[Philippines] Complete freedom is as inexistent as complete love.
On the often problematic relationship between freedom and freelancing
By Donna Miranda
This time last year I embarked on a remarkable journey that left me with a more nuanced understanding of the context that I work in as an independent artist. My journey began with a three-month residency in Malaysia, which I then extended for a further two months. Following this I presented a piece in Bangkok and Hong Kong, before travelling to Paris to network with other artists. Finally, I presented Of course not this is a bathtub in Yokohama, before returning to Hanover and Berlin in Europe on a study tour of sorts. (…)
Independence is something that artists carve out of the exigencies that characterize their existence within the niches and interstices of Manila's diverse art communities. Independence is grounded in sustainable practice and a commitment to efficiency. 'Freelancers', as they say, stick to their guns and refuse to fit in, even through the longest periods of waiting and anticipation. While working independently allows artists a greater degree of flexibility and creative freedom, it requires that artists master the tightrope act of wearing many different hats at the same time.
Juggling the roles of artist, art manager, producer, and curator
Operating outside of 'institutions' ensures that artists enjoy the space necessary for creative freedom, reflection, and critical play free from the constraints of programming, paperwork, and the economics of production, but it also places an enormous strain on the sector.The combined lack of resources and manpower that characterises this situation conspires to force artists to juggle the roles of artist and art manager, producer, and curator.Impacting on all this is the dismal state of art administration in this country. This apparatus is often little more than a stepping stone for techno/cultural bureaucrats waiting for their next step up the ladder. Within this elaborately inefficient system, artists have little choice but to fill the shoes of cultural engineers and ambassadors with their self-financed, self-curated, and self-promoted artistic projects. To do otherwise would be to run the risk of withdrawing into insularity and bleeding into the wallpaper of parochial art politics. Herein lie the origins and the sheer necessity of our 'mobility' and the drive to find alternative platforms on which to create and present our work – platforms which are no longer available in Third-World countries like the Philippines.
Alternative channels of empowerment
Thank you internet, Google, Yahoo! and affordable broadband connections! These tools enable independent artists to discover alternative channels of empowerment and overcome their disenfranchisement even in the face of irregular funding. Many artists have now realized that what counts is commitment – if the stars are right, money will turn up eventually … somehow. Some people call it "serendipity". I prefer to call it "hard work." A new generation of Filipino artists is emerging with new ideas and a new look. They are no longer the T-shirt-clad, mouldy sneaker types – full of potential, but clueless. Instead, these young guns are information-savvy and outgoing. They are ready to bypass the traditional hierarchies of Manila's arts community and know how to do so without losing their T-shirts in the process. In fact, as artist-researcher-curator-producers, cultural engineers, and accidental diplomats, most of them have to wear several shirts at once. Mobility has become an indispensable quality in contemporary performing arts.Opportunities for education, professional training, performance, production and presentation are rare. This was the driving force behind my decision to adopt a mobile approach to 'doing art' and to seek out specialized knowledge in this field. Being mobile is the only way I can survive and nourish my practice. If opportunities were available here, then my practice would undoubtedly be 'rooted' here in my home country.
The artist as migrant worker
Like the sizable population of Filipino migrant workers, artists must constantly interact with and move among an international network of contemporary practitioners who help to secure 'income' in the form of production grants. I will soon have to begin scouting around for funding, writing proposals and networking again. It is demanding work and anything but glamorous – not to mention the fact that in the meantime I will also continue my regular training and creative research, and manage various other dancers and collaborative projects.The independent artist is compelled to transcend his 'traditional' role and to acquire skills in the fields of management, administration, and accounting. Such 'people skills' are not usually up our alley. But the intricacies of working in a niche community such as the contemporary arts, have forced us to become versatile individuals capable of acting as cultural engineers and cultural diplomats to the global community.
Not Afraid to be an Alien
The mobility of contemporary artists is challenging the familiar landscape of art production, as it continually defines and redefines the parameters, modes, and situations in which creative work is carried out. From my own experience, I recognize in mobility a means to survive, to grow and learn, and to enrich my practice through the challenge of moving from one city to the next. In her essay Not Afraid to be an Alien Corina Suteu notes that mobility is a necessity for artists, because it enables us to feel insecure. It is only when we feel insecure that we begin to submit ourselves humbly to the world, and in the process we meet and engage with new audiences and experiences, take on new challenges, and allow ourselves to feel fragile and vulnerable. These are the ingredients that fuel inspiration and creativity. Moreover, Suteu continues, mobility helps us to discover where we belong. On every plane ride back home, I have deeper sense of awareness of who I am, my history, tradition and culture. I guess this is why Joni Mitchell strikes a cord when she sings, "don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got, till it's gone."The weak arts and cultural infrastructure in the Philippines combines with the country's economic and political instability to constantly undermine the growth of a dynamic art scene. Luckily, the ingrained resilience of the Philippine people contributes to the particularly 'stubborn' and staunch attitude with which independent artists push on through. The significant number of awards won by Filipino artists in international festivals and competitions show that the country is not lacking in artistic creativity or critical practice. But the absence of efficient art management systems and the dearth of funding available for independent practice compels artists to tend to these matters themselves. On a rather more optimistic note, the support of the NCCA and diplomatic cultural institutions such as the Japan Foundation, Goethe-Institut, and Instituto Cervantes has always played a key role in enabling artists to take their first steps.
The article was first published in full length in the inaugural issue of “Papaya”. The English language magazine can be ordered through
is an independent dance artist who lives and works in the Philippines. She studied anthropology at the University of the Philippines and received specialized training in contemporary dance both in Manila and in Europe, where she has participated in several exchange programmes, intercultural dialogues, and multimedia collaborative projects. In 2000, she co-founded Green Papaya Art Projects with Norberto Roldan, facilitating experimental platforms for contemporary dance practice in Manila. In 2008 the first issue of the initiative’s art and performance magazine “Papaya” was released. In the same year she founded The Lovegangsters, an open collective of free radicals, sound artists, dancers, hangers-on, autodidacts and designers working to promote contemporary performance practice.