Tradition Remixed: Democratizing and Reterritorializing “Aura” in New Media works of SABAW Media Art Kitchen By Ceres Marie Paredes Canilao A Paper for Asian Studies 207 The transformation of the superstructure, which takes place far more slowly than that of the substructure, has taken more than half a century to manifest in all areas of culture the change in the conditions of production. Only today can it be indicated what form this has taken. Certain prognostic requirements should be met by these statements. However, theses about the art of the proletariat after its assumption of power or about the art of a classless society would have less bearing on these demands than theses about the developmental tendencies of art under present conditions of production. Their dialectic is no less noticeable in the superstructure than in the economy (Benjamin, 1935:1) Introduction: What is SABAW In this age of consumerism, consumption has become as important if not more important than production. As a consequence, culture (or the superstructure) is now as crucial a determinant of change as economics (substructure). This is what Walter Benjamin is trying to say in the above quotation when he says that developments or dialectics in art are just as noticeable as in the economy. In the case of Asian and the Philippine art scene today, developments in the arts command almost equal attention with economic and political developments. And this is due to the creativity and innovativeness of art groups like SABAW.
Sabaw: A Filipino term which translates into English as “soup.” It is a blending together of different ingredients sometimes to a point that they disintegrate into each other forming a fluid, amorphous substance. Sabaw is ubiquitous in Filipino cuisine, ever present in dishes such as Sinigang, Tinola, and Nilaga. We have a need to have some form of sabaw to scoop up and flavor our rice with so that we end up diluting even the dishes that are meant to be dry. Soupy corned beef anyone?
On the other hand, Sabaw is also a metaphor for a state of mind wherein you are thinking about so many things that they all just mix up and melt and do not come out right anymore as if your brain itself has turned into soup. It is not uncommon to find students complaining during finals week that their brain just can’t take anymore “Sabaw na!” Sabaw could also refer to the state of mind of being nonsensical due to drug or alcohol intake.
It is thus interesting that a local artist group involved in the practice of new media art should call themselves SABAW Media Art Kitchen. Aptly, much of the activities of the group revolve around collaborative work, mixing together different ingredients: art and technology, the traditional and the contemporary, East and West (however problematic the categories may be). The works are highly improvisational and experimental. The founder, Earl ‘Tengal’ Drilon, not just satisfied with the gastronomic allusion of the term, reinforces it further by calling the group Kitchen. There is thus this suggestion that the group is always “cooking up” something. . . brewing . . . boiling. . .
If we are to consider the metaphorical meaning of SABAW as a state of being nonsensical, it sort of alludes to the exploratory or experimental nature of the projects of SABAW.
SABAW is very fluid in contrast to the solidity of computer hardware and equipment that they manipulate. This fluidity is also characteristic of a lot of their performances. There is a ‘bahala na’ tendency—a rejection of concrete plans and choreographed practice giving room and preference for innovation and improvisation.
Statement of the Problem This paper will explore the contribution of SABAW in defining new media art, as part of Philippine contemporary art and Asian art. New Media is still largely unheard of by the general public, and SABAW has been an active in the production of new media art events within the country. These events gain international audience as well through international participation. SABAW has been actively involved in the organization of events and festivals such as the First International New Media Art Festival or ASEUM which brought together new media art practitioners locally and abroad. The different workshops, symposiums, and
performances were held in different venues around Manila. International participation broadens and deepens the experience of new media.
To further define SABAW’s role in the art production of Asia, the paper looks at how the traditional merges with the contemporary, and how traditional concepts are reinterpreted with mechanical tools or technology-dependent media. It looks at traditional manifestations not only in the content of the artworks but also in the structure of the organization itself.
It then looks at how art can be used as a tool for political activism. These sections of the paper will reference heavily Walter Benjamin’s 1935 manuscript entitled “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.”
Theoretical Framework For Benjamin an original has a unique existence in time and space. An original has its own history via the changes it undergoes through time and via provenance or ownership. Only the original can be authentic. Thus, something which is produced mechanically depreciates in value because of its existence in numerous identical forms. Aura is produced by the rarity of the artwork, in contrast to a ‘universal equality’ of the artworks produced in the mechanical age. Original works possessed ‘cult value’ or a following based on ritual. It was l’art pour l’art or art for art’s sake. Art in the mechanical age by contrast acquire more political functions. (1935: 2-5)
Methodology For data on SABAW used in this research three methods were employed: 1) Review of written sources: documentation released by SABAW, internet resources including blogs, websites, online newspapers. 2) Interviews: I conducted unstructured and informal interviews with the artists revolving around questions about their works, their thoughts about new media, their motivations and philosophy, the role of art in Philippine society, etc. 3) Participant Observation: I watched various performances of SABAW. I attended lectures and workshops, and observed audience reception as well. These were conducted
since my first encounter with them during their performance in Baguio City within the last two months (February and March 2011). Luckily, they had major events the past two months including some collaborations with some international artists from Taiwan, Czechoslovakia, Prague, and Holland. They also were involved during the AXIS Art Project, the Baguio leg of the National Commission of Culture and the Art’s (NCCA’s) Arts Month.
Definition of Terms Before we proceed to the main paper, it is quite useful to briefly go over some terms that have been used in the introduction and will continue to be encountered throughout this paper.
New Media Art is an umbrella term that includes a very diverse range of art practices, including Film & Video, Interactive Design, Net Art, Robotics and Biotechnology. One artist may consider her work New Media, and another artist would disagree. Some authors have tried to equate New Media with the use of technology. This is again problematic as there was a time when a spoon was considered a technical invention. The example is of course quite extreme. Against this you could argue “But that’s why it is ‘New’ Media. It makes use of “new” technologies such as the internet.” This “newness” however is still problematic. What becomes of the artwork when the technology becomes obsolete? Does it cease from being a “New Media” artwork?
New Media Art thus being defined we proceed to investigate its local manifestations through the work of SABAW.
I. SABAWation Towards a local definition of New Media Art. Tengal founded SABAW Media Art Kitchen 2005. The organization’s primary concern was “creation, design, and research-based production towards the imminent intersections of art and technology; as well as networking cultures in the Southeast Asian region with information and communication carried via modern electronic media” (SABAW Media Art Kitchen 2010). Accordingly, SABAW has been a premier force pushing forth the new media art in the Philippines. SABAW has organized and produced various key events in new media art history. Let us take a closer look at Fete de la Wasaque, ASEUM or the First International New Media Art Festival, and Fete de la WSK!
Fete de la Wasaque!(2008) In October 14-15, 2008, SABAW organized “Fete de la Wasaque: a 2 night festival for adventurous music and related visual art”. The event name was a pun of a popular international festival Fete de la Musique. The event featured experimental music paired up with live video performance—a configuration which would become characteristic of much of the performances of SABAW. The first night was held at Mag:net Café Katipunan, a twofloor space which features an artist gallery on the first floor and a music bar on the second.
ASEUM ASEUM or The First International New Media Art Festival in the Philippines was launched in 2009. The five day festival brought together practitioners, researchers, curators, and producers from all over the Philippines, Slovenia, Japan, Australia, The Netherlands and the US. Discussions revolved around Open Source Advocacy; Technology and Cultural Processes; Open Structures and Remote Real Time Storytelling; Intersections of Art, Ecology, Gaming, and Advocacy, Data Visualization: Making Meaning in an info-rich world; Computer Music and Video in a Live Setting; Media and the Creation Process; Sound Mapping: Circuit Bending; Pure Data: Practical Programming for Sound Art; Video Art and Experimental Moving Image; Electroacousting Improvisation, Mono- Multi- and , Intermedia-, The Value of Exchange in Creative Interdisciplinary and Cross-Border
Collaborations, and Why Numbers Make Sounds: Basic Introduction to Patching and Audio Synthesis, using Max/Msp. (Drilon, Visual Pond “ASEUM”)
ASEUM was supported by the Asia Europe Foundation as follow-up project of the Asia Europe Art Camp New Media Series.
The experience in ASEUM was very productive. However, the group experienced some difficulties with some of the foreign partners due to miscommunication. ASEUM was not continued the following year. SABAW would instead decide to resurrect its Fete de la Wasaque.
Fete de la WSK! In 2010, it was shortened to Fete de la WSK! And events were spread out within ten days. The event featured live performances, exhibits, public interventions, workshops, artist talks and screenings. It was participated by 50 artists from here and abroad. Venues included B-Side Bar at the Collective, The Free Press Parking Lot, Carlos Celdran’s Living Room Apartment and Victoria Court (Drilon, SABAW “Fete Full Program”)
Fete de la WSK! brought underground experimental music into focus, attracting the attention of Filipino Youth everywhere. (Velasco 2010)
II. Remixing Tradition Both ‘Sabaw’ and ‘Wasak’ are very colloquial Filipino expressions and metaphors. The two terms may seem to imply disorganization, but used in their context hints more of subversive potential. It is the kind of subversive potential that is present in much underground subcultures. Aptly, the Fete de la wasaque and WSK events of SABAW have been associated with the underground music scene. At the same time the terms retaining a distinct Filipino flavor but in a very contemporary sense--the two terms have gained popularity only with recent generations.
This kind of traditional contemporariness also manifest in the artworks themselves and performances, not just locally but also in collaborations with other Asian artists and organizations. It may be notable that concept of fluidity is very much important also in other Asian cultures. It is prevalent in many Asian philosophies such as Taoism, and Buddhism.
Follows is an example of a performance by SABAW in an event entitled â€œWe Hate it When People Make Records Like Theseâ€? held at the B-Side Bar, The Collective in Makati:
Chao-Yun Luo has mastered the traditional Chinese guitar lute or pipa. Yet the Taiwanese musician does not play traditional tunes. She boldly improvises to produce otherworldly melodies and eerie sounds as she skillfully manipulates the pipa, sometimes pawing and scratching at it. Chao-Yun is famous for being the only pipa player who transverses a wide variety of genres form traditional to avant-garde and experimental. She is gradually joined in by some local electronic musicians-- Caliph8, Supreme Fist, and Tengal. They join in with turntables and music production centers (mpcs). While this sonic feast is taking place, video artist Tad Ermitano mixes some imagery on-the-spot to coincide with the sounds.
In the above example we see how a traditional art production is remixed at various levels of improvisation:
First there is Chao Yun creating cosmic sounds with her instrument. Then there are the electronicon artists. One electronic artists may then take the sound from her instrument and amplify, distort the sound she has just generated and add it to the mixture. The other sound artists may then add to the composition by producing sounds from other pre-existing sounds: the scratching of vinyl turntable records, the pre-recorded sounds from music production centers. Last but not the least, there is the video artist manipulating video images on-the-spot in sync with the sounds being generated.
III. New Media: Democratizing Art & Culture “…that which withers in the age of mechanical reproduction is the aura of the work of art. (Benjamin, 1935:3)” This second part of the paper jumps off from Benjamin Walter’s observation that with the introduction of machines (particularly the camera and film during the time his article was written) results in the dissolution of the ‘aura’ of an artwork. This is due to the reproducibility of works bringing about the loss of the concept of authenticity or originality, which have the particular characteristic of having cult value, a sort of sacredness that comes about due to an artworks uniqueness, rarity, and inaccessibility.
However it should also be noted that the concept of aura is also very much anchored on individual work or a notion of the artist as a special genius. Furthermore authenticity and originality are very problematic concepts. Is a photograph then not an original? Also, cult value does not necessarily have to depend on rarity, for it to have a following.
The next part of the paper goes to show how new media works as exemplified in the works of SABAW, contribute to a democratization of art.
Collaboration vs. Genius Giddens proposes that all traditions are created. If such is the case, then the legitimacy of traditions should be open to questioning. Tradition is not just about traditions of a certain group or a certain culture. Artistic production itself has its own traditions. One of them is the idea of the artist as a solitary genius. We have a romantic idea of the artist confined in his studio and creating a unique work of art. This is unavoidable as much of art history has focused on the legacies of Leonardos, Dalis and Picassos which is dominantly male and western (which is another story).
Today, ‘artist’ is fast becoming a presumptuous and passé term. David Kousemaker, one of the guests of SABAW for a session called Bedroomlab rejects the word artist, choosing
instead to be called an interaction designer. Similarly, a lot of artists are now giving preference to more specific career descriptions.
There is also now a shift from highly individualized to collaborative works. Collaborative works demystify the idea of the artist as a very inward focused organism lost in her own world. The problem of this â€˜own worldâ€™ is that it is very subjective and elusive. Collaboration does not debunk an artistâ€™s individual capacity and creativity, rather it accommodates expansion and development by allowing several actors with different talents to contribute to the artwork.
Collaboration allows the work to communicate because it gives it an instant opportunity to be interacted on by another body. A body outside the self immediately processes the artwork in contrast to for example a painting by an individual artist which you could stare at for hours (granted you are willing) and still not get a clue what it is all about. In fact collaborators may also function like first-hand audience. It makes it easier for audiences to relate to a work if they can see others relating to it. This can best be illustrated by my first encounter with SABAW during one of their Bedroomlab sessions which was held in Baguio City:
SABAW founder Tengal, starts to project a video work which he had made. The work is a collage of existing videos which he put together to create a totally new concept or a video. In an interview with him later he would explain that the videos are tied together by similar elements present in each film clip. As Tengal is showing his video work, he starts to mix some music and accompanies his video work. As he is doing this another artist decides to join in by playing the drums. This carries on for a while when suddenly the mix is now accompanied by a voice. At first I thought that the voice was also premixed until I looked around and realized that the voice was coming from another artist in the audience. She starts to sing what actually seems more like wails but very much in tune with the rhythm. By now the people have started to dance in their chairs or wherever they were standing. Others start to pick up forks or what they can drumming against beer bottles, or tables, all trying to blend in with the production.
The above-mentioned experience was very viral and very natural. It was like a collaboration utopia where there was no more delineation between stage and audience, or between audience and artist. In such instances, collaboration gives venue to shared meaning. The role of the artist is not then to express something new but rather to awaken realization to a form of dormant truth or reality.
Collaboration presupposes a desire to engage with another or an other. It can thus be utilized at different levels: between artists and other artists, artists and communities, artists and organizations, etc. Thus far SABAW has been able to engage in different types of collaboration at different levels.
One of the workshops during the 2009 ASEUM festival was a collaboration with interplay.org based in Tokyo, Kanagawa region of Japan. Interplayâ€™s goal is to promote crosscultural exchange between Japanese children and children from other countries. Interplay co-founder Emma Ota conducted a workshop explaining basic principles in animation. The Filipino children were then asked to create an animation of 16 frames were a black ball metamorphosed into an image that they liked. Then for their next activity, they were then given frames which Japanese children had drawn. This time they were asked to return the images into a ball. (SABAW: ASEUM Report 2011)
As can be seen above, the collaborative nature of SABAW is not limited to performances alone. SABAW has actively been involved in the pedagogical aspect of media art through symposiums, workshops and conferences. Bedroomlabs have been mentioned quite a few times in the examples above. Bedroomlabs serve as one of these pedagogical strategies. In Bedroomlabs the artists get to talk about the work. But just like soup or SABAW, the events have no strict formulas and sometimes transform into performances as well.
The idea of Bedroomlabs themselves serve to deterritorialize artistic production, as not only artists but individuals become empowered in the production of their works. Personal spaces or bedrooms become sites of artistic production as evidenced by successes of
YouTube superstars. This democratization of art has produced self-made superstars who before needed agents and big companies to ‘discover’ them. Now you become your own promoter. Video editing and production is becoming more accessible to home users. Open Source software or Freeware are being distributed. Most of these programs, aside from being free also have copyleft rights
Which leads us to another aspect of democratization of art the usage of Sampling and Copyleft.
Sampling and Copyleft “Mechanical reproduction emancipates the work of art from its parasitical dependence on ritual (Benjamin 1935:5).” Copyleft which is a play on the word “copyright” allows a work of art to be redistributed in modified versions, provided that further adaptations will hold the same rights.
Sampling and copyleft adds new dimension to Walter Benjamin’s fear of the loss of ‘ originality’ and ‘authenticity’(1935:2-3). Benjamin’s fears were grounded primarily on the machine’s ability to produce multiple identical copies such as photographs, making the idea of originality problematic. Mass produced works lose ‘aura’ which only an ‘original’ work could ever possess. Originality and authenticity are further implicated with sampling and copyleft as there is a clear intention of the adaptation of existing works to be remixed and reused.
As mentioned in their philosophy statement “ SABAW actively supports advocates the open-source and copy-left movements, and advocacies that foster a culture of sharing.” (SABAW Media Art Kitchen: SABAW Media Art Kitchen: 2010)
SABAW artists make heavy usage of sampled music and sampled videos in their works. During the performance of Tengal mentioned earlier. Tengal was mixing music to his own pre-made video. This video consisted of clips gathered from other films and shorts.
Tengal’s video work stands out for itself. It may be composed of numerous other sampled videos, but the film taken as a whole has transcended the originals from which they were collaged. It has become a fluid body, fragmented but whole at the same time.
In another segment of the event “We Hate When People Makes Records Like These”, JTNB, from Prague remixes his own voice. JTNB shouts into his microphone or sometimes creates sounds by hitting the microphone into his chest, but he instantly processes these sounds through synthesizers so that what the audience hears could be robotic sounds instead of his voice. Or sometimes he lets his natural voice be heard and he raps but the sounds are extended/prolonged, repeated through his synthesizers. The other electronic musicians may then also opt to ‘jam’ with him or join him as they did with Chao Yun.
In another project of SABAW, the group performs in a Kitchen setting. A cook chops, and all these sounds of chopping, mincing, grinding frying are once again remixed by electronic artists on the spot.
The above examples show how despite use of the mechanical equipment and technologies. Original works are still being produced. And not only are they originals, they are rarer than the rarest artworks as improvised artworks can never be repeated again. Aside from this artworks continue to affect emotions and whatnot and create a following, as can be seen in the audience impact of Tengal’s performance. In such cases the works of art are “reauratized” put in the words of Sven Lütticken (2009).
III. Conclusion SABAW Media Art Kitchen actively defines the meaning of art, specifically that of new media art within the Philippines and Asia. The structure and concepts of the organization, is infused with traditional metaphors (whether intentional or incidental) that generate discourse on our reception of intersections between art and technology. At the same time, through collaborations not just within the Philippines and Asia but also with other continents, SABAW allows this definition to be tested, to expand, and to affect the dialogical meaning of the term within the wider international sphere. This takes place through the
cultivation of environment that allows for exchange and cross-pollinations and crossfertilizations of concepts and ideas.
SABAW’s preference for collaborative work allows for a more democratized artistic production by engaging different players composed of artists, communities , organizations and nationalities. Its advocacy of sampling and copyleft has gone on to show how technology which started out as a tool of capitalism can also be appropriated by artists and the masses to disrupt capitalism itself. Technology has empowered a lot of small players into self production.
An artwork’s aura is not necessarily lost in the age of mechanical and technical reproduction, it simply exists in a more fluid configuration whereby despite its ability to be dissipated and reproduced indefinitely it is a unique event that sets it apart from other events and may even generate a ‘cult following’.
References: AX(iS) Art Project Web page. 2011. 13 Mar. 2011 <axisartproject.com>. Castaneda, Ciara. “It’s WSK! Time” The Philippine Star 21 Nov. 2010. 22 Mar. 2011 <http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleId=631883&publicationSubCategory Id=453>. Dirk Peasmans, Jodi. “Art in the age of digital distribution.” New Media Art. (Jana and Grosenick eds.)Koln: Taschen, 2006. Drilon, Tengal. Personal interview. 6 Mar.2011. *Benjamin, Walter. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” 1935 *Giddens, Anthony. “Tradition” BBC Reith Lecture Series 1999 Lütticken, Sven. “Viewing Copies: On the Mobility of Moving Images.” e-flux 8 (September 2009) 15 Jul. 2010<http://www.e-flux.com/journal/view/75>. SABAW Media Art Kitchen. “ASEUM Report.” 2011
SABAW Media Art Kitchen. “Fete de la WSK! Full Program.” 2010 SABAW Media Art Kitchen. “SABAW Media Art Kitchen.” 2010 Velasco, Grace. “The WSK Experience.” PhilStar.Com. 5 Dec.2010. 1 Apr. 2011. < http://www.philstar.com/Article.aspx?articleId=636217&publicationSubCategoryI d=453> Visual Pond “ASEUM: The 1st International New Media Art Festival in the Philippines.” Visual Pond 14 Apr.2010. 15 Mar 2011 < http://visualpond.blogspot.com/2010/04/aseum-1st-international-new-mediaart.html>. *Course Material used