Hunger Pains

Or Curating While Hungry

I just got back from Bangkok where we (meaning Mich and I) hung a quilt for Grrrl Gang Manila at the Bangrak Market. The quilt is half of Soft Bodies, which consists of two pieces, the other being Lesley-Anne Cao’s Thread (2016). 

Bangrak Beauty, and installation view of Mich Dulce’s At Least I Won’t Regret Anything (2017)

I find myself struggling, more than usual, to get out of bed and back to work nowadays. While I’m lucky to find work in the cultural sector, I’m beginning to find it more and more difficult to convince myself that  no job is too small. On some days, it’s about continuing an old or ongoing project. On others it’s something fun, like hanging work in a market, in another city.

Installation view of “The Book of the Courtier,” from Lesley-Anne Cao’s Thread (2016), embroidery on fabric.

Everyday though, it’s uncertainty. The word for this or at least the term around which the art world has built a discourse, I’ve learned over time, is “precarity”; and no matter how much has been written valorizing or condemning it, nothing can really prepare you for the difficulty of facing it head on each day.

A friend once told me that the best way to work is to “avoid work,” in his terms, to just keep getting paid for things that don’t feel like work. This is how we end up working for 16 hours straight on some days, while other days we never even leave our beds. Except to eat.

Lately, living in Manila has us fucked in every orifice by inflation on top of taxation. I never had to have the vocabulary for this up to now, but now it feels like studying this new layer of precarization has become a full-time job. I can’t relax because it has gotten too expensive to even eat. If I don’t know where my next meal is coming from, I can’t get any sleep, and now I’m too tired to even think; and if I can’t think, I can’t work.

All I do is worry. The only thing that stops me from worrying is more work–the kind of work that does not require a lot of thinking, only heavy lifting. While curatorship–at least the kind of curatorship I’ve gotten used to, which requires me to constantly be cleaning surfaces, comparing prices between hanging and lighting fixtures, and lifting heavy shit, because none of the shows I’ve done has granted me the luxury of hiring a professional installation team–allows me to enjoy the best of both worlds.

Registration table at the opening of Quid Pro Quo, curated by Elissa Ecker and Rebecca Vickers for the Bangkok Biennial

What frustrates me is that I usually love the part that requires me to write and think and discuss, but these tasks have become scarce, mostly because I’ve become incapable of thinking of anything beyond the doom and gloom sweeping through the Philippines. In reality though, that frustration has long been replaced by genuine anger, the kind that eats through your stomach and kills all hunger and any lust for life. And if I–a middle-class woman who is typing this from a coffee shop–feel that ulceration, then how much worse is it for everyone else?

Being in Bangkok was a good working break. I felt the difference in my eating habits. Eating–because there was work to do–felt like a chore to tick off a list; the difference came with actually being able to enjoy it; being able to savor every bite without feeling fucked over by rising prices and taxes and an uncaring government with nothing but disdain for its own people. I could eat without feeling like an inconvenience to my country who has to pay out the nose just to survive. And while Thailand, at least according to some people, is really no better than the Philippines on political front, at least when it comes to food, they are the clear winners. At least there was that.



Javier and I are engaged to be married sometime in the not-so-distant future, which is not the most comfortable subject for someone who does not believe in marriage, but I need to get used to talking about it because here we are!

We have been together for almost two years, and the commitments we’ve made along the way (not including the commitment to our choice to be together for a very, very long time) have also meant turning into very different versions of ourselves from who we were when we first began dating in 2015. In other words, we’ve been growing up together. Prior to (and I hesitate to say this because of how much doubt it will end up casting on the final outcome, which is the current state of our relationship) hooking up with Javier, I had been in and out of often fruitless, often noncommittal relationships with not-so-random dudes. Many of these relationships only taught me that at any age, you could still be “a dude”, but some were also genuinely productive lessons on what I wanted out of a relationship.

In one of the more heartbreaking episodes, I remember asking one of these dudes, “Who is going to take care of you?” after a brief but particularly bleak period where he disappeared because he was sick. Like, actually sick and unable to move and too uncertain of where he stood with anyone in his life to actually ask for help. That same year, while enrolling myself in a bunch of career-enhancement things (because 2015 was kind of a mess, career-wise) and filling up Visa applications, I also had to fill in contact details of my closest relative or friend, in case something happened.

I think I had several very mild breakdowns in several bureaucratic agencies from overthinking the fact that the person–or rather, a person–I was spending most of my time with that year was not an emergency contact. I thought about those times when I didn’t hear from him whenever something serious (like internal bleeding) was happening. On my end, if he was called in, would he actually come to my rescue? Would I do the same?

I was living alone at the time, I hated my job, the only thing that really structured my days was caring for my cats and the possibility of being with someone I cared about; but there was something very crucial missing when it came to caring, and I felt it whenever I had to fill in some very basic surveys about who I was and who was looking out for me. When I asked him, “Who’s going to take care of you?” I was not referring to recent events, but to a future wherein we had to acknowledge our deteriorating bodies and our dwindling number of close relatives. And that was the beginning of the end of that.

Over the weekend, Javier and I went on an Art Deco-themed tour of the Chinese Cemetery on the northern tip of Manila. For anyone who hasn’t been to the Chinese Cemetery, let it be known that there is nothing even remotely idyllic or peaceful about the landscape. On the surface, it’s a mess of concrete structures competing with each other over who can make the grandest statements about the families whose ancestors’ remains are housed inside. But it also gives you really strange insights about care and filial piety and ’til death do us part: fun things to think about while holding the hand of the man I’m planning to marry. Javier had an ear infection on that day, and just wasn’t feeling it with the tour and and the weather, but he soldiered on nonetheless. And me–being who I (currently) am–snapped at him for acting bored, snapped at him when he fell asleep in the car, and finally apologized only after I had something to eat (but I don’t think he heard me because of the situation his ear was in).

I know that I still have so much to learn about being with another person and building a life together (with our cats). I know I’ve always wanted to care for someone, but most of the time I still lack the patience to do so. There’s more to be said about knowing that someone is good for you, but I don’t think I should be the one to testify to this. And while getting married won’t fix who we already are, it will be another context to work within – same promise with a different bond? A different set of rules, perhaps?

When Javier applied for his first job, at a BPO near my neighborhood, he called to proudly tell me that he’d put my name down as his emergency contact. If something happened to him, I would be the first to know. We’ve already been living together for over a year and know very well what things are like when nothing happens – when we’re just going about our days and doing what needs to get done. Maybe marriage, at this rate, is really just a matter of confirming that we will be there for each other in case of an emergency.



Year-end Wishlist

My best friend recently posted a wishlist on her blog, which got me thinking about the things I want, and how this catalog of individual desires has changed over the years. I actually keep a “Stuff I want” folder on my bookmarks tab, but last I checked, all that’s in it are links to a dozen different Hario coffee drippers available on Lazada. A few months ago, I gave away my 3-cup stovetop moka because, a) we no longer have our own stove. I know. It makes me sad, too. Maybe the first thing on my wishlist will be a stove, followed by enough space for a stove. Anyway! b) I also realized I don’t drink as much coffee, or at least I don’t drink enough to justify a purchase as frivolous as a ceramic Hario V6 (I am not even going to open the tab to confirm the product code because it only makes me cry)–no matter how beautiful it is and even if it’s delivered door-to-door.

So reflecting further on this (because I wasn’t lying when I said my “Stuff I want” folder is actually 12 different Hario drippers: what do I really want?

1. OEM 5.5L Automatic Pet Feeder with Voice Message Recording and LCD Screen in Black

As most of you may know, I have spent the last 5 years steadily replacing whatever personality I have with that of “someone who likes cats,” confirmed by my consistently having anywhere between 5 and ten million cats.

Because I would like to work on some semblance of self-actualization by revisiting questions of “Who is Alice, anyway???” I figured I would need some help in taking care of my 20 bajillion cats (aside from the help of my beloved partner who I love). This is where technology comes in! Note that I am shelling out an additional hundred bucks just so I can get the black variant because the other one they have is white and shit brown and yuck. No.
No idea what the LCD screen is for, but my cats love screens, so there. Also I can record voice messages on this which spells out endless fun and I wants it.

2. Cat Care FLUTD prevention cat food

I know I was complaining earlier about how having cats overshadows my actual personality, but my favorite thing about Christmas is that I get to ask everyone in my family for cat food, which means I don’t have to spend on cat food for at least a few weeks. And that is super great.

This might be the part of the list where I have to revisit my BeautyMNL problem…

3. Everything in the V&M Naturals catalog

I got a bottle of the rosewater and aloe toner when it went on sale, and holy shit, that stuff really does make my pores happy. The packaging does not lie. Also, the package design is great – waterproof, does not look like shit after I haul it around in my grimy tote bag for a whole day. The only problem I have with it is that it smells a little funky (not because it actually smells funky, just because it’s not my thing).

I tried the cucumber and guava leaf variant they had at their store in Ayala on 30th some time ago and that one smelled nice. Too bad it’s never on sale and I don’t want to be hoarding toner since I only have one face–and even then, I still forget to do the ten-step cleansing program everyone is starting to swear by. Maybe I should just wish for the discipline to follow a ten-step cleansing program.

4. This dress in about a dozen different colors

I’m aware that red is not always my color, but the fact that I was somehow able to work shit out with this dress says something about the cut. I got this dress for about 35 pesos at a thrift store on Mabini, and if not for the fear of wearing it out ’til it falls apart, I would wear it every day (Maybe).

I never wear things every day, but if I had enough copies of this dress, that could change. Imagine not having to worry on a daily basis about the silhouette of a thing on your body? That would be me, if I had ten million copies of this dress. That’s also probably how my boyfriend works his life out, since he wears the exact same thing every day, and now that I’m in my 30s, I just want to narrow my options down to color and print. That said, I wish I had time and money and space to just have several of these made. Also, look at that picture. Happy holidays, friends!

5. The shoes on this little girl

I remember my sister’s sneakers used to have dinosaur feet imprints on the soles and I was always jealous of that. When coverage of The Women’s March peaked, this photo began circulating again, and I’ve been obsessed with the shoes since then.

(Another thing I’ve been obsessing over are these Crocs that look like actual croc feet, but that might be pushing it too far.)

I guess at this age, we can better judge what we truly love and are truly comfortable in by the things we wear out. I wore out my Vans in less than a year, which shows how much fun I had in them, but also shows that it’s about time to replace them. I wrote a long rant in these pages some time back about the pitfalls and perils of buying shoes as *a lady* because nothing seems comfy enough to actually get you far. That sort of changed this year as my feet and my back adjusted to sneakers, and now I know how indispensable Vans slip-ons are. I also began to accept that I might have to retire my heels and even my cowboy boots, now that every step in them is beginning to feel like torture (or maybe it’s just because they’re getting old). Which brings me to…

6. Puma Whirlwinds in TAXICAB YELLOW!!! AAAAAAHHHH!!!

Okay, so I don’t really need these ones, but I’ll be placing them here as the thing I originally wanted and would like to keep looking at.

I had to go to Hong Kong a couple of weeks ago for a conference-slash-workshop, and had my eye on these bright yellow Puma Whirlwinds. I try not to spend too much on shoes because (again) I tend to beat the shit out of them, so as much as possible I try not to spend on anything that isn’t marked down. Just as I was beginning to accept that I would batter my Vans while walking from gallery to gallery in HK, I biked past a banner advertising a Puma sale just a few blocks away from where I was.

The problem with these stupid sales, especially for local retailers, is that they tend to only carry broken sizes (either really tiny or really huge) and even then, the men’s sizes only go down to 39, which is the equivalent of a 10 or 11 for women. I knew the Whirlwinds I wanted would not be here, but I tried my luck anyway for something similar. Of course all the more muted colors were in the men’s section, while the ladies had to settle for pink or purple variants, but I did find these FLUORESCENT YELLOW YES THIS HAS TO BE IN CAPS TX-3s, which are still the best thing I ever bought since I did not anticipate that we would be hiking up and down a hill in Hong Kong, once we left the city and camped out in Lamma Island.

Anyway, still coveting the yellow Whirlwinds, but I guess one pair of yellow sneakers is enough. I’m also really enjoying how it took freelancing and massive spaces for hanging art to really begin appreciating sneakers.

7. Floating shelving to fix our bulky wardrobe situation

We have a massive wardrobe and chest of drawers in our apartment, all of which (including the apartment) were inherited from my mom. I guess in a house, they don’t seem like a big deal, but as I mentioned earlier, we don’t even have space for a stove, let alone a proper dining table, and for something so huge, neither piece seems able to store much or do so very efficiently.

Photo from Gravity Home. Not the exact kind of shelving I want, but you get the idea.It’s a fairly minor renovation job to recycle all the wood and fixtures from these two pieces (the drawers and the wardrobe that is) into floating shelving and a bench, but it still takes time and costs money and would mean enlisting the skills of a talented carpenter since the grain on the wood is lovely and we would want to salvage as much of it as we can. Maybe if we can fix this we would actually have enough storage space for a…

8. Hario VDD-02B Drip Decanter

I keep needing to be reminded of how impractical it would be to get one of these when I already have a press, a coffee maker, and several Vietnamese phins.

Still, it’s called a “wishlist” for a reason.

Studies in Optimism

Yang Ding Xian, Mountain, 2017.

Yang Ding Xian, Mountain Series
Yuchengco Museum, October 2017

Yang Ding Xian is a Taiwanese painter who uses contemporary media to interpret traditional Chinese themes and disciplines. Born in 1966, in the village of Houli, along the banks of the Dajia River in Taiwan, Yang Ding-Xian came of age during a period of economic turmoil wrought by the small country’s rebuilding phase in the 1960s. Instead of having time to study and play like other children his age, Yang Ding-Xian worked in the small factory that his family’s living room had been converted into. There he would spend hours sitting on a stool and taking on repetitive and monotonous jobs.

Rather than look back on those years with bitterness and resentment, those were the tasks that granted him with the perseverance necessary to endure the loneliness and hardship he would later encounter as an artist. To this day, Yang Ding-Xian attributes his mastery of painting to what he learned through a childhood spent applying gold leaf to paper or stringing tennis rackets–a job he could finish in four minutes with his eyes closed.

Coming from this difficult childhood, Yang Ding-Xian has come to regard painting as his lease on freedom. With minimal support from his family, he worked hard to attain a degree in Fine Arts from the Chinese Culture University. This was followed by graduate degrees from the National Taiwan Normal University Graduate Institute of Design and the prestigious China Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, where he attained his doctorate in 2013.

Believing that “…In the contemporary digital, virtual era, it is not always the new things that provide inspiration and sustenance.” Yang Ding-Xian uses my own cultural perspective and utilizes Western painting tools as sincere expressions of ancient Eastern wisdom. In a global age of accelerated production and consumption, these paintings express solidarity with the natural world while offering images for the viewer to take solace in – expressing the artist’s faith in the capacity of natural world to make space for growth while still providing a firm foundation upon which one can build a balanced life. These, combined with the opportunities offered by painting, are true illustrations of freedom.

The Mountain series was born at a time when Yang Ding Xian felt the need for change in his life. This could be interpreted at both practical and metaphorical levels, as a change of pace or a change in routine. For Ding Xian however, it manifested metaphorically through a change in his work. Seeing how “[t]he contemporary environment is so unstable and unpredictable,” he felt the only solution would be to find his own value in life and “record it honestly.”

The means of documenting these changes were chanced upon when he overturned a ding, or a three-legged vessel used for cooking or holding, and saw in it the calligraphic symbol for “mountain.” Thus, the Mountain Series was born on that day. That the series was conceived as early as 2009 shows not only an ongoing fascination, but proof of how a happy accident with the mundane might serve as a source of endless inspiration.

Although its contemporary forms may seem common, the ding is not just any everyday object. Present in every period of Chinese history, the ding is an object of religious and cultural relevance. Cast in bronze or formed from clay, these were used in ancient divinatory ceremonies and in the burial practices of Chinese royalty(1), where having sets of seven to nine ding signified political power and social status.

It might seem obvious at this point how Ding Xian could read the inversion of a traditional object as a signal for change—what is change, after all, but the reversal of tradition. However the series is also drawn from a period of “fracture and fragmentation,” placing greater emphasis on the need to be “like a mountain.” Beyond reading it as a mere geological form, the mountain for Ding symbolizes the strength and resilience needed to overcome the anxiety of the contemporary moment. In his own words, “It doesn’t matter you are climbing up the mountain or climbing down. In both paths we have to learn how to improve yourself under trials, and we have to love and care about people. To find the intrinsic value of life is the most important thing in our lives.”

The resulting series is therefore a study in optimism, wherein four paintings pertain to his situation in Taiwan and three reference his experiences in Manila. These will be complemented by five ding vessels, installed in the space, allowing viewers to see for themselves what “change” could mean to them not only at times of social and political crisis, but through simple changes in perspective – not unlike the seemingly simple reversal of a traditional object.

(1)[1] Xiaolong Wu. Material Culture, Power, and Identity in Ancient China. Cambridge University Press, 2017. 89-91.

How to Become Invisible

May I Have Your Attention, Please?
Installation view at Metro Gallery. From Mek Yambao’s facebook page.

Mek Yambao,
May I Have your Attention, Please?
Metro Gallery, 23 Sept 2017

Despite their reliance on visuality, art in general and painting in particular are subject to a number of invisible processes. The layers that are integral to realizing the final product—not only the materials that are covered in the process, but also the research, the experiments, the education of the artist—are rarely seen upon exhibition.

In Mek Yambao’s first solo, she uses this aspect of painting and its invisible processes, allowing the practice to express her interests in feminism. While the female form has usually been at the center of Yambao’s work, in May I have your attention please, the female form is used to illustrate a story of female labor and systemic inequality. What is it to be uncelebrated? To be excluded or erased from grand narratives? Yambao asks these questions in the context of making magic happen, filling the canvas instead with assistants and background characters in a showcase of what we fail to see.

In Yambao’s words, these are paintings of “underrepresented women and their roles that are often taken for granted.” The foregrounding in this sense of the beautiful female figure only highlights Yambao’s observation that an audience will notice beauty before it understands the work or the labor that beauty is expected to perform. In the case of the magician’s assistant, whose beauty is treated as merely decorative, Yambao attempts to “shift the spotlight and reverse the trope.” The resulting images depart from the spectacle often witnessed at magic shows. In place of magic is a visible melancholy and a sense of loss: A disappearing act, but with none of the fanfare.

As commentary, this relates to decades of feminist art that seeks to name what has been rendered nameless or present what remains unseen. Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party comes to mind, but so does Mierle Laderman Ukeles’s Maintenance Art. Ukeles’s work was accompanied by a manifesto that affirmed how “The culture” referring not only to American culture, but the culture of Museums, galleries, and art in general, “confers lousy status on maintenance jobs = minimum wages, housewives = no pay.”[1]

Ukeles continues the manifesto by claiming the care of domestic space as the production of modern life, prying further into issues of labor and oppression by asking, “What is the relationship between maintenance and freedom?” While work as a site of oppression is underscored by the characters Yambao paints in May I have your attention please, also resonating with the work are contemporary issues surrounding visibility and the demands for acknowledgement. It should just as well be noted that Yambao is part of a generation that refuses to back down against the threat of an autocratic, fascist regime, a generation that claims both the streets and social media to make its voice heard. Attention, in this case, refers not only to one’s eyes on the painting, or even on the beautiful women pushed to the wings or used as props in a magician’s performance. Rather than asking, Yambao’s title is a statement in the imperative, demanding recognition of equality and acceptance of differences.

While painting may seem too conventional a medium for political statements—made impotent by its commercial and decorative uses—Yambao uses it as a tool for reclaiming tradition, subverting it for her own needs so she may say what she needs to say – so she may have your attention. Please.

[1] Mierle Laderman Ukeles. “Manifesto for Maintenance Art” (1969). Retrieved from