Altered States and Next Wave

A late-night shower can work for or against sleep. Tonight, it seems it was for the latter. It is half-past midnight and sleep has left me. I suffered two modes of exhaustion today, both from commuting. One was frying alive inside an FX taxi, which I boarded at one in the afternoon. After days of unwelcome rains and just when we thought that summer had left us, the sweltering heat is relentlessly back. The other was boarding the MRT at rush hour. I stood for fifteen minutes on the train platform, squeezed in an invisible, airtight container with more than half a dozen women, all in various stages of wilt. Our tolerance for physical proximity is fascinating. Ten minutes into the wait found many of us hissing, some cursing the belated trains, and others fanning and holding their bundles of hair away from sweltering necks. Boarding is being carried by a tidal wave of bodies into the train coach. This was peppered by threateningly rising voices asking to be let through, I held my breath and turned almost blue until I found my small standing perimeter inside. In the past two years, I have gone through this agony twice, and both left me with shaking knees and a disorientation difficult to describe.

The reason for both trips was my attending a lecture at the Lopez Museum. Jeff Khan is curator and project head of “Next Wave” in Melbourne, Australia. “Next Wave” is a biennial arts festival of numerous presentation platforms for emerging artists. He talked about curation and organizing entailed by the festival, as well as the project’s funding, community interactions as well interventions. 2008’s theme was “Closer Together” and artists’ projects all examined the idea of closeness, and the forms it take in an increasingly mediated world of media and other technologies. Given conditions of seeming proximity and numerous devices that aid it, there have arisen paradoxical acts segregation and differentiation. Interesting works mentioned included the “Yelling to the Stars” project, the “Movement, Movement” collaboration and those sited in nightclubs. These works were site-specific and involved a large degree of collaboration not just with other artists but also with communities and specific publics, as the “Movement, Movement” performance, scientific research teams in the “Yelling to the Stars’. Art was transported in people’s homes, in nightclub joints, and building facades. The presentation encouraged interesting questions and ideas and it was unavoidable that local parallels be cited. The scale of such a festival has not been tried in Manila and apparent reasons abound. Funding and logistics are major concerns. Khan cites Melbourne’s structure as largely contributing to the festival’s reception. Manila likewise is an interesting venue but more for its unpredictability and de-centeredness. Many projects have been done in the realm of public art (and that does not merely involve the nineteenth-century concept of public art that largely references monuments in public space) but these have been largely undertaken by different artists’ collectives. With the exception of the NCCA funded “Sungdu-An”, I do not think there has been an event that gathered these collectives in one venue. Another issue floated in the discussion was public art’s efficacy in communicating to its publics, though not further explored. Indeed, public art’s reach or success is difficult to measure because as Patricia Phillips puts it, it is the ephemeral that grounds public art (Senie and Webster, 1992: 298). The question of public art’s success should not center on its intended audience or message but the kind of critical questions that it raises and whether it is instrumental in bringing together “inquiring and critical” publics.

Cited work:
Senie, Harriet and Webster, Sally. 1992. Critical Issues in Public Art: Content, Context and Controversy. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.

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