Juan Guardiola obtained his Licenciatura in Art History from the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid and studied for his doctorate in Contemporary Art at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid. He was a recipient of scholarships from the School of Art at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) and from the Guggenheim Museum New York-Bilbao. He is an arts writer, contributing frequently to various media organs. He has also worked as a freelance curator for exhibitions on contemporary art and cinema and video creation programs. He is former curator of the Department of Temporary Exhibitions and Publications of the ARTIUM Museum, in Vitoria-Gasteiz, Alava province, and former Chief Curator of MACBA (Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art). He has contributed articles to numerous books and publications, among which one should mention those works related to the Philippines: Filipiniana (Casa Asia, 2006), El Imaginario colonial: Fotografía en Filipinas durante el periodo español, 1860-1898 (The Colonial Imagination: Photography in the Philippines during the Spanish Period, 1860-1898) (Seacex, 2006), Filipinas: Arte, identidad y discurso poscolonial (The Philippines: Art, Identity and Postcolonial Discourse)(Seacex, 2008) and Cinema Filipinas (Cinema Philippines) (Cines del Sur, 2010).
Sally Gutiérrez is a visual artist whose work lies in a hybrid area between contemporary art, the visual essay and the documentary. After completing her studies in Fine Arts at the Universidad Complutense de Madrid, she lived in Berlin and New York. In New York, she took up an MA in Media Studies at the New School University and took part in the Whitney Museum’s International Study Program. Since her return to Madrid, she has made trips to the Philippines and South Africa, where she has carried out several projects. Sally Gutiérrez’s work has been widely exhibited in Spanish and international museums and galleries. She is a member of the Research Group DKA “Decolonizando el pensamiento y la estética (Decolonizing Thought and Esthetics), based in the Reina Sofia Museum, and of the artistic collective Declinación Magnética (Magnetic Declination). At present she teaches Contemporary Art at the Universidad Europea de Madrid and is working on a full-length documentary entitled Ta acordaba Filipinas (¿Te acuerdas de Filipinas?, Do You Remember the Philippines, in Chabacano) about the linguistic legacy of Spanish colonization in the Philippines.
JUAN: Ta corda bat u el Filipinas? is for now the working title in the Chabacano language of your latest film essay, which is a full-length film on the legacy of the Spanish language in the Philippines from a decolonial perspective. But what did you know about the Philippines before your first trip?
SALLY: Obviously I knew about the colonial past that linked Spain and the Philippines. I was very moved by the news of the EDSA Revolution, and I had heard of Imelda’s shoes, the seven thousand islands, and so on, but I did not have an in-depth knowledge of the country.
J: In 2005, you were the recipient of a Ruy de Clavijo scholarship, granted by Casa Asia. I was also awarded the same scholarship. In my case, I remember that I conceptualized a research project that bore little resemblance to the project that I then went on to develop. Did this also happen in your case?
S: The first visit to the Philippines had a big impact, but over and above the first impressions, I wanted to observe, to listen to and to get to know the work of activists, artists, and intellectuals, which is what I usually do.
J: I imagine that the working material you gathered was enormous, but I recall that your first works on the Philippines were video features entitled Listen and Fair Bags and Slippers, which you showed in the “Filipiniana” exhibition, at the Centro Cultural Conde Duque in Madrid in 2006.
S: “Filipiniana” was a crucial exhibit. It was the first time since the famous Exposición de las Islas Filipinas (Exhibition on the Philippine Islands), held at the Retiro Park in Madrid in 1887, that Philippine art and culture were tackled from a contemporary and postcolonial perspective. I had recorded a great deal of material for my full-length documentary, but the footage was very patchy and the result would have been lacking in coherence. Hence I decided to make several pieces. Listen is a series of interviews with Filipino activists and cultural producers who have taken the courageous stand not to leave the country, in spite of the existence of conditions that all seem to push you to migrate. Fair Bags and Slippers is a video-installation on the exploitative conditions endured by workers in factories and the alternatives that are being organized.
J: Yes, “Filipiniana” was the first attempt on the part of Casa Asia and the Ministry of Culture to organize a major exhibit that would introduce to Spain the cultural and artistic reality of the Philippines in the post-colonial period. In reality, the scope of the project was even greater, because it included an exhibition, an artist-in-residence program, a seminar and a video series. In fact your third work done in the Philippines, entitled Nazareno Negro (2006) was shown in the video series. It is the first work that shows the great cultural impact of the Philippines on you.
S: Yes, the Black Nazarene procession seemed to me a vivid manifestation of cultural hybridization, past and present. It was like a cross between the Virgen del Rocío procession and an American film with majorettes, with scenes from the movie Blade Runner thrown in – all of it with the unmistakable Filipino touch – the halo-halo stands, the smell of camote cue, the Sampaguita vendors – and infused with the whole-hearted devotion to the Black Christ, carved by an anonymous Mexican sculptor and brought from the Viceroyalty of Mexico on the famous Manila Galleon.
J: This video was followed by another one, entitled Organ Market (2006), and the video-installation Crying Room/Patchworked Dreams, shown at the exhibition “Trauma Interrupted” in Manila 2007. What was it like showing your work in the Philippines?
S: The exhibition, curated by May Datuin, was held at the Cultural Center of the Philippines, a landmark building constructed on the orders of Imelda. Most of those who saw the video installation showed interest in and were impressed by it. It delved into the healing processes of girls and teenagers who were victims of trafficking and sexual abuse, but some male viewers felt uncomfortable about the subject. Organ Market was filmed in Tondo, one of the largest squatter areas in Asia. Judith Butler described as “memorable” the lives protected by bio-political mechanisms, which range from medical rejuvenation techniques and access to basic medical assistance, to the security offered by living in gated communities. But beyond them, there are thousands and even millions of people whose lives have no value for the system – they are “dispensable”. Tondo is an example of this reality. I worked there together with two professors of bioethics who were doing research on the organ market, which flourishes in Tondo, among other places. I myself witnessed how some characters, literally called brokers, came as though they were landing from another planet, in order to buy organs from young people, which they would then sell, at an outrageous profit, to inhabitants of the other world.
J: A year after that exhibition I had the chance to publish a book, similar to a textbook, entitled Filipinas: arte, identidad y discurso poscolonial [The Philippines: Art, Identity and Postcolonial Discourse] (2008) which included your video Listen! on the cover and a compilation of interviews with intellectuals and cultural activists, which enhanced the book’s contents. I have always considered your work as ongoing research, which hovers between visual arts, the documentary, feminism, and social criticism but lies at the same time somewhere in between theory and practice. This is evident in this video. Do you do you think so too?
S: I have read very different Filipino authors, poets and theorists, from Rizal to Nick Joaquín, Sionil Jose, Fernando Zialcita, Lualhati Buatista, Neferti X.M. Tadiar, Marjorie Evasco and the long list continues. Indeed my artistic discipline is a continuous research, and I was delighted that the video-interviews in Listen! formed part of a book cover. The video-interviews were also presented during the first exhibition in Spain of Philippine video-art, which you curated for Caixaforum in Barcelona.
J: Since then you have not produced any work on the Philippines. Is this due to your participation in the research group Peninsula and particularly to the creation of the artistic collective Declinación Magnética (Magnetic Declination)?
S: After a few years working in an international setting, I wanted to work locally, so I focused on the project Villalba Cuenta, an interactive documentary made together with my sister Gabriela. The collective Declinación Magnética emerged from a research group e formed between Matadero Madrid and Goldsmiths University. Our first project, Margen de Error (Margin of Error) is a video installation that deconstructs the “official” narrative of the colonization of the Americas that is presented at the secondary level in Spain. Les aliments refusés, o una historia política de los superfoods (Disavowed Foods, or a Political History of Superfoods) is a production that includes a narration and critical tasting of American food products that are now considered “superfoods”.
J: These strands of work revolving around postcolonial criticism and decolonial theory that the collective has undertaken make the history and current situation of the Philippines appear to be a suitable setting for a cultural production work by the collective. In fact, there is an invitation from Patrick Flores, director of the Vargas Museum of the University of the Philippines (UP) to show Margen de Error and Les aliments refusés in Manila.
S: We would really love to work with Patrick by making a Philippine version of Les aliments refusés. This work was also well-received, and we believe that it would make sense to include the Philippine context. But the issue of funding is a challenge.
J: Indeed, lack of funding from government bodies dealing with culture is a reality. For this reason the cultural cooperation activities carried out by our country and in which the Spanish Embassy in Manila plays a key role is so important. As a matter of fact, your current full-length film, ¿Te acuerdas de Filipinas? (Do You Remember the Philippines) is in the postproduction phase thanks to a scholarship from the BBVA Foundation, but for other projects that arise from this research, you are still looking for funding.
S: Ta acorda bat u el Filipinas? is a filmic conversation between the Philippines and Spain about the traces and ghosts of globalization, past and present, but as I was telling you earlier, each research leads you somewhere else. In relation to the colonial past and the post/de-colonial present, at present, I am interested in the ongoing negotiations around the Bangsamoro Basic Law.