supported by the Norwegian Arts Council
The following is an interview by Jet Pascua on fellow Filipino artist Mark Salvatus, which was published on NABROAD'S Måg magazine issue number 8 in 2012.
Hi Mark, my first real encounter of your work was the version of the work ”Secret Garden” which you showed at the recent Jakarta Biennale. Can you tell me a bit about the history of the work and how it developed?
While doing research in a City Jail in the Philippines, for another show ”Courtyard” in 2009, I stumbled upon a news report in the internet about a ”Secret Garden” inside a jail. Wherein the prisoners secretly grew vegetables from their leftover foods like beans and seeds inside their cells. It’s a very strange news and I took it as my jump-off point for another project. Since I had a chance to do some research in the jail in Manila, I also saw some of their crafts as livelihood project- plastic bottles made into plants and flowers as a decorative craft, where they sell it to support some daily needs. I decided to do another narrative out of this unrelated stories and experiences. I used the story as my base, made a slit on a wall inside the gallery space and installed the plastic bottle plants that were crafted by the prisoners, which I bought from them, and people can peek into that secret garden. A huge tiger mural was painted on the wall that I got from a tattoo of one of the prisoners, saying ”Do or Die” as the motto of his gang. Making new narratives out of these found stories.
You followed this work later on with ”Intimation”, another work which has a connection with a prison. Is this coincidental, or is there a conscious effort in drawing inspiration from places that represent restriction, power and oppression?
I did a residency in Australia in 2011 at the La Trobe University Visual Arts Centre in Victoria. It’s very coincidental that the studio and the centre is very close to a decommissioned jail in Bendigo, that was to be demolished and will be the future site of a theater. I asked the managing curator of the centre if I can go to the jail just to take a look and while touring the kitchen of the jail, I saw a steel cupboard of knifes with lock. The cupboard was empty but it has the silhouette of the knives. The silhouettes were the indication that this particular knife belongs to this mark, and if there is a missing knife, you know someone took it. I simply asked the man who is in charge of that jail if I can use the cupboard, and he said yes.
For this project, its maybe coincidental because I really don’t look for a certain flow when it comes to doing projects. It’s not really connected to each other but the idea of making another story, or for people who see it can make their own stories – now it can be interrelated. But maybe since the city I live in- Manila, is very complicated, with no directions, difficult to understand, you love and hate it at the same time, there are views and inspirations that I use for my projects which follow me whenever I travel somewhere.
After the great flood in Manila in 2009, you had an exhibition at the Vargas Museum called C_rafts, which focused on survival in times of calamity. Can you talk about this particular exhibition and how it was received by the public?
I used to live in Sampaloc, district of Manila for about 15 years, and flooding is a common scene every typhoon season because of bad urban planning and poor drainage system. In 2009 was a big flood that submerged most areas in Metro Manila and people left helpless and stranded in their homes without food and other necessities. I saw many people using everyday objects to make rafts to evacuate and it become a mode of transportation, because the government didn’t have enough rubber boats. Private became public – like air beds, water container used in the kitchen, plastic chairs that is very common in each household became public and shared with people.
The reviews are very mixed, some could relate to the show because they experienced the big flood in 2009, and it’s a collective memory. Some says I’m using poverty pornography, exposing stacked objects to survive. But I say it’s the reality.
Can you also talk more about what you wrote in relation to C_rafts, and how the works also explore the idea of consumerism, security, urbanism and everyday politics?
-Making new perspectives from this banal objects and setting it up in a gallery space, makes you wonder about the ideas of consumerism, urbanism, security, threat, humor. But in real life context it’s just instinct. What to do in case of flood? It’s very universal.
Layers of different perspectives revolve around each raft. It’s a mix of everyday objects that is related to our obsessions with material things. You can see it with the different objects that has logo and brands. And because of these make-shift rafts you will encounter how it is living in cities like Manila, poor urban planning, bad city management, lack of emergency equipment on the side of the government. It is a simple installation of rafts that look like a car showroom or Ikea, but it has layers of different stories.
Your work deals with a lot of relevant political issues. How is your work received locally and abroad. Do you find different challenges, if any?
Its amazing that some people are recognizing my works, and its nice that they view my works critically. I think everyday is political , thats why I am interested in these issues, but I dont call my art political. It’s everyday. I just want people to see not just look.
The ongoing project ”Wrapped” is an interesting work which involve public participation. Can you tell me how this project developed and how you think it will progress and transform in the future?
In 2007 I had my first residency in Goyang Art Studio under the Museum of Contemporary Art, Seoul. I was there for 3 months and at the end of the program you have to present an exhibition or project. I didn’t want to make any painting or object that I needed to bring home, since shipping is expensive. So I decided to make drawings on the wall.
I found a wall near our studio and it’s a very good area to start my participatory project. Located where people pass by going to the bus stop, I asked random people to trace their belongings. Whatever they had at the moment, like phones, keychains, watches etc. It’s like archiving objects using their traces. In Korea, many small villages are torn down to make way for new high-rise apartments and the studio is located in a small village, just 1 hour from central Seoul. From the different traces of random people, it became like a collective memory, a museum of traces- just like what the cavemen did thousands of years ago, and the small wall became like their story, using objects.
From the traces, I drew a wrap pattern using a pencil, which is the idea of preserving. Preserving memories from the traces, but at the same time it’s temporary.
After that first wrapped project, I did several more in other places which I visited. It was also like the idea of graffiti and performance, making a mark. For now I have stopped the wrapped project because it’s also exhausting and I want to develop something new.
In relation to ”Wrapped”, where-in you ask passersby to leave traces or marks of things they carry in their bags at the moment of their encounter with you, name 5 things that are constantly present in your backpack and just briefly say something about their purpose in relation to your artistic practice.
-Camera/cameraphone- I like taking photographs which are used as studies or actual works themselves.
-Notebook/sketchbook – for random ideas/drawings
-Planner – schedules, work to be done – makes me more organized
-Pen case – markers, pens, eraser etc. for writing, drawing
-Memory stick – I have some of my files, and if I need to copy something.
This leads me to another ongoing project which is the ”Accidental Contemporary Art”. What is this project about?
-Its a photo and blog project wherein I take photos of everyday scenes and objects that looks like contemporary art. Random shots of familiar objects found on the streets and other public places that can be compared or similar to the works of contemporary artists.
The process of my project is very accidental- by chance encounter while walking in different places, armed with just a point and shoot camera. From Gerhard Richter’s painting that I accidentally found in a subway in Manila to a construction site that looks like the work of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, the project tries to open up a dialogue between art and everyday life.
You co-founded the Pilipinas Street Plan collective, and is an active participant in the group TutoK, which involve interventions and advocacy in the public sphere. And recently, you opened an artist-run space in Manila called 19-B. Can you tell me a bit about all these involvement and their relevance and importance with regards to how you work as an artist.
-Its very nice to work with other people/ artists. I like the different dynamics of each group that I am involved in. Pilipinas Street Plan started with a group of friends who are into street art, and one way of connecting all these passionate young individuals is to make a platform for them, since street art and graffiti was not yet accepted in the Philippines in 2006. Now it has grown into a big community that has a mission of presenting art to the public. For TutoK its more on volunteerism, the senior artists direct the group, and geared towards advocacy and education. I help in coordinating TutoK’s different projects.
What I am excited about is 98B, its an abstract space. It is a lab, its a program that we are experimenting and we don’t know what will be the outcome. It is more flexible and more on discussions and collaborations. Started out with me and my girlfriend, Mayumi Hirano who is a curator and want to share ideas in presenting art in different ways, not the typical white cube exhibition and shows. Since 98B don’t really have an exhibition space, it is originally my studio and shared with another artist – just a garage, common living space and kitchen, we collaborate with different disciplines to come up with projects. We invite people to talk, cook and even organize a bazaar for fund raising. Now, six other individuals are part of 98B who are all contributing in many ways- time, energy and money.
Manila have seen many commercial galleries that have sprouted in the past couple of years, and we wanted to have an alternative venue for artists to showcase, or even have a simple talk about their works. Its a very casual venue that is open to all disciplines and of course involving the community. We are now developing our first artist-in residence program in August.
Since our first project in 2012, 98B operates from contributions and we don’t have funding at all. Its hard, but because of these kind of art communities, everyone is a part of making it successful and meaningful.
You are participating in Hotel Imigrantes, a parallell event to the Manifest 9 later this year. What are you planning to do for this event?
-I still dont have a plan on what to do, I will see when I arrive there!
Mark Salvatus is one of the rising contemporary artists in the Philippines. Recently, he has been involved with several important exhibitions around the globe, such as the Jakarta Biennale, 4th Guangzhou Triennial, Singapore Biennale, Yokohama Triennale and Gwangju Biennale. He will also participate in this year’s Hotel Imigrantes, a parallell event to the Manifesta 9.