It takes many twos

  • by Alain Camiling

I have a confession to make. When I write about art, I tend to overthink two things—readers and reception. And it’s something I would never skip. How would I know if what was written was comprehensible enough to diverse publics? Which voices am I resounding, and who am I not including? I honestly always get anxious about being coherent; perhaps this has something to do with my being an educator as well. Why write if the readers cannot understand us? Who are we writing to and for, anyway?


When I think of art writing, I think about two more things:  interchange and accessibility. These two have always been primal to my practice. I see the process of art writing as a potent interchange of propositions and information from myriad agencies. The plurality in this interchange through agencies reminds me of curator, writer, and educator Maria Lind’s (2021) elucidation on the core of the curatorial process as something that comprises a shedload of connections—“between artworks and other materials, the space, the specific time of presentation.”1


It would likewise be prudent to appraise that, when talking about accessibility, I see this interchange as a process of bridging or mediating something to publics. And this is still suggestive of correlations that may either be disruptive or beneficent to the procedure.


Similarly, art historian, curator, author, and professor Beatrice von Bismarck (2012) untangles the ‘constellational mode’ in relation to the curatorial process, which they describe as a potent “field of constellations in which are embedded various activities having to do with making art public.”2 I relate the writing process to the curatorial, particularly how Lind and Bismarck dissect it and primarily because I engage in these articulations and engagements where many factors, entities, and agencies contribute to this multiplicity of connections—perhaps shape the entirety of it all—albeit the constellational aspect shapes postulations and knowledge. I also recall how tedious the art writing process could be for writers, as it undoubtedly goes through various gestures, articulations, and activities, or must I say layers, before each piece becomes public.


Parallel to the ‘constellational mode,’ I see both curatorial and art writing processes as somewhat homogenous, as they both deal with making art public or accessible, perhaps extending the arts ecosystem to something and somewhere else in line with meaning-making. Besides, both are indicative of elaborate and tedious proceedings being shaped by a multitude of interconnections. The process is never linear, and it is suggestive of ever-dynamic, fluid undertakings.


Through these lenses, I perceive art writing as a dynamic process involving interwoven relationships, perhaps systems that are interdependent from each other, affecting each at any given point in the course of meaning-making. Think of the process as something that starts within you, the interest to write about something—was it an assignment? Would you pitch this story? Where would you send the proposal? What is the nature, vision, and mission of the platform where it will be published?


Circling back to the process, sharing these many things that I grapple with and consider particularly nudge me that- no matter how complex the process is, it propels self-reflexivity, sensitivity to others, and learning. And as you work towards the questions, perhaps approaching your process, outline, or scope, what will you include and exclude considering many other twos? It goes a long way — doing initial research, communicating with the respondent, dealing with editorial comments, receiving public feedback, and waiting,with divine persistence, for your writing fee, among many others.


I begin to ponder on accessibility each time I think of my students. Are the words I churn out digestible enough during each of my lectures? Are my instructions easy to follow when I write my long, close-to-narrative emails? Or am I just constantly talking to myself? Circling back to art writing, when we write, who do we actually speak to? Are we geared towards the arts ecosystem’s echo chambers, or are we creating new interconnections, going elsewhere, perhaps new audiences?


Because art writing is not really what it’s rumored to be, it is not fancy, it does not always glitter, and it could be a tough choice to make. The plight of art writers is comparable to a juggler. We end up juggling many things, getting caught up in a quicksand of positionalities and personalities.


And yet when I think of art writing, I think about two additional things: viscerality and reverence. We could always be wrong, don’t you think? I consciously think of this to go back to my core, the visceral. Why am I writing in the first place?


This reminds me of one of our sessions in our research class with Dr. Patrick Flores3 in 2020, where we talked about the romance of research. It seems like we always know what to write, but we tend to forget why we are writing about it in the first place. What is the visceral beyond the surface level? Are we doing it for ourselves, for others, or for the greater good? The truth is all these can be ticked off from the list. But I must say, a gesture of self-confrontation would be prudent whenever you engage in art writing.


From Agnes Arellano's 1987 inscape: Myths of Creation and Destruction I: "Carcass-Cornucopia" (female body hung on top) and "Music for Making the Sun Rise" (buried human skulls). Photo by Alain Zedrick Camiling/Spot.PH.


Another reminder is my admiration for Agnes Arellano and her body of work. I had an opportune moment to converse with her for an article in 2019. Agnes was eloquent, welcoming, and passionate during our short and informal conversation at the Arete in Ateneo de Manila University.4 When I see Arellano’s works, I get triggered, perhaps forced to be in a period of reflection, finding myself wallowing in an uncanny yet preprocessing state.5 Her works remind me of viscerality primarily on two things. She used a cast of her body for the sculpture, and her life experiences are echoed in her works. I find these suggestive of how we would cleverly situate, integrate, and position ourselves in the creative work that we do. In this case, art writing.


I also think of reverence. I perceive it as something intertwined with our thinking which affects what we do and how we approach writing. More so, thinking about reverence is also a form of remembering, perhaps honoring what's righteous and dealing with reality without inhibitions and ulterior intentions. Having approbation with the writing process, including yourself, the people you deal with, the criticality in the questions you ask, the deliberate choice of words in your text, the platform as a crucial component to your writing, and so on. You don’t do something you’re not aware of, right?


So, why the hell are we writing about art in an era of pointless face shields and mismanagement, perhaps a point of looming uncertainty? In an interview with George Putong6 for Telum Media, I shared why I choose to write on arts and culture in the middle of a response to a question. I did not think twice saying that we need to talk about things that matter. And arts and culture are primal to our existence. It matters, but why does it personally matter to us?


Notes


[1] Maria Lind, Situating the Curatorial. (e-flux Journal Issue #116, 2021).


[2] Irit Rogoff and Beatrice von Bismarck, “Curating/Curatorial,” in Cultures of the Curatorial, ed. Beatrice von Bismarck, Jörn Schafaff, and Thomas Weski (Sternberg Press, 2012), 24.


[3] Professor Patrick D. Flores, PhD is art historian, curator of Jorge B. Vargas Museum and Filipiniana Research Center, and Professor of Art Studies at the University of the Philippines Diliman. The class was Art Studies 299 (Research), a class taken by students under the Department of Art Studies MA Art Studies Program as a prerequisite to thesis writing, Art Studies 300.


[4] I contributed an essay on this titled Unbecoming and becoming for tractions: experiments in arts writing, a project by a dear friend and colleague, art historian, curator, and critic, Carlos Quijon, Jr. May 13, 2020.


[5] I covered Inscapes: A Retrospective by Agnes Arellano at the Ignacio B. Gomez Ampitheater at the Arete in Ateneo de Manila University for Summit Media Publishing’s Spot.PH. October 17, 2019.


[6] George Putong is Singapore-based news executive at Telum Media which currently covers Australia and New Zealand, Southeast Asia, and East Asia.


On Art Writing is an ongoing series of opinion essays based on the prompt of the role of art writing today, as understood by the contributing art writers, researchers, and journalists. This essay, 'It takes many twos', is in part occasioned by Alains involvement as a co-instructor with Carlos Quijon, Jr. for the Arts Writing Course at Cartellino School. The enrollment is ongoing until November 17, 11:59 PM.


Alain Zedrick Camiling is an educator, writer, and curatorial collaborator based in Manila. He is currently Chairperson of the Arts Management Program at the De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde where he has been teaching since 2017 and co-authored its curriculum in 2018. He has also taught at the University of the Philippines Baguio Fine Arts Program in 2020.

He writes for various local arts, culture, and lifestyle platforms. He has presided over educational and curatorial projects with private, public, commercial, and nonprofit entities including embassies, cultural institutions, academic institutions, and art collectives, among others. In 2018, he pioneered Bank of the Philippine Islands’ Arts Education program managing its art collection, museums, and programs. He recently convened the 2021 Arts Management Undergraduate Conference, paneled for DutchCulture’s (Amsterdam) Artists in Conversation project, and joined the Asian Contemporary Art Project (France) as a correspondent from the Philippines. He serves as arts manager for Ibagiw Contemporary Visual Arts Exhibition, Baguio City in November 2021.