From Maginhawa to Koganecho, With Love

Jazel Kristin’s whimsical exhibit featuring millipedes gives a glimpse into the Koganecho Artist Residency

Jazel Kristin

In January 2024, Jazel Kristin mounted A Thousand Feet, a solo exhibit in Gravity Art Space featuring millipedes. 

Kristin started her creative career in 1999 helping produce documentaries for Philippine TV broadcast giant GMA-7, working continuously on shows like I-Witness and Probe and with veterans like Howie Severino until she held her own as a director.

The daughter of two photographers whose sister also became a professional photographer, narrative storytelling through images was no stranger to her. It was while working in GMA-7 that she slowly discovered her art practice.

“I approach art with a sense of wonder,” she shares, “that is, getting lost and finding yourself again. There is a place for angry, political art, but that’s not my message to tell,” given that she spends a large part of her documentary career tackling heavy subjects.

And “wander with wonder” she did into her art practice. “In the end, I came back home to photography, I guess I did get lost and find myself” she laughs, as her art largely utilizes re-contextualized prints of photos she takes from her travels, of food and landscapes including street scenes.

It all started behind-the-scenes while doing fieldwork or pre-production and editing back at the TV studio. She found herself taking photos of the crew as they worked, “the narrative behind the narrative.” Film was still the mainstream photography medium then, long before its artisanal status today as a medium contrasting mass production and consumption.

A glimpse into her process

She started cutting the photo prints, and making collages out of them, “new stories based on existing stories.” Kristin expounds: “I love working with a crew, meeting halfway with our ideas, but a part of me always wanted individual expressions. That’s why I make art.”

During the pandemic, amidst lockdowns and a recession, she asked herself if art was valued, “if art could be eaten.” To answer this, she launched Free Art For Free, an experimental project where she left her works all around Maginhawa where she resides, not expecting anything. To her surprise, people would take the art, and then she’d leave more around.

It was then that Mark Salvatus and Mayumi Hirano of Load Na Dito Projects took note of Kristin’s project, and they promptly recommended her to the Koganecho Artist-in-Residence Program in Yokohama, Japan, alongside another Filipino artist. There are two ways to get into Koganecho: Either through a paid personal application or a recommendation and subsequent selection by a panel.

Suffice to say, Kristin got in the 2022 program.

The night before she left the Philippines for the three-month program, a millipede showed up as she packed her bags. Understandably, she was grossed out.

At the residency space

Arriving in the Koganecho neighborhood of Yokohama, more millipedes appeared in her room, and to face her aversion, she decided to research more about them.

Coming across a news item about how in 1920, a swarm of millipedes looking for food stopped a train on its tracks north of Tokyo, Kristin then realized what her residency project should be. Thus, A Thousand Feet was born.

In the Japanese and Filipino versions of the exhibit, millipedes populate each work: Photo collages, resin sculptures, a wall where visitors tack millipede-shaped cutouts of her food photos from Japan, more of said cut-outs served on sushi and tempura plates, and the main piece, a panoramic photo of the Koganecho skyline where a giant millipede snakes through the buildings, entering a window that apparently belongs to the room where she stayed.

She now sees millipedes as her spirit animal, her “milli-team” as she also found out that in some cultures, the insects are seen as omens of fortune. “The more we get to know something, the less we’re likely to judge it, I’ve come to realize,” she smiles.

Arriving in Japan as a free spirit, she found out that some of her ways clashed with how people usually did things there: Free Art For Free would require a permit from the authorities, there were no scraps to trawl for on the streets to turn into art pieces, here, she had to ask the waste managers to open their warehouse; finally, when it came to mounting her show, she was told she was deviating again.

Works at the exhibition at Gravity Art Space

Even working with a resin master artist in Koganecho, she learned that not all of her planned executions would turn out the way she initially envisioned. Nonetheless, “it was a good dynamic, the push and pull and meeting halfway. Koganecho changed me, but I think I changed it too somehow.”

She notes how the residency was helpful to her, citing how “I needed the structure and discipline. It’s a good experience for any artist to try. Also, despite the seeming strictness, it was all to help artists better execute their vision. They were also very open-handed with materials, especially with resin, which is normally very expensive.”

One of her good friends and fellow artist Zeus Bascon also attended the residence years prior.

He concurs with Kristin, recalling how “they were very organized and sincere in supporting each artist’s vision. They responded to needs fast. It sunk in to me how good a residency could be thanks to a solid structure.”

The Koganecho Artist-in-Residence Program is actually a civic, local-led initiative, started in the early 2000s aimed at rehabilitating the neighborhood as it was once a haven for illegal and illicit businesses. After the police shuttered the sketchy activities, the neighborhood residents with support from their local government decided that cultural programming would be part of their rehabilitation array.

Since then, artists from around Asia have regularly lit the neighborhood up.

So close, so far.

Kristin recalls the words from a local who attended her Yokohama exhibit: “I like how you see my country!” Smiling, she notes how “we were able to meet halfway, in this happy accident. I guess it came full-circle, after all, that visit by the millipedes, from Maginhawa to Yokohama, and back!”

A Thousand Feet runs in Gravity Art Space until February 17. Read more about the Koganecho Artist-in-Residence Program here. Follow Jazel Kristin’s art practice on her official Instagram: @jkartalyer