for getting my hands dirty in the arts was in 1974 as the assistant technical manager for the Perth Entertainment Centre. It is an 8000 seat, state of the art touring house that opened in ‘74. My main area of responsibility was the lighting department and our pride and joy was a second generation computer controlled lighting system. The MMS (Modular Memory System) was the size of your grandmother’s kitchen table with so many buttons and wheels that you needed a street directory to get around it.

But it revolutionized the theatrical lighting industry. The sequences and the effects you could create with this toy left the old manual systems languishing in the dark ages.

The last time I got my hands dirty on a lighting board was in the mid 90’s with a control system called The Tempest. As is the case with computers it was the size of a brief case with 2 keypads, 2 wheels and 10 times the capacity of the MMS.

The reason I mention this in a talk about photography is 2 fold. The first is that photography and lighting design are two sides of the one coin with photography having the added advantage of a permanent record. For all photographers to some extent are lighting designers even if it is just waiting for the “right” light for that landscape shot. The second is about acceptance, expectations and application.

Unlike the photography community which seems to be turning itself inside out over the issue, the entertainment industry welcomed the computer with open arms. To such an extent that today a rock ‘n roll performance without a high end light show is doomed to box office oblivion. A group like Who with their trademark sound and light spectacular have spawned concept bands that faithfully recreate their shows. The Who may no longer be, but their clones are still out there touring the audio visual phenomenon they pioneered.

But it is not only rock ‘n roll, straight theatre has also embraced the power of the computer. I recall during the 1984 Festival of Perth working for the Louisville Theatre Company on their production of “Sisters in my House”. A highly dramatic piece about murder and mayhem that wouldn’t have looked out of place in Shakespeare’s repertoire. The original stateside production had a computerized lighting design. The Perth theatre where the production was shown had an old analogue lighting control system. To recreate the lighting design required 3 people working in a space designed for one to manipulate the levers of the manual system. We almost did it, but not quite, a couple of bits of the show had to be re-choreographed and about 20 lighting queues went out the window. The physical limitations of the equipment precluded the full realization of the vision.

To my mind the camera is one of the greatest inventions of all time, up there with the wheel and harnessing fire, especially where the visual arts are concerned. Not so much for what it can do in its own right, which is pretty amazing, but for its liberation of the rest of the arts. From cubism to abstract expressionism, from Dada to pop art they all owe their genesis to the camera. All the art isms of the 20th Century, the new, the exciting and the revolutionary ways of seeing and recording ourselves and how we fit into this world wouldn’t have happened were it not for the black box, the magnesium flash and the person the cloth over their head.

Now 150 years later another visual revolution is taking place, digital photography is part of it but in the main it is computer manipulation. Computer programs like Photoshop are doing for photography what photography did for art in general and painting in particular. And just like the 1860’s the old school are fighting a rearguard action. The specifics have changed but, oh my, the arguments sound the same.

Back then it was “There is no skill involved; it’s just slap dash daubings.” Well those slap dash daubers, like Monet and Cezanne are household names a century and a half later, their detractors are who?

Today it’s “There is no skill involved; it’s just the application of filters.” When I was painting, pride of place on my studio work table was a large jar of brushes. There must have been 50 or 60 of them of varying types and styles. Fan brushes to make soft and dreamy edges, hogs hair brushes for the big broad strokes, fine point sables for the delicate lines even steel knives for the flat thick swathes of colour or to scrape the paint off. Heck I even turned them round and used the wrong end or used a piece of rag or my fingers to get the look I wanted. On my computer I have a range of similar tools which are grouped together and called filters. And the only really discernable difference I see between them is with the computer ones I don’t have to spend an hour and half cleaning up after using them.

The computer’s major influence today is how the photograph print is made. Historically photography has been pretty much a what you see is what you get process. True you can mess about with shutter controls and focus but what ends up on the negative or in the memory is a rendering of the object in front of the lens.

Whereas when you paint a picture, you start with an idea and as you are pushing the paint around on the canvas there comes a time, if the picture is going to be any good, when the painting starts to push back. The same holds true for sculpture, and it is a magical moment. The art work takes on a life of its own and starts to impose its personality into the process. When this happens it becomes a collaborative process between the painter and the painting and often what started as a barn becomes a lighthouse. It doesn’t always happen, there is enough bad art around to underscore that point, but when it does happen a work of art sees the light of day.

It is because of this difference that historically photography has been seen as the poor relation within the arts. A photograph is the rendering of an object whereas a painting or a sculpture is the object. It is a subtle distinction but with profound ramifications.

Now the object captured by the camera is recorded digitally and displayed as pixels. And the pixel when viewed on a monitor is a little square of light which the photographer can push about like the painter pushes their paint about. Using the tools, the filters provided by the software those little squares of light can be adjusted however the photographer sees fit. And consequently like the painting the photograph can have the opportunity to push back, should the photographer allow it to happen. Drawing with light, today, with the aid of a computer has become painting with light.

It is true that the computer can be viewed as an enlarger with a whole lot more bells and whistles. But it is more, the breaking down of the image into its component parts, its brush stokes, its pixels is where it comes into its own. Working with these little squares of light individually, in groups or globally allows the photographer to create a conversation with the initial capture which can lead to some amazing places.

For me this has meant that I have become a lot looser when shooting, more intuitive, more within the moment a lot less concerned with the mechanics. When looking through the view finder I am looking for patterns. My default ISO has become 800 and if I was to use a Flash again I would need to get out the manual. For, I am not so much interested in capturing a scene as getting an impression, a glimpse of its personality that can be rendered 2 dimensionally.

I also often leave my captures for weeks or months before opening them to work on them. I want to come to them with fresh eyes when the details of their conception are a blur. Some of my best pieces have come from captures that were over a year old. I often have to work a piece 3 or 4 times before it comes to life. My favourite tool on the computer is the undo button for my work is mostly trial and error. What happens if I do this?....... MMMM not a lot, Ok how about this? Another favoured tool is the rotate canvas, flipping the image either horizontally or vertically enables me to see it with fresh eyes whilst I am working on it which allows me to discover and explore its secrets.

What the camera captures is an initial sketch much like the initial sketch the painter blocks out on their canvas to form the basis of their composition. What the photographer/artist does with that sketch is what makes the art work. As Ansell Adams said so many years ago, “The negative is the musical score, the print is the performance” and with the assistance of a computer, what a performance that can be.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Secrets Revealed

Published in What's On & Expat 30 March 2008

We all have one, at least, and use it on a regular basis to aid our slumber be it filled with the softest down or just some folded clothes. The pillow is our nocturnal friend and support who never discloses the secrets to which it is privy, from the endearments to a best beloved to the angst of late night soul searching. The innocent spectator mostly dressed for comfort although when in its party frock can come down stairs to lounge upon the lounge.

It is rare to see this innocuous domestic essential on public display outside of the haberdashery department, but such is the case with the latest exhibition at the Silverlens gallery. Artist Ringo Bunoan has been documenting her pillows for the last seven years which culminates in the installations that are “Pillow Talk”.

Six works are on show that range from a series of eight photographs of two pillows bound together as they explore the confines of an empty room in “Take Nothing, Leave Nothing” in front of a mountain range made from pillow fillings in “Two Years of Sleep”. At the other end of the gallery is “Wall”, literally a 21 foot long wall made of pillows. The majority are naked bed pillows with decorative pillows of various types interspersed. Statically placed in front of “Wall” is “In the Same Breath”, twelve pillows arranged on the floor like the numerals of a clock with each pillow having a photograph of a tomb stone with date of death being June 1st 1986 attached.

Linking these works is “Sleepwalking”, a series of 6 glowing pictures of a pillow visiting a variety of front doors, a whimsical adventure of a nomadic life. Then there is “White Noise”, a recording of the hiss of silence with two pillows side by side as a back drop, inducing speculation about conversations that have fallen through the gap.

Pillow Talk continues at the Silverlens Gallery until the 19th of April at 2320 Pasong Tamo Extension, Makati City. More information is available from www.silverlensphoto.com.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Bush Becomes a Banana Bender

The relatively newly elected Aussie PM, Kevin Rudd, on the first stop of his world trip in a meeting with the American King, sorry president, has dubbed Mr Bush an honoury Queenslander.

In Australian a Queenslander is affectionately dubbed a banana bender with those from FNQ (Far North Queensland) having a reputation of bending the banana further than any self respecting banana would knowingly permit let alone appreciate.

On the same day Crikey.com's Jeff Sparrow wrote "It’s worth noting that, according to NASA, a human mission to Mars would cost about $40 billion. George Bush could, in other words, launch seven interplanetary invasions each year for less than he’s spending on Iraq.

Occupying Mars would be, of course, entirely insane. But considerably less so than the eye-poppingly bizarre campaign currently taking place in Iraq."

Seems like a good fit.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

New Work

Been busy in the studio over the past couple of days as well as out and about shooting the Easter Shrines.

From the "at an exhibition" #VII (walk on by)


From the Easter Shrine Series #32 from the 2008 crop of shrines


From the Easter Shrine Series #33 from the 2008 crop of shrines

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Artist's Talk

A bit of History, a bit of crystal ball gazing, a bit about painting, a bit about computer manipulation, a bit of a rant, a bit of a heart felt plea for the new.

"Is It Photography"


In photographic terms is the computer just an enlarger with some more bells and whistles? Why is the pixel so important?

I have been working with computers in an arts environment for 34 years, I have also been working without them and on balance I have found that not only do they make life easier they also make it a lot more fun.

Find out why when I talk about my experiences in "Is It Photography".

Saturday 29 March 4pm
One workshop gallery
G/F La Fuerza Paza II
2241 Don Chino Roces Ave (formerly Pasong Tamo)
Corner Sabio St
Makati City
Free Admission

Sunday, March 16, 2008

China Town, Squatters and Youth.

Published in What's On & Expat 16 March 2008

The Chinese have had a long and sometime turbulent association, especially under colonial rule, with the Philippines. Significant historical figures from national hero JP Rizal, presidential strongman Ferdinand Marcos to the mother of people power, Corrie Aquino all have a Chinese lineage. Chinese New Year is as important and celebrated as widely as its Gregorian counterpart. And the Binondo district, Manila’s China Town, is as integral to the city’s commerce today as it has been over the centuries.

In celebration of this significance the Yuchengco Museum with the assistance of Lopez Memorial Museum has mounted the exhibition “Binondo; Pride of Place”. It is a selection of historical memorabilia in the form of maps, prints and photographs that range from 16th Century to the present day. The oldest is of a Sangley couple circa 1516, the latest is of an ube coloured fire truck from the Binondo fire department snapped by one of the student curators who assisted with the set up of the exhibition.

The student contribution to the exhibition is arguably the more engaging section as they contrast and compare the old and new with a series of postcard size images, although the Calesas do look very similar even if their usage has changed markedly. That being said for history buffs the record of times past is well presented especially the first half of the last century.

A short segue, if such a thing is possible in Manila’s traffic, down the EDSA to Pasay City to Galleria Duemila where the neighbours have been invited into the gallery. “Living on Loring” is the culmination of ten week outreach by the gallery to the squatters who live at the end of the street. Under the tutelage of photographer Romina Diaz and artist Ann Wizer, twelve girls from the hood explored their creativity through photography, creative writing and art.

The result of the labour of the girls and the artists is on display at Galleria Duemila until the end of the month. The old actor’s adage of not performing with animals or children holds true here as it is the balikbayan doll’s houses that attract and hold the attention. The pasalubong the girls have infused into these recycled boxes speaks directly about their dreams, their lives, their reality. From the glossy magazines celluloid depictions that decorate the walls to the Popsicle stick furniture a Dickensian inevitability of circumstance unfolds.

With both of these exhibitions the voice of youth has been given an opportunity to speak and has not been found wanting. Be it for the presentation of a history or the telling of a life lived they have imparted a vibrancy of presentation that engages the viewer. Which underscores one of the greatest artist’s of the 20th century, Pablo Picasso, remarks “All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.”

“Living on Loring” is at Galleria Duemila, 210 Loring St, Pasay City until the 31st March. “Binondo; Pride of Place” is at The Yuchengco Museum, RCBC Plaza, Ayala Avenue, Makati City until 10th of May. More information can be found online at www.galleriaduemila.com and www.yuchengcomuseum.org.

Friday, March 14, 2008

At An Exhibition XI

Now that the dust has settled a bit on last week I have had some time to do some work, of which this is an example.

At An Exhibition XI

It is from one of the pics I took at the Opening of "Manila" last month. (see review "Does Size Matter" a couple of posts below) This pic was made from one very similar that posted with the review. (Sorry Rachel Ü)

Monday, March 10, 2008

What a Week

Last week was one for the books as far as this little black duck was concerned. It started on Tuesday morning with a 3 page spread about your humble scribe and his work in the Picture Perfect section of The Manila Bulletin ("Dealing with Abstract Photography" - 15 pictures and 700 words) Link here to read the words and see a couple of the pics.

In the evening of the same day was the opening of "Through Australia Eyes". An intimate (yeah ok read small) crowd enjoyed the clement evening, the nibbles and one trusts the art. The exhibition continues until the 4th of April, so if you have a spare half hour drop on by, add your name to the guest book and see what Luis Hernandez says is my gift. Details of the when and where can be see here.

If you have a spare hour to spend on Saturday 29th March come on down to the One Workshop Gallery and discover my thoughts on photography and where it is headed, 4pm would be a good time.

To cap the week, 6 of my pics along with a 1000 words were published in the Expat Travel & Lifestyle magazine entitled "Kalbaryo, A Shrine to Celebrate Easter". An online version can be seen here.

As you read this the good burgers of Makati's Poblacion barangay are hard at work creating a new series of shrines for Easter 2008. As I walk about this part of Makati I call home I see their visions coming to life. Find some time over Easter to get down here, you won't be disappointed.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

A Play of Iron and Art

Published in What's On & Expat, 9 March 2008

A Spring Collection conjures ideas of high fashion, designer clothes on designer models, cat walks and the Paris glitterati on display. Well not this summer in Manila. Alliance Francaise’s latest exhibition, “Spring Collection”, by Pete Jimenez is about springs, compression springs to be truly accurate. Those parts of your car’s suspension that take the hard knocks from the road to smooth your ride.

Jimenez scours Manila’s junk shops for hunks of iron into which he can breathe a new life by turning them into sculptures. And life there is in abundance in his works. From the inebriated, leering, battered, oil drum lid face of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” to the perennial cheerfulness of the ubiquitous smiley face given a Filipino food staple twist in “Pretty in Pig”.

Into each of the 19 works on display, Jimenez has incorporated a compression spring as an integral part of the sculpture. Which when given a prod, the stored energy of the coil animates the particular work. They sway, oscillate, jiggle or shimmy long past the attention span of their instigator.

And Jimenez has artfully matched the spring’s properties to the personality of the work. From the shimmy of the metal leaf emerging from its garden fork supported pot in “What’s the Scoop” to the profound oscillations of our solar system orbiting an imaginary sun in “Lonely Planet”. From the jiggle of the dome shaped “Jolly Bug” to the sway of the fanciful that adorns the mundane in “The Chicken and the eggs”. This animation also extends a works depth of meaning. Like the benign Disney like “Eyes, Eyes Baby” when static which transforms into a creature of menace as it sways hypnotically with the light glinting from its bulbous glass eyes.

Unlike the look but don’t touch of the haute culture of a Paris Spring Collection, Jimenez’s Spring Collection encourages participation. For, there is playfulness inherent in these works that goes beyond the invitation to touch that appeals to the child in us all.

Pete Jimenez’s “Spring Collection” continues until the 14th of March at Alliance Francaise de Manila, 209 Nicanor Garcia St (formerly Reposo St) Bal-Air 2, Makati City. More information can be found online at www.alliance.ph and www.petejimenez.com.