Curatorial Talk | Exhibition: Being Here and There

Exhibit poster, courtesy of the curator
Photoma got to chat with Marco Ugoy, curator of the photography exhibit, Being Here and There, which was held at Acceler8 Coworking on May 26 and June 2, 2017. The featured artists are Patrick Casabuena, Christine Chung, Dianne Rosario, Jhemuel Salvador, and Dennese Victoria, and some of Christine’s and Dianne’s works featured here in Photoma were shown in this exhibit.
Part of Photoma’s mission is to open discussions on experimentations and critical perspectives in photographic practices. Being Here and There not only showed the endeavors of budding photographers, but also studied the relationship between photographs, reality, and perspective, by projecting slideshows of photographs without context nor name.
Documentation of the exhibit, courtesy of the curator
Photoma: For the show Being Here and There, what was the initial point of departure for the project? Did you have the thematic framework in mind before you selected the artists in your show or did it stem from the realization that the artists you wanted to work with had this particular concern that somehow could be developed into a curatorial discourse?

Marco: The show was conceptualized based on an unconscious observation on the contemporary local landscape of art and photography, mostly concerning group shows. I never appreciate a group exhibition wherein the works of different artists don’t complement each other. It defeats the purpose of the intent of conveying a single or communal theme/expression which group shows are supposed to do.

At the time of conceptualization, I was interested in how photographers in progressive countries utilize alternative space and execute new ways of presenting photographs. There was one specific show in the UK that inspired me to curate a group show that focuses on stripping authorship and making a whole new fictive work. It was a group show dedicated to the writer Oscar Wilde and it was presented inside a conventional prison. The show was headlined by iconic artists that work with the medium of photography such as, Nan Goldin, Roni Horn, Steve McQueen, Wolfgang Tillmans, Robert Gober, and Marlene Dumas. The very notion of combining different works with different contexts to create a single intention made me wonder if it could be done with different genres of photography. So, with the curatorial screening of the five artists, even though they worked with different subject matters, I saw a commonality with their works when it came to aesthetic and process. The visual association of each of their photographs serves as a conversation between the context of the work and also the perception of the viewer. Thinking about it now, personally the curation of the show was a personal thought experiment as to how viewers will react to a sequence of photographs that has no given background or details, not even the name of the artist.

Photoma: Can you please guide us through some specific photographs that artists in show exhibited?
Works by Dianne Rosario (left) and Patrick Casabuena (right)

Marco: The first photograph is from Dianne Rosario’s body of work, Black Matter. A documentary piece about illegal Black Sand mining and how it affects the lives of people living in the area it destroys. The second photograph is a single image by Patrick Casabuena, part of his ongoing self-documentation of the social circles he’s in. The person in the photograph is part of the younger generation of an influential political family which I’ll refrain from mentioning.

An archival photograph by Christine Chung, part of her ongoing documentation work of friends’ gender transitioning.
Another archival photograph by Christine Chung
A photograph by Dennese Victoria, part of the set of photographs that didn’t make the edit of her past work, “Birds, Curtains, & Objects”.
Single images by Jhemuel Salvador, based on his ongoing interest with abstraction and space.
Photoma: In your written statement you quoted a question from Mirrors and Window: American Photography since 1960 from John Szarkowski, the former New York Museum of Modern Art Photography director. The premise of this show was to demonstrate what Szarkowski postulates that since that time, American photography focused more on the personal vision of the photographer’s gaze rather than social praxis, can you expand this notion based on the photographs that you projected in your show? How does this 1978 geo-culturally specific thesis that Szakowski postulates compare to the Filipino context and temporality in which you and the photographers that you exhibited relate?

Marco: Szarkowski’s notion that at the time, the way of looking or appreciating a photograph relied heavily on the perspective of the photographer which affected the intention of the work itself. In my opinion, that’s still the case today and in no way will it ever deviate to a purely objective and unbiased perspective. One of the main intentions of our show was to highlight the significance of perspective when it comes to looking at photographs, and to me it doesn’t solely rely on the viewer but also to the author. Even an objective journalistic or documentary work will still have a hint of the photographer’s view on the certain issue. One of the reasons why I stripped authorship of the work is to deviate from how we normally view a visual work. Not knowing the author and the context, relying entirely on what they see—it’s interesting what the viewers were able to perceive with such process of looking at a photograph. I think the relation I found with Szarkowski’s thesis on American Photography and representation with the Filipino context is the general viewpoint of the medium itself. I believe Philippine photography is highly influenced by the Western theories and principles regarding the medium, which I guess also affects our process of making honest work.

Photoma: Focusing on the exhibition design, what made you decide on the format of your show? Was the decision to use projected images, rather than print them, related to the notion of mirroring the image?

Marco: One of the biggest reasons why we chose to project the images rather than the traditional presentation of prints, is that we had curatorial freedom. We weren’t bound to the standards of any gallery and also we had no intention to make it a selling show. We were playing around the idea of a photograph being ephemeral. The idea of projected images that’s temporarily viewed, it gives the essence of long-term memory in a way that constitutes what could be sentimental or relatable depending on the perspective of the viewer.

Photoma: As a photographer and curator, how do you position your exhibition within the ecosystem of contemporary art in the Philippines, specifically in Manila?

Marco: I guess our exhibition is part of that small community trying to deviate from traditional practices, utilizing new technology and alternative spaces. I also hope we succeeded with that intention and that other artists see our exhibition as a possibility of something different.

Photoma: Are there any upcoming projects that you are curating?

Marco: Well, for now I’m not yet working on another show but recently I’ve been interested in making a photographic installation show that utilizes public space. Just because the idea of the exclusivity of photography in the Philippines is somewhat contradicting its reputation as a democratic medium.

To learn more about the exhibit, visit its event page on Facebook.