Cupcakes before Healthcare and Overextending Ourselves

The final 50 from the preliminary judging session at FIT
The final 50 from the preliminary judging session at FIT

I’m turning 29 in a few months. At my age, my mom was already getting ready to have me. Fact is we’re living in a different time, but the Philippines hasn’t changed as much as we’d like to think. It’s still the same misogynistic, rape-culture perpetuating, Draconian society that feigns progress through its miserable track record of having had two female presidents. I stay because I have the good fortune to avoid the real damage while making the most of its good parts. I still meet good people.

But despite what I’ve managed to avoid, I would not know where to raise my kid should I have one (because if I was being completely honest with myself, I’ll admit that I really do like children).

When it came to educating myself, it was relatively easy to work my way around the lack of opportunities in the Philippines. Most of the so-called good schools are private or quasi-public entities publicly, with few publicly accessible educational or cultural activities. This could be a problem of nomenclature and maybe there is a way out through redefining that which we call art or culture. But it gets trickier when it comes to public access and basics education, and the space for negotiation gets even smaller when it comes to questions of life as opposed to humanity.

In other contexts, the discussion has already shifted to the anthropocene – which is the subject of this year’s Taipei Biennial, curated by Nicolas Bourriaud, and inevitably turns to discussions of the right to life before the right to humanity. I’m not going to go on about it here, but this conversation gets muddled further in situations where humanity is entrenched to the point of its indivisibility from citizenship. At work, I can ask what this has to do with art but when it comes to myself (as a woman and as a citizen of the Philippines) it’s about what health care has to do with wanting to have a kid, i.e. what’s good for me may not be good for another person I decide to bring in. In a nutshell, a clear-cut definition of humanity–one that is specific to the system in which you live–results in better production processes, whether you’re talking about art or industry (which in some cases are the same thing).

Anyway, that was just early morning babble – a product of trying to write since I got back from Spain and finally cracking my laptop open at 7 am. I’m in New York. It’s my last day here and it’s raining. At home (meaning in the Philippines), I write, I study, and I teach, mostly at schools; with the occasional corporate gig talking to people who work in retail and in factories. Recently, I’ve started working with more museums and one of the things that has been brought to my attention are pamphlets for Zero-In, which are also handed out as Manila’s museum guide: at the start, Zero-in had three participating museums, each curating their own exhibit around a central theme. Today, that number has doubled, bringing the number to 6 (not sure if I have this right, but it’s the Met, Ayala, Lopez, Vargas, Ateneo Art Gallery, and CCP).

What’s wrong with that number is that anyone who has visited museums abroad, whether as a student, tourist, intern–whatever–it is easily evident how disgustingly low that number is for a city as massive and as dense as Manila. When it comes to those 6, we’re not even talking about Manila alone, but all of Metro Manila. Next, is that put together, it doesn’t even take an hour to stroll through each of these museums. If they were placed side-by-side, you could easily get through the entire row in less than a day, with time to kill for lunch. Unfortunately, the sheer logistics of getting from one to the other (and I’m speaking as a teacher who had to plan field trips) are so mind-blowingly inconvenient, that it takes ample planning and rented cars just to get everyone from place to place within an allocated amount of time. It takes a week to take in such a tiny slice of what passes for culture. And I’m not even going to get into the names these institutions carry.

When it comes to (the aforementioned) “what passes for culture” though, it helps to turn your eyes elsewhere–like the spaces between those 6 museums. That may not be the point of zero-in, but it drives home something else entirely, and that’s the sheer amount of work to be done (which I guess is what I meant about nomenclature earlier).

A brief recap, seeing that I haven’t posted an update since the 15th of April: I left for the States on the 27th, arrived in SF on the 28th where I managed to cram lunch and a wine tasting with Sean; then to NYC, where I found my way back to Julie’s in Ridgewood. Julie is just the best person alive and she had my back the first time I was here and she’s still there for me now and no superlative is enough to describe how lovely she is. From there, I caught a night flight to Portugal, where I arrived on the afternoon of the 5th. This was after a conference and preliminary jury session at FIT–which I have not even had a chance to talk about at length, let alone process. Had a couple of days of just seeing Porto and psyching myself up (with a bit of much-needed prep) for the conference in Aveiro on Shifting Education, Cultural Diversity, and Social Engagement in art and design. After that, with a brief stop in Lisbon, I flew to Barcelona to reunite with Christian (who I met and loved SO MUCH at Former West in Berlin last year). Then back to New York, to Julie, Quark, Pol, and Petra, and now here we are.

In the past couple of weeks, both Julie and Christian have told me “there’s always space for you here”. Another friend I made at Aveiro handed me her card and told me that I would have a place to stay if ever I found myself in Paris, and that she meant it.

I guess what I’m trying to say is you learn to be generous by being exposed to the generosity of others, and I’ll always be thankful for all those times someone has understood the need to be somewhere else and extended their resources. With all this travel, all this getting from place to place alone, it’s easy to forget the value of learning to coexist and acknowledge how much love goes into making room for other people–even for just a few days. Space isn’t exactly a renewable resource, but it’s different when it comes to grace…so there’s that.

I guess this is my biggest gripe about living in a place that no one wants to visit–that makes it difficult for people to visit–that I just don’t get the same opportunities to be as generous.