Sunday, March 13, 2011

now/here: going now/here?

Let me start by saying that the series of projects conducted in what would be later collectively known as “now/here” started without a crystal clear end in mind. What we did have were noble motives of doing projects that would help the Museum as an institution
rethink its ideas about community, publics, and reach via technology as current as the web and as established as radio.
(and this strategy, or rather, lack of strategy is something we’d like you to help us evaluate it’s pros and cons). But we did have clear points of beginning. And it is from these points that stemmed our numerous (perhaps too numerous) exploratory projects.
Each project is simply put a “radical exploration” stemmed from a specific point. The main point of course was the old museum site in Lancaster St., Pasay. By radical I mean “radix”, the root, and so we went about exploring the history of the Museum – starting from its beginnings, its inauguration on February 1960, coupled by the exhibition theme “extensions” and the fact that 2010 marked the 50th anniversary of the founding of Museum. (Being half a decade old is a good chance to assess things.)
And by the Museum, we mean the Museum itself, and not the collections it contains. The challenge was to trace the Museum not in terms of its collections, but through its own institutional and geographic history.

So from this we concentrated on 3 initial questions:
Where was the Museum?
Where is it now?
Where is it going?

And we answered these in a purely physical and geographic respect:
Where was the museum? Pasay
Where is it now? Ortigas
Where is it going? Rockwell

We start with Pasay. And our first stumbling block: there were hardly any records.
Let’s start with the structure itself. The old/original Museum building was a triangular-shaped structure designed by an acclaimed architect from a notable family, Juan Nakpil. We found no architectural records of this building. No plans, no drawings. We searched the numerous archives: the Lopez Museum’s, Bahay Nakpil’s, Pasay City Hall (most of whose records were burned in a fire), the National Library. The National Building Code (REPUBLIC ACT NO. 6541) wasn’t authored and implemented until 1978 (?), so there’s very little chance of having public records of the building in any public archive or library.
What we did have was photographs of the Museum, especially during its inauguration. We at least have clear evidence that more or less confirm that on February 13, at 4 o’clock on a Saturday afternoon, the opening reception and inaugural ceremonies of the Lopez Museum commenced. We have official invitations (as well as replies to these invitations), pamphlets, press releases and news articles in 3 languages – Spanish, English and Tagalog – that support this.
We were very tempted to somehow work with the replies to the invites but we just couldn’t find an angle to it. These replies came from the VIPs of that time, and were some were quite intimate and revealing. An exploration into these people and how they relate to contemporary corporate, oligarchic, and political power structures came into mind. But that was getting a bit too far, in a project that already had large enough holes to be filled.
So we started our investigation with what seemed to be the easiest things to work with: the photographs.
One of the first things that caught our eye, besides the 60s wardrobe and hairstyles, and a token unidentified American Indian guest in ethnic garb, was this fantastic mural that provided the backdrop to 2 of the black and white photgraphs we found in the archives.
It turned out to be a mural done by the father of Philippine cubism himself, Vicente Manansala. Manansala murals, and Manansala paintings in general, are known for their fantastic colors, so we asked the Library staff (two of whom actually saw this artwork vis-a-vis) if they had any color photographs of it. There were none. In fact, it seems that the only documents of this mural that the Lopez Museum had were these two black and white photographs.
The photographs themselves were “compliments of the Manila Chronicle.” FYI: Manila Chronicle and Manila Times archives were purchased during the Martial Law era.
But what happened to the actual Manansala mural?
In 1985 the Museum packed shop for a variety of reasons. The annual monsoon flooding in the Lancaster street area was rising and identified as a major threat to the collection. The salinity of the air, due its proximity to Manila Bay was also deemed as another threat. So the entire collection packed and moved to safer grounds on 1985. By April 19, 1986 the museum opened at its new address on the ground floor of the Benpres Building in Pasig City's Ortigas Center.
The building and grounds was bought by neigboring Hyatt Hotel (which existed before the Museum’s opening in 1960), which was then owned by Jose Mari Chan’s family. They demolished the building, and seemingly along with it, this priceless Manansala mural. Hyatt then proceeded to expand its pool and garden area.
So on August 19, 2010, Plataporma planned an ocular visit to the former site of Museum in Lancaster St., Pasay, hoping we’d find traces of this mural or at least the building structure.
But initial access easy. The Midas Corporation purchased Hyatt Hotel in Pasay and were now in the process of reconstruction. What followed suit was a series of paperwork, permits and lawyers. If only there was some golden touch to make this an easier process. We weren’t able to access the site until November, a few weeks before the opening of the Extensions exhibition.
While the paperwork’s being processed, we did the next best thing: Google Maps. Surprisingly, when we looked up the satellite view of the site last year (2010) and this year, there’s still a clear triangular outline in the place where the Museum should be.
We had a few meetings within the construction site formerly known as the Hyatt Hotel, and we took this time to secretly document the whole process. Like spies of investigative reporters. These trips confirmed Google Maps. There was in fact a triangular outline in the premises, but we still needed proper permits to allow us more time and mobility to properly document things. But now we weren’t just going to stop at documenting. We wanted to extract soil from the approximate site where the Museum was and bring it back to its current site her at Benpres, Ortigas. In a way, we wanted the Museum to be confronted by its own dirt – the dirt of it’s past.

One of the reported reasons the Museum moved to its current site, besides conservation and environmental purposes, was better accessibilty for the public. So talked to the staff and asked them how often their immediate neighbors visited and what their relationships were like. Besides a regular batch of interns from neighboring University of Asia and the Pacific, it seems not a lot of the Benpres Bldg employees even visited the Museum.
So we felt an urge to assess the situation. Using the maps we had, we created an “imaginary zone of responsibilty” within a 1 KM radius of the Lopez Museum sites in Pasay, Ortigas and Rockwell and got 3 interns (Nikki Arellano, Jemma de la Cruz, Gerard Gotladera) from neighboring University of Asia and the Pacific (which conveniently falls within this “zone”) to conduct a series of video interviews. These interviews had to have at least 10 people per site and should show a variety of people from all walks of life.
They asked 6 questions, 3 on art and 3 about museums.
(1) what is art?, (2) do they know any artists?, (3) is art important?, (4) what is a museum? , (5) have they ever been in a museum? (what’s inside of a museum?), (6) what is the importance of a museum?
There was no editing involved in the videos. We decided to present them as is, in order to be frank and straightforward, and more readily representing the attitudes of both interviewers and interviewees.
The 1 KM radius in Pasay also brought into light 2 especially intriguing sites: The Philippine School for the Deaf, and the Philippine School for the Blind. So we took this chance to bring these same questions for the young and sense impaired.
This activity gave a shallow assessment of some of the cultural attitudes of the people in the immediate areas of the Museum sites. In the case of the old Museum site, it was a case for memory and legacy. We hope, this could in turn inform the Museum’s future actvities and policies.
We also wanted to address the question of mapping and accessibilty. (How far is it going to to address the public?) So we conducted 2 mapping activities to “look for Lopez Museum” with a decidely naïve take. We would document the whole process discreetly via a mobile phone to record audio, and video and still photography from a hopefully unassuming and comfortable distance.
The conditions of this activity was to use only advice and directions given to us by the people we encounter and to act exclusively on these despite the fact the we knew that we could possibly be going the wrong way, and we had to do it within (reasonable) Museum hours (8am-5pm).
For these 2 activities we had 2 different starting points: a personal one and a historic one. The first starting point was Buen Calubayan’s house, the second was Pasay City Hall, a few hundred meters away from the old site of the Museum.
All activities started around 10am. Though we were ready for the fact we might not get to the Museum in time (before 5pm), both mapping activities ended roughly the same time. Around 4pm.
This activity proved to be one of the most intriguing ones, not only did we get fleeting impressions of the geography and history of the Museum, but also of the familial and corporate history of the Lopez family itself and how they related to daily life.
The people we encountered pointed us to several Lopez properties that could possibly be the location of the Museum - Rockwell, Merlaco, ABS-CBN, etc.
And the ones in Pasay even pointed us to the location of the old site of the Museum.
In Australia, the aborigines have Songlines, geography of continent mapped in song. It was an aural map. We didn’t get a songline out of this activity, we had ourselves little “chika” and “hearsay” map.
In line with
we decided
Public TV in the Philippines wasn’t introduced till 1953. And

The Museum’s plan to move to Rockwell was officially announced during the 50th anniversary celebrations last Febrary 2010, but talks of the move have been in the air for the past few years. There have even been junked initial drafts and models of the prposed building. There’s even a street in Rockwell called “Museum Drive.”
Our activities – the interviews and the mapping – have taken us to Rockwell already, but we felt a need to do a project there.
What we initially came up with was a premature/advanced groundbreaking activity. Since there was no fixed architectural plan and location in Rockwell, we decided to clear an area which approximates the (interior) floor area of the old Museum building in Pasay at a possible future site in Rockwell.
But first, how do we go about measuring the floor area without plans? Based on the photographic evidence, interviews and the outline in Google Maps, we decided on the measurements (20 x 20 x 20 meters) and waited for the go signal to dig.
Unfortunately, Rockwell (despite being part of the Lopez corporation) didn’t give a space to dig our litle hole. So how about any other Lopez property in the city or any where. Nothing.
So again, we went for a personal and convenient route and turned this radical exploration unto ourselves. We went back to Buen Calubayan’s hometown in Quezon, and after a day of looking, settled on a piece of land owned by one of his relatives. The activity took 2 days and we documented it via video and still photographs.


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