Date a Girl Who Travels, pt. 2

Stereotypes of foreigners based on the ones I’ve shared a room with

This post goes out to everyone who has ever asked me if I know any seamen, domestic helpers, or factory workers, because (and I quote) those are “the only Filipinos they’ve ever met”.

  1. Australian – invent stuff; secretly have abs
  2. Cambodian – REALLY AWESOME FRENCH ACCENTS; probably like bread a lot
  3. Chinese – travel in packs; turns out they’re all related
  4. Czech – champions of the white man dance
  5. Danish – know more about your country than you do
  6. Dutch – …please put on some pants
  7. English – deceptively younger than they look
  8. Estonian – like Unicorns, i.e. super rare (except in hostels)
  9. Finnish – blonde
  10. French – look great in overalls
  11. German – tall
  12. Hungarian – alarmingly good looking
  13. Indonesian – will never stop talking
  14. Israeli – large, bald, and intimidating
  15. Japanese – obsessively clean
  16. North American – perpetually shirtless and on the phone
  17. Polish – I love Polish people. That is all.
  18. Portuguese – also alarmingly good-looking
  19. Romanian – Romania gave us the Cheeky Girls, so let’s just think about that for a moment
  20. Singaporean(s) – hate Singapore
  21. South American – I’m sorry, I’m too busy mopping up my drool. Where are you from, exactly?
  22. South Korean – of course I’ll help you practice your English; will pay for everything
  23. Swedish – blonde
  24. Swiss – will also pay for everything
  25. Advertisements

Ode to Common Things, pt. 2

Notes on the 8th Cheongju International Craft Biennale

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Reena Kallat, “White Heat” (2008)

The biennial (a format borrowed from the art world) is a rare space in design since it allows for questioning what the discipline is and what social purposes it serves – crucial at a moment when design is moving beyond its traditionally commercial concerns.

Justin McGuirk, on the 2011 Gwangju Design Biennale

Last week I attended the Cheongju International Craft Biennale (CICB, herein) – a publicly funded exhibition that combines techniques and objectives of the art world and the design professions in showing the role of everyday objects under the heading of “Something Old, Something New”. This exhibition highlighted some recent phenomena which have become important aspects of the creative professions: one, that craft and design are becoming interchangeable terms, another being the importance of finding not necessarily a market for one’s work, but a public. After all, the sectors of craft, even as they merge with design, are grounded in their potential to change public space, whether this is through architecture, fashion, or utilitarian objects.

As a public forum, the CICB communicates the role of design in humanizing the environment and the population that inhabits it, and by “environment”, we are not only referring to the natural environment (e.g. climate and the resources at hand), but the social environment, often represented by urbanized areas. This was apparent in the sections of the exhibition, which were Mother, Care, Survival, The Formative Logic, and the Market.

As a government program, an exhibition mounted on the scale of the CICB raises issues on public spending and funding, but also clarifies its role in engaging the public when it comes to aesthetic questions—especially those which concern products, their consumption, and the legacy they leave as precursors to utility, to necessity, and to speculative thinking. When we talk about the utilitarian, it reflects our politics as much as our culture. The things we use, to quote (MIT Professor, author of Evocative Objects) Sherry Turkle, are by nature the things we think with.

From what I saw, what makes Korean design Korean stems from this logic. Design is a profession that is grounded in the public that uses it. That the CICB was not a site for private interests, but a publicly funded program, reflects in its philosophy of catering not solely to the market, but a commitment to the public trust. Korean design can thus be found not in the attempts to inject referents to Korean culture into the design process, but in making creativity an intellectual pursuit that is integral to every level of Korean education. This was evident in the distribution of a Biennale Kids Kit, or a guide made especially for children below the age of 10. If this is not indicative of public service and of reaching out to the broadest possible audience, I don’t know what is. It reflects how design education is rooted in understanding the aesthetic questions that abound wherever you are from.

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The surrounding ideas and existing definitions of craft may connote small-scale businesses that profit from unique production, without the glamour and speculation surrounding the art market, or the necessity of mass production that comes with design. An exhibition like the CICB however makes it clear that, in Korea, not only is there space for this type of practice to thrive; by recognizing that small and medium enterprises (as crafts typically are) need to be made sustainable, the Korean government recognizes their role in balancing the presence of large corporations, conglomerates, and transnational brands, creating homegrown alternatives for Korean consumers, while providing options for those who wish to go their own way.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with large industries, the ideologies accompanying dependence on employment and occupation do little to foster the initiative and confidence among citizens that are necessary to keep a nation afloat. And while entrepreneurship and artisanal production are not for everyone, they need to be (re)presented as viable alternatives.

CICB thus represents an ontology of design that reaches out to its public through the issues surrounding everyday objects. We did not see as much art as we saw things meant for everyday use, mostly in the home. Their status was not necessarily elevated through their presence in the white cube, rather their presence in our daily lives was acknowledged through their role in history and in the sphere of high culture.

The focus of this biennale was not so much in the development of new materials, but in exhausting the use of readily available ones. Yet, the most relevant material, and the objective of this biennale, was in comprehending how the public comes into your work as a designer or an artist, recognizing that society is a valuable material of a design or craft practitioner, thus steeping the exhibition in theoretical frameworks offered by Material Culture and Sociology.

This separates design education from the needs of free enterprise and grounds it in public needs, which are instrumental to the kind of service offered by programs offered in public universities. In serving the industry, we need to understand the role of the public in that industry, and how as a publicly funded program, we can best use our efforts and our intelligence to serve it. This goes beyond employment, beyond consumption, and tackles the things that come free of charge when we are exposed to good design. By confronting the role of design in changing the environment, through the objects we create in order to make our lives easier, we recognize the human capacity for conceptualizing and executing aesthetic decisions upon a specific geocultural context; or rather, if you can change a space, you can change a place.

Date a girl who travels

In which we talk to strangers

Because I have the good fortune of being able to travel relatively often, I thought I’d pass on the good karma by sharing some tips. Here are some of the phrases that have made my short stay in Korea much easier.

Here's Jihan with some flowers.
Here’s Jihan with some flowers.

  1. Hello!
    안녕하세요
    Pronounced: “Annyeonghaseyo!”
  2. Goodbye!
    안녕히 가세요
    “Annyeonghi gaseyo!”
  3. Where is the bathroom?
    화장실은 어디입니까?
    “Hwajangsil eun audi yeyo?” or “HWajangsil eun audi ibnikka?”
  4. Thank you!
    감사합니다!
    “Gamsahabnida!”
  5. Thank you, internet!
    인터넷 주셔서 감사합니다!
    inteones jusyeoseo gamsahabnida!
  6. You’re welcome!
    참 잘 오셨습니다
    “Cham jal osyeossseubnida!”
  7. How much is this?
    이 얼마
    “How much-ee?”
  8. Lunchtime!
    점심!
    “Lunch-ee!”
  9. I don’t know, what do you feel like doing?
    나는 당신이하고 같은 기분이 무엇을 몰라?
    “Naneun dangsin-ihago gat-eun gibun-i mueos-eul molla?”
  10. I don’t know, what do you feel like doing?
    나는 당신이하고 같은 기분이 무엇을 몰라?
    “Naneun dangsin-ihago gat-eun gibun-i mueos-eul molla?”
  11. I don’t know, what do you feel like doing?
    나는 당신이하고 같은 기분이 무엇을 몰라?
    “Naneun dangsin-ihago gat-eun gibun-i mueos-eul molla?”
  12. Why is BB Cream so expensive?
    왜 BB 크림은 너무 비싸다? 당신이 당신의 얼굴에 무엇을 가하고있다?
    wae BB keulim eun neomu bissada ? dangsin-i dangsin-ui eolgul-e mueos eul gahago issda ?
  13. Can I eat that?
    나는 그것을 먹을 수 있나요?
    “Naneun geugeos-eul meog-eul su issnayo?”
  14. What did I just put in my mouth?
    난 그냥 내 입에 뭘 넣었어요?
    “Nan geunyang nae ib-e mwol neoh-eoss-eoyo?”
  15. You have to tell me what I just put in my mouth.
    당신은 내가 내 입에 넣어 무엇을 말해 있나요? 나는 무엇을 씹는거야?
    “I can’t pronounce this because I am not Korean.”
  16. We need to talk about your shopping problem.
    우리는 당신의 쇼핑 문제에 대해 이야기 할 필요가있다.
    “Ulineun dangsin-ui syoping munjee daehae iyagi hal pil-yogaissda.”
  17. No, we need to talk about your shopping problem.
    아니, 우리는 당신의 쇼핑 문제에 대해 이야기 할 필요가있다.
    “Ani, uli neun dangsin-ui syoping munjee daehae iyagi hal pil-yogaissda.”
  18. You can never have too many ugly sweaters.
    당신은 너무 많은 추악한 스웨터가 없다.
    “Dangsin-eun neomu manh-eun chuaghan seuweteo ga eobsda.”
  19. I have come to get my bank account raped.
    나는 강간 은행 계좌를 얻기 위해왔다
    “Naneun gang-gan eunhaeng gyejwa leul eodgi wihae wassda.”
  20. I’m looking for my pants.
    나는 나의 바지를 찾고 있어요
    “Naneun naui baji leul chajgo iss-eoyo”
  21. We are looking for our pants.
    우리는 우리의 바지를 찾고 있습니다
    “Ulineun uliui baji leul chajgo issseubnida.”
  22. I’m lost. Send help.
    길을 잃었어요. 도움 보낼 수 있습니다.
    “Gil-eul ilh-eoss-eoyo. doum bonael su issseubnida.”

Ode to Common Things

Geraldine Javier at CICB, 2013
Geraldine Javier at CICB, 2013

Now you know some things about where to put your energy, about what it means to build up instead of tear down, what it’s like to nurture good things so they grow. You wouldn’t trade anything for anything. All of this is true. And yet let us not skirt the issue that something was lost. Something has been lost.
Elisa Albert, “Currency”

I was at Cheongju over the weekend for the 8th International Craft Biennale. For obvious reasons (okay, maybe they’re not so obvious, they never have non-selling design shows on this scale in the Philippines) I have never been to a design biennale, so when a friend I met at Gwangju the year before posted the announcements for the exhibition and the homestay, I jumped at the opportunity.

This is the result of coming from, and now teaching, a design program that’s ambivalent about calling itself a design program and seems less than enthusiastic (I’m kind of tiptoeing around the possibility of offending anyone here, you see) about the profession. But I have always been interested in design, and I’ve been lucky that my mom has supported and cultivated this interest in her own way, ever since she saw my cutting holes into my socks to make onesies for my dolls.

From there, she would bring back bags and bags of fabric scraps whenever she’d get clothes made. Usually they just got piled into a corner, only serving their purpose much later when I was in college and needed swatches for projects. But that was about it. Other than sampling them for portfolios and such, the opportunity to really exhaust the full potential of a material as pliable and versatile as fabric did not present itself. What was exhausted instead was the idea that we weren’t designers. Unfortunately this was done without making it clearer what designers could and should be doing.

There were other things that complicated this issue: for one, there’s the lack of a budget. We’ve been told we had to raise our own funds for our facilities – which is bullshit. It’s a public institution, and to apply the strategies of the private sector to running it is just cruel. We also come from a culture wherein aesthetic pleasure can only come from a place of economic stability.

All bullshit, and all bullshit capped by the nature of the institution that is supposed to be nurturing it.

the mushroom chair, sorry captions to follow

This is the 8th installment of the biennale, entitled “Something Old, Something New” for reasons you can probably Google. Every day I went, the place was packed. And packed in the sense that you don’t get anything out of this kind of design show besides the opportunity to be around objects. You don’t take anything home other than that experience.

On the second day, I went downtown to catch a show being hosted by the Gwangju folks, Huiung Jin and Dirk Fleischmann (that means “Meat man”, I know. It’s hilarious), who teach art at the university and run a chandelier building lab out of Cheongju, with Dirk lecturing and Huiung translating. That’s where I met Huiung’s wife, Venus, who was all, “I was wondering who the hell would want to come see a biennale and subject themselves to a homestay, and now here you are!”

And while it was one of the stranger things I’ve experienced (clue: it’s nothing like couchsurfing because couchsurfing is completely foreign to Koreans), I didn’t see anything strange about it to begin with because South Korea has always struck me as the kind of place that would go above and beyond to promote their culture at the level of industry. Further proof: Cheongju is actually the smallest city in South Korea (at least that’s what my hosts told me), and they have a fucking chandelier lab. They have art spaces, music venues (called Sound Garden and Pearl Jam – also hilarious), and they take the time to bring their kids to see some fucking contemporary art. When I say the place was packed, I mean the place was packed with children.

Meaning it doesn’t stop at effort, it actually gets executed, and I’m sure this has a lot to do with lifting their asses out of the third world, etc. There have been a lot (okay, around 3?) articles on modern art being a CIA weapon, or Oasis being part of a government conspiracy. The same has been said for Hallyu, or Korean wave, which kind of makes you wonder about the suspicion we’ve cast on government intervention in the arts–especially when it’s done right.

There’s a lot of hope in creating an atmosphere that says you’re capable of getting shit done–which is what design should be about. It’s not just about creating something functional, it creates an environment of efficiency, and that in itself is a beautiful thing.
South Korea is full of these kinds of places, which makes you wonder if another biennale, another conference, another area gentrified to attract the creative classes is redundant.

But it’s one thing to promote something or endorse it–which god knows we in the Philippines are good at. There’s a special case to be made for places such as this, which just a couple of decades ago were in even worse straits than the Philippines; and it’s a case I’ll probably only understand if I choose to get any further into it.

An Unexpected Running Start

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Let’s take a moment to focus on what my students have accomplished, shall we?

The other day, fifteen Clothing Tech seniors showed me the results of a semester’s worth of work: 5 looks finished during the lab/studio hours of my advanced construction class. We use the term “advanced” very loosely in this department. Prior to the advanced course, they have about 10 units of pattern drafting and sewing. Some of these kids had never touched a machine or picked up a french curve prior to this class. In drafting the curriculum, when we wrote “advanced”, we were being “optimistic”. I’m happy to see how that optimism has gotten them somewhere. Almost everyone is finished and ready to show something they can take genuine pride in, having sweated blood over a subject they little preparation for at the start.

When I was an undergraduate in Clothing Technology, we didn’t get to have a fashion show. As seniors, we could opt to arrange a graduation show as the culminating activity for our advanced constuction class, and somehow my batchmates didn’t want it. I was indifferent to it, because by the time the opportunity came up, I’d been consigning to a small boutique for two years, but I do remember my professor losing her temper in the middle of one lab class. I was always late, and this time was no different. As soon as I had my machine set up, my professor started yelling about how all we did was complain while missing opportunities and turning in shitty projects. I got a 1.75 in that class, which is UP shorthand for “nice try, but whatever.”

My friend Duffie wrote something about indifference being the opposite of love, and my mediocre performance as a Clothing Technology undergraduate says just as much about love or indifference. Indifference led me to channel my energy towards other things – things that I wish I could say were just as productive; but the truth is my disappointment with the department and my inability to relate to my peers far outweighed whatever drive I had to push for something greater. This reflected in the jobs I got immediately after graduating and the little effort I put into picking myself up any sooner.

I wouldn’t say those years were wasted though, because had I not made it through on time, I wouldn’t have gotten this job. I’ve been teaching at UP for four years, and the students in this picture were freshmen when I started. Their first class that I got to handle was Costume History, and I remember being so inept and incompetent, thinking that we could pull through just by watching movies and talking about the movies after. I cynically felt this was still a step up, considering the kind of instruction I’d been dealt.

I handled two more of their classes in the following years, and I’m not bullshitting by saying they made me want to do better. This batch seemed to genuinely love their work and treated creativity as an end in itself. The only times I saw any compromises in their output were when they spent too much time thinking about what would go on the runway, and I would take that any day over the indifference I felt towards what had been asked of me.

In a couple of weeks, they’ll be showing their first collections. Hopefully, these will not be their last, because there’s real talent here; moreover there’s integrity in what they’ve created. A large portion of their grades came from peer evaluations, and they were so careful about fairly assigning who sat on whose panel, making sure the assignments were permuted randomly (because their teacher is really bad at math).

This is a group that’s more concerned with collaboration and constructive criticism, than with competition. They help each other out rather than tear each other down, which goes against the stereotypes of the industry they are about to enter–should they decide to stick it out. This is a small batch of designers; but as cheesy as it sounds, I have genuine faith that their hearts and minds are big enough to change the game, and shift our attention from what the fashion industry already looks like, to what it could be. Some of them will be treated like freaks, and the most I can do is keep my fingers crossed, hoping they’ll be okay with letting their freak flags fly.


In other news, I’ve been busy with my MA. Last semester, I allowed myself to miss a deadline on account of not being able to afford to pay for parking at the Lopez Museum (why do you people not have parking? Whatever happened to public service?). So now, I have this semester to make up for that incomplete grade. I’d love to say I don’t care about grades, but it’s only when you actually have something to maintain that you begin to care about keeping it up; but what matters more is that I finish my Masters on time, because I’ve been there too long as it is.

Next semester, I’ll be doing my final year of coursework, then I don’t know if I’ll take some time off before beginning my thesis. What I do know is that I want to stop teaching fashion. I’ve already mentioned it to friends, but it was just this week that I actually admitted it to those involved and affected by this decision.

This idea to quit literally came out of my ass, when I started brainfarting about wanting to join a roller derby league while visiting my sister in the states. But because I should know better than to let the prospect of getting elbowed in the face by a very large woman on roller skates have any bearing on my *future*, I let the first coin toss be the application I sent in for Jenesys 2.0. That did not get approved. Onward to round 2, which is a proposal to write a book. There is no funding, only research credits, and as with all projects that involve government approval, I have serious doubts about whether or not it will pull through. But still…

I’m 28. I’m one of the youngest among my colleagues. For a time, this was the answer to life after college, but there will always be more. Like roller derby.