Gripping on to Instagram geotagging and my curiosity as navigation tools that have led me on a nostalgic trip back to my alma mater’s district late last 2018, I share in delight and awe on the very final day of ‘The Extra Extra Ordinary’ featuring Taiwanese artist Chou Yu Cheng, Filipino artist Garry-Ross Pastrana, and Indonesian collective Tromarama.
A set of printers were timed to go off every 30 seconds, leaving pieces of paper on the floor and a pulsating soundtrack in an exhibit I clearly haven’t forgotten well into a year since. In a similarly calculated scheme of circuits and switches, a staccato to the senses was composed by the hodgepodge of lamps and light fixtures on display. I stayed over an hour trying to make sense of meaning, inspiration, as well as each visual in-between created by the multiple combinations of warm and stark lighting.
Space in scale
Welcome to this bit of Manila. “Taft,” we fondly refer to the general area, is home to many including university students for the duration of a degree or some would argue a lifetime. This concrete jungle and cradle are tied together by residential high-rises, sidewalk livelihood, and historical landmarks and institutions.
Aligned to the area’s inexplicable diversity, bursts of modernity, and discourses for endless learning, just a short walk from Taft Avenue proper is the Museum of Contemporary Arts and Design (MCAD) Manila. Almost obscured in plain sight is one of Metro Manila’s vanguards of new creativity.
Initially pitched as a large space for students of College of Saint Benilde School of Design and Arts to nurture their ideas freely, the building’s versatile design and floor plan enabled the structure to move freely into eventually becoming a stage for local and international talents. Today the installations and activities housed within the Museum are as manifold as its neighbouring communities and the artists it represents. Dividable horizontally and vertically, the Museum hosts exhibitions across multiple scales to accommodate artists’ and designers’ pursuits.
B-side speaks to the Museum’s Deputy Director Chris Green to shine the spotlight on MCAD Manila, surveying a peek into the landscape and direction of art and design in this part of the globe.
How does MCAD Manila differ from other museums in the Philippines? And how does it compare to international galleries?
As part of the artistic community of the College of Saint Benilde’s School of Design and Arts, the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design (MCAD) is a unique institution that offers the experience of and the exposure to contemporary art and its various publics, with a focus on Manila, Philippines as context.
Distinct for its position as a non-collecting institution, MCAD’s contemporary art exhibitions, public programs, as well as other cultural and art-inspired undertakings showcase the possibilities of technology, new media, and presents content that encourages engagement with art and culture, its practice and production, and its presentation as well as interpretation.
What is the Museum’s main purpose and how is this evident in its initiatives?
Running independently throughout the year in parallel or in-support of the exhibition, the Museum’s free, wide-reaching education and public programs take hold of a range of discursive positions.
Not only covering contemporary art and design, but also culture, politics, philosophy, family, and society. These aim to engage with all social demographics irrespective of art knowledge, age, or race.
The free programs may take the form of workshops, lectures, seminars, printed materials, and community events.
Does being part of the College of Saint Benilde’s School of Design and Arts community shape MCAD’s vision and projects in any way?
Being a part of an art college, MCAD’s programmes have been moulded in line with the school’s courses creating an environment which allows for the exploration of ideas, dialogues, learning, and creative pursuits.
The Museum’s approach of presenting experts and leaders not limited to the local scene, but from across the globe, supports the taught curriculum of the College of Saint Benilde. This is achieved through exposure to high-level, real-world thinkers and practices delivered outside the context of usual classroom operations. Being open to the public, this context also influences local and regional universities, secondary schools, and training providers who now look to MCAD as a key knowledge provider.
MCAD understands that diversity and collaboration not only assist the Museum on a local basis, but also contribute to an ever-expanding network in a greater sharing of knowledge both within and outside the sector.
These cultural links not only support the Museum’s growth but in conjunction support the College of Saint Benilde as each brand name becomes synonymous with the other.
In helping to paint a picture of the museum’s 10 years, have there been projects or exhibitions that have particularly stood out?
Without a collection as a point of reference, MCAD is able to adapt from project to project, seeking to present a varied, surprising, nourishing, challenging, and unexpected program.
MCAD’s recent exhibition program represents a culturally diverse range of artists, designers, practices, and discursive contexts which have engaged a wide cross-section of audiences and stakeholders across local, regional, and international narratives.
The Museum has included the first Southeast Asian solo exhibitions of international artists Paul Pfeiffer, Michael Lin, and Apichatpong Weerasethakul. The Museum has hosted the first screening of Isaac Julien’s ‘Playtime’ as well as all-Filipino group shows.
MCAD has honed collaborations with prestigious institutions such as the National Arts Council Singapore, Artspace Sydney, Jim Thompson Museum Bangkok, Parasite Gallery Hong Kong, Kadist Foundation Paris and San Francisco, Taipei Contemporary Art Center, and Independent Curators International. This has altogether culminated in the Museum showcasing over a hundred artists and designers from every corner of the globe.
Could you describe the landscape of contemporary art and design in the country?
The Philippines is unique in its history of art practice. Having the first artists trained in the Western tradition (Escuela de Bellas Artes was founded by Damian Domingo in 1821) created a country of painters and artists. The Philippines through Manila once sat in Southeast Asia as having one of the most active local art scenes, which thrived due to art exhibitions and a market driven by local collectors.
Southeast Asia also had other art centres with varying degrees of activity and internal support. Jakarta and Yogijakarta for Indonesia, Bangkong for Thailand, Kuala Lumpur for Malaysia, Ho Chi Minh and Hanoi for Vietnam, and Singapore were some of the more active centres. These were tapped by foreign museums, notably the Fukuoka Art Museum and Queensland Art Gallery during the 1980s and more actively during the 1990s to take part in shows, which were later included in collections.
The economic prosperity of some Southeast Asian countries during the 1960s to 1970s saw the beginnings of cultural interest with the establishment of museums and proper art schools by the government. These developments were scuppered by events of Martial Law and fears of the communist threat. In the Philippines however, then First Lady Imelda Marcos established cultural centres and backed the movement of internationalism, which was ongoing in the West. Artists were sent to study internationally like Roberto Chabet, who was appointed the Founding Director for the Gallery at Cultural Center of the Philippines.
What direction do you see the contemporary arts and design scene going in the Philippines? Any hopes for it as an institution?
The world of contemporary art is global. However, the thinking and art discourse within the Philippines, whilst evolving rapidly, continues to be locally oriented.
Participation on the regional and the international stages have become an important aspect of building MCAD’s identity and reputation. Increasingly, regional and international collaborations have formed an integral role in the development of MCAD’s programming. MCAD will continue to use its growing regional reputation to provide programming outside of an existing local experience of art.
What can MCAD Manila visitors look forward to for the end of 2019 and for the upcoming new year? Does the Museum have any new goals?
Just 10-years old, MCAD has evolved rapidly. It has developed core museum content and programming that runs systematically in a planned and analytical way. It is receptive to changes and evolutions occurring both locally and regionally. But it is not reactionary in the sense of making immediate changes to its core activities relative to immediate events, dialogues, or trends.
Now with an established brand, identity, and presence, the Museum is set to evolve and move towards the shaping of an institution.
Among MCAD’s Exhibitions is our current show, ‘What Lies Within: Centre of the Centre’ featuring Australian artist Mel O’Callaghan, French artist Laurent Grasso, British artist Suzanne Treister, and Swiss artist Pamela Rosenkranz. This will run until the 1st of December.
On the 6th of February of 2020, MCAD opens a collaboration group video show in partnership with Netherlands based Han Nefkens Foundation. On the 4th of April, an MCAD Commons Exhibition caters MCAD’s singular programming to a larger audience to allow for engagement, creative development, ideas exchange, and support of the artistic process across the areas of research, art practice, and curatorial discourse. The 4th of June will see a solo show by Korean artist Haegue Yang.
These combined with our ongoing public program, includes a January 2020 public lecture featuring Yung Ma, the Curator of the Contemporary Art and Prospective Creation Department of Paris’ Centre Pompidou and Seol Media City Biennale Artistic Director.
Here MCAD’s ambition is to continue developing and launching our 2018, 10-year anniversary programmatic incentives, which include the following aspects: conferences, research, publications, residencies, and mentoring.
MCAD aims to host a yearly conference to and reflective of the currents of global contemporary art and culture and the discourses which surround it. The Museum plans to be a foundational base to support post graduate research at the MA and PhD levels, in the history and production of local design and material culture. The Museum also aims to establish an in-house publishing arm, which specialises in producing monographs of contemporary Filipino artists.
Running biannually for both Filipino and international artists, MCAD offers residencies that aims to nurture and develop the work of mid-career artists. This is achieved by providing a space for the exploration of new work and ideas or the progression of current work. Lastly to support the continued integration and development of the College of Saint Benilde and MCAD, a mentoring programme will run as a conduit for professional artists or designers from local, regional, or international fields to work directly with Benilde students or alumni.