Scapular Gallery Nomad: Beyond the Limits of the Center and Into One’s Own

Six years ago, I started to perform Scapular Gallery Nomad projected to be a two-year long "performance art gallery". As curator, owner, artist, and vehicle of a nomadic gallery, I had planned to wear daily, scapular-like pouches containing the works of a good number of artists, filling up a two-year schedule of exhibition, two years of performance. A month into the work, I fell terribly ill. Abandoning the project, I attended to the more urgent task of healing a fast deteriorating body.
But being ill, being in the state of dis-integration / dis-order, I needed to weave myself back to the myths of creation for the very myths of artmaking are the myths of integration / ordering. I needed to imagine myself back to life. I took up the work again in 1997 with thirty-eight artists each scheduled for an exhibition at the Scapular Gallery Nomad. I continue to accept more exhibitions and the gallery is now fully booked up to the year 2002. For each exhibition, I do what every respectable art gallery does for its artists: the writing and publishing of exhibition notes, curatorial design, publicity, documentation, archiving, openings, shipping logistics, artist-gallery contracts, the cultivation of an audience, and even the design and construction of the gallery.
The movement away from the center and into the periphery of production, circulation and reception of art has been a twenty-three year journey. Quickly legitimated as an artist by the state run Cultural Center of the Philippines while still in college, I was given the opportunity to mount my first one-person exhibition in the Center’s main gallery where all major museum exhibitions were held. After college, I was hired as a curatorial assistant of the same museum and was chosen for the Thirteen Artists Award, an exhibition grant given biannually to thirteen young artists who were perceived to have the potential to contribute to the progress of Philippine contemporary art. This simply meant that we were "attuned to the processes of and had the skills for negotiating well" (Burgin 189) within the environs of the culture industry.
Within a year of these three major career "moves", I was deeply entrenched in the center. I was not only producing art that fed into the system, I was now part of the system that canonized persons and objects as art and artists. Precisely, my first one person exhibition investigated the museum’s spatial and architectural infrastructure, and its attendant power to embody any object endowing it the privilege of being something called art. I was hired as a curatorial assistant on the basis of this work.
Ten years later with four-one person shows, fourteen major group exhibitions, a good number of performances and an MFA degree from the United States to my name, I was appointed director of the Contemporary Art Museum of the Philippines (CAMP) evolved from the consolidation of the resources of two museums, the Museum of Philippine Art and the Cultural Center of the Philippines Museum, making it the most well endowed therefore the most powerful contemporary art museum in the Philippines then. With the demise of Marcos’ 14 year dictatorship in the 1986 "people power revolution", the new government was quick to reinstate democracy. Cultural institutions were soft structures where democracy could be visually embodied giving image to it’s reestablishment at its most urgent. These institutions were restructured to open up as democratic spaces. In particular, the Cultural Center of the Philippines, formerly Imelda Marcos’ "art parlor" was expanded to accommodate coordinating centers for the visual, literary, film, broadcast media, music, theater, and dance arts.
As museum director, I was concurrent coordinator of the center for the visual arts. My roles were conflicted. As coordinator of the center I was merely to oversee the equitable distribution of its finite resources. But as head of the museum, I directed the same resources according to the official discourse which was to be maintained and further evolved based on a ten-year plan consisting of three phases.
Phase 1, the dialectical phase was to be devoted to questions on aesthetics, identity, issues and orientation.
Phase 2 was work towards an analysis of the visual arts as a reflection of Philippine culture. There were to be investigations in history, modal patterns of thought, perceptions and expressions.
In phase 3, we were to arrive at a definition of Philippine culture as expressed in the contemporary visual arts. Paradigms of culture were to be formulated. Obviously this project limited its investigation to a very specific form of art, that kind of production that privileged a few and excluded many Filipino artists. Just as I can be faulted now, here of speaking "only to and for each other in a language oblivious to everything but a well guarded, constantly shrinking fiefdom forbidden to the uninitiated" (Said 143) then too as museum director I could have been accused of belonging to that "closed system run by a very small group of people who were even more defensively protecting the territory against the invasion of the outsiders" (Tucker 11).
Thus began my discomfort with and within the center. Placed on the museum staff and myself was the burden of discursive proof as to the legitimacy of the art that was to be deployed as contemporary which in turn will legitimate this newly consolidated museum as a space for progressive art, this "proofing" process an expertise performed in two kinds of spaces. Practiced in the hidden space of the museum is the expertise "whose function is to produce and organize a representation claiming the status of knowledge." Then there are "the public spaces in which this knowledge is offered for passive consumption producing a monologic discourse dominated by the cultural voice of the museum " (Bennett 103-104)
The ten-year plan mentioned earlier was to be the blueprint for the production of such a discourse, a practice received from the industrialized west and an idea unreflected upon by most cultural practitioners within modern structures in countries such as the Philippines, a nation presently celebrating one hundred years of nationhood and very busy in its" political museumizing," a term Benedict Anderson refers to as the process of creating a national culture through state institutions and their ability to create a homogenizing and "totalizing classificatory grid, which could be applied with endless flexibility to the state’s real or contemplated control: peoples, regions, religions, languages, products, monuments and so forth. The effect of the grid was always to be able to say anything that it was this, not that; it belonged here not there. It was bounded, determinate, and therefore - in principle - countable." (183-184)
In hindsight, my unhappiness, my discomfort, with this center and in particular this museum stemmed from this burden of producing this monologic discourse for institutional - legitimacy through the power of privileging a few, a project that went against what the artistic community, then hungry for signs of the new liberal rule, was promised. I felt vulnerable to the possible attacks from those who were disenfranchised. Were it only a matter of exhibiting every artist until the center’s resources ran out, the work would have been easy but there was the work of maintaining the museum as designated space for contemporary art, a project I undertook and embraced fully since nothing less was expected of me. Thus the quest for quality based on the modernist "concepts of progress, continuity, totality, mastery and the universal claim to history accepted as true " (Tucker 11) was in opposition to the practice of the majority of Filipino artists: social realism eventually collected as adornment, folk art realism, photorealism using emotionally charged subject matter, conceptual art that were exquisite visual pleasures, abstract expressionism rendered within non-monumental scale and with non-heroic gestures. It is obviously an artworld synchronic in many aspects.
I was not only beleaguered from without, there were basic problems from within. In its desire for a speedy rendition of the new order in high relief, the cultural center overexerted itself, inadvertently taxing its workforce and its resources, forgetting to breathe and reflect upon the real work. Was the project only to meet the "political demands based on the principle of representational adequacy"? (Bennett 105) Or having been instrumental in the formation of the deposed regime, at least in the area of cultural construction, and given this opportune break in history, shouldn’t the critical work have been that of providing itself the space and time to come to terms with this past by taking the lead in radically rethinking how such structures like itself can truly be responsive to a culture long colonized, and to a people recently unshackled from military rule and now mobilized by the state and industry to make up for lost time in the project of modernization?
Finally, believing that art is a technology of self transformation, I started to doubt deeply how an artist can possibly constitute and "decipher himself in regard to what" (Foucault 17) he or she has been permitted to produce as only that which is valorized when made visible within exposing systems. It is a question of the relation between a delimited, dependent, pre-coded aesthetic production and self-truth. (Poli please note this last line, my e-mail does not have footnoting capabilities, this must be footnoted as the endnote) Controlled and co-opted by such systems as mere producer of things to be embodied architecturally as objects of institutional discourses of art, his/her autonomy compromised, the artist is now merely a technician who makes the commodity fetish par excellence. Artists are no longer self-determining subjects able to have their "own means or with the help of others, to do certain number of operations on their own bodies, souls, thoughts, conduct and way of being, so as to transform themselves in order to attain a certain state of happiness, purity, wisdom, perfection and immortality". (Foucault 18) Aesthetic production, now heavily determined may no longer be a critical practice of the self. The inquiry will only lead us back to the tautology of these very same structures that delimit art’s possibilities.
Two years into the work, I resigned. My staff mounted a strike against me for a management style which a friend observed was too un-Filipino, too western, too modern. I directed the museum with a devotion to intellectual and professional rigor and required myself and my staff a fastidiousness which they regarded as fascism. (Roces 7) My faith in the criticality of art practice shaken and eroded, I left the museum, stopped making art and withdrew from the artworld. Self-exiled, disillusioned, my disengagement marked the beginning of the crucial process of individuation. A process so stunningly providential, its poetic logic no longer escapes me. If my dis-ease with the monolithic circuit of production, circulation, and reception of art had largely to do with its ecology of mere spectacle and monuments, of confinement, dependency and co-optation (infrastructural, institutional, historical, economic, discursive), of privilege and exclusivity, of universals and homogeneity, the path to restoring my health was a movement away from this circuit. Precisely, the intimate process of individuation and integration called for a move towards quietude, humility, a forsaking of the socialized, canonized-self and an embracing of the deeply personal; a move away from the comforts of being privileged and accomodated towards selfdetermination and sufficiency, self-truth and autonomy. This line of flight, a process of de-centering, brought me straight to the border, the margin, the periphery, perhaps even beyond the limits of the center of art production, circulation and reception of art.
My life then was marked with great discord, seven long years of malaise. Although there was no desire to go back to that anointed but trapped self, there was the tension of having to shed this self. To have gone back meant a life lost to anxiety, to a constant dread of not ever finding one’s way home, a life so ill-fitting, I had no choice but to stay untethered in the new territory where the only fear was the unknown. Consequently, a technique of attention to be used in and on my daily life (Fisher 9) was needed to do the work via negativa: work not amongst people or for others but with and for oneself alone; painful arduous work, isolated, invisible, intimate, valuable only to oneself; work with the self as prima materia, the subject demanding to be the object of reflection, relentlessly attended to. Eventually there came a time when having lived long enough at the periphery, I started to know the periphery. Having painfully attended to my being there, a different self started to emerge, a self formed within and "of the periphery". Here Deleuze’s and Guattari’s ideas of the the rhizome is a useful figure in describing the "becoming-periphery" process that I went through which brought me back to making art through the creation of the Scapular Gallery Nomad. They write: "This time, the principal root has aborted, or its tip has been destroyed; an immediate, indefinite multiplicity of secondary roots grafts onto it and undergoes a flourishing development. This time, natural reality is what aborts the principal root, but the root’s unity subsists, as past or yet to come, as possible." (5-6) Calling the "abortionists of unity doctores angelici", these two thinkers point to a return to health through the shattering of the main root, resulting in a rhizome that "will start up again on one of its old lines or on new lines." (5) They liken the event to an apparallel evolution as in the relationship of the orchid and the wasp: "The orchid deterritorializes by forming an image, a tracing of a wasp, but the wasp reterritorializes on that image. The wasp is nevertheless deterritorialized, becoming a piece in the orchid’s reproductive apparatus. But it reterritorializes the orchid by transporting its pollen, wasp and orchid as heterogenous elements form a rhizome...At the same time something else entirely is going on: not an imitation at all but a capture of code, an increase in valence, a becoming-wasp of the orchid and a becoming-orchid of the wasp. Each of these becomings brings about the deterritorialization of one term and the territorialization of the other; the two becomings interlink and form relays in a circulation of intensities pushing the deterritorialization ever further." ( 6 ) Hence, I would like to take liberty in using the above event as map to my own becoming: "Stratified, territorialized, siginified, attributed" (Deleuze, Guattari ) within and by the center, I took flight. I deterritorialized. Nevertheless I was reterritorialized as I seemed to have been recoded, a becoming-periphery of the self. But with Scapular Gallery Nomad, I seem to have captured this very same code of liminality giving me the ability to deterritorialize further at the periphery and reterritorialize it for my own. Thus, to be coded only to become resistant to being coded, by determining apparatuses is precisely what Deleuze and Guattari meant by being restored to health through "the cyclic unity of the eternal return." They urge us to "ask if reflexive, spiritual reality does not compensate for these state of things by demanding an even more comprehensive secret unity, or a more extensive totality". ( 6 ) The self becoming-peripheral now produces art that is integral to this technology of individuation through aparallel evolution. As a nomadic artist with multiple roles (curator, critic, gallery owner, gallery architect and builder, publisher, and as vehicle of the gallery, its infrastructure), having multiple exits and entryways, I deal with the possibilities of an art practice that gives me the speed, the immediacy and the fluidity to ceaselessly create connections deep or fleeting, forming a rhizome in many varied situations with all kinds of individuals.
My idea of the scapular is based on the miraculous Scapular of Carmel. Catholic tradition has it that, the Blessed Virgin and the infant Jesus miraculously appeared at Mt. Carmel in 1251 and placed upon the shoulder of one Simon Stock a brown scapular. Salvation from the eternal fires of hell was promised to anyone who would wear this grace garment as devotion to the Virgin. Scapular Gallery Nomad is a return to the devotion to art. Placed upon the shoulders of all artists is what Victor Burgin calls an endgame: "roles are handed down by a particular history through particular institutions, and whether we choose to work within or without these given history or institutions, for or against them, our relationship to them is inescapable." (158) Further he perceives the canon of art as a graveyard made up of masterpieces. "To be admitted to it is to be consigned to perpetual exhumation, to be denied entry is to be condemned to perpetual oblivion." ( 159 ) Like an amulet to protect me from becoming a victim of the endgame, I wear the gallery placed on my shoulders daily in the hope that I will attain salvation from the eternal fires of oblivion. But the kind of oblivion Burgin refers to is not the kind of oblivion I fear. Secure in the knowledge that my creative life need not necessarily take the form of art since artmaking is only one of the technologies of the self, and acutely cognizant of where I am in art history and its limits, the one fear I had was not to disappear into oblivion but the fear of being oblivious to one’s entrapment and enchantment within instrumental systems, with one’s supposed critical practice of aesthetic production fueling these systems. With Scapular Gallery Nomad therefore, I have rendered my body as locus for the enunciation and performance of a "materialist critique of art". (Crimp 155) I return to artmaking secure in the knowledge that in this activity I have had autotelic experiences -experiences of flows, of the infinity so to speak, as I became self-contained within the inalienable pleasure, within the jouissance of simply making something, The act, the becoming-pleasure is itself the recompense.
What then is this activity that gives me so much pleasure?
Scapular Gallery Nomad, a piece of clothing, a habit is a space I have created where I can essentially curate upon my body. Just as I care for myself in this performance, I also care for the artists by curating their works in my body gallery. Jennifer Fisher in her article "Trick or Treat, Naming Curatorial Ethics", links other terms with the word curate in positing an ethics of curatorship, an ethics of caring: "curate... one charged with the care of souls"...in curatorship: "one charged with the care of other selves, those imaginary citizens populating the mandates of public culture... cure... the critical intervention of a curator can function like those of healers ...a surgeon acting on inert, (anaesthetised) bodies for various effects, a homeopath which provides for awareness, a therapist through intersubjective encounters which might resemble a talking cure... securus...to render safe and secure... accurae to be careful about...curiosity... curio... impelling interest." She summarizes this practice as a "dynamic entailing those processes of becoming implicit to mobilising the spaces between art’s discourses, objects, personalities, audiences and institutions." (8-9) Having performed the work for the past three years and having to perform it for another two years, I would like to describe the shape the work has taken thus far. I would also like to imagine its future. Scapular Gallery Nomad’s maintenance and integrity are dependent on the resources and reality of my daily living. It has no demands beyond the small scale of my life. I hand sew the scapulars; write and desktop publish the exhibition notes in my bedroom; print them low tech, each copy costing from 10 to 15 US cents. I only carry small, light delicate artworks: photographs, prints, books, computer diskettes, egg white merengue and textile sculptures, oil paintings on paper. They are unframed, unpropped on pedestals; protected, wrapped only in cloth, never a burden on my shoulders.
My movements too are conservative. Except for the intimate dinners hosted by the artists during their opening events, I hardly go out of my way to make a separate event of it, separate from the usual flow of my life that is. Some openings were quiet, unattended, unseen events. On three occasions it was just the simple undonning of the old scapular and the donning of the new one with the new works on the set date wherever I was. The adding of artists, now thirty-two, to the exhibition list also happened as I met them in my daily life. I never went out of my way to find them.
The performance is never a spectacle. The artworks are now removed from the context of the pure-gaze. In fact it always surprises me when I get to see the photographs. There doesn’t seem to be anything exceptional happening except for two or three people looking at something held on the palm of their hands. Often, I am a small event in bigger events. Several artist friends have invited me to perform during their own gallery openings.
Most of the time the work is experienced as I share a meal with family or friends. I am comforted by this fact. The performance has somehow entered a sacred space, a sacred act, the breaking of bread amongst those I love. It has also entered my dreams. I now perform the work even in my sleep. I am outside an old church, surveying it as a good place to perform the work; in another, in a garden, four young men standing around a marble table view the artworks and mull over the word neg-entropy, a word I used in the notes. Climbing ladders, I pursue a friend to show him the artworks I carry, running up terraces built one on top of the other. From private to public, inside to outside all the way to the subconscious, the performance is one smooth flow of space and events.
My body clothed with the gallery becomes a specific site for art. At the same time once clothed with the gallery my body can constantly create specific spatial and temporal sites for the performance at that moment someone holds and views the artworks in elevators, in airplanes, at wakes in funeral parlors, at theater lobbies during concert intermissions, while qeueing in banks and supermarkets, during lunches in cafeterias, in church weddings, dental clinics, taxis, in beauty parlors, restaurants, shopping malls, classrooms, parks, street concerts, picnics by the sea and so on. Somehow my body has re-oriented itself towards the world. It would seem that every surface of the earth that it sets foot on for as long as there are other bodies around it as potential audience, is a specific site for the production and reception of art. The work overwhelms me at times. I take my cues from my body . Once, for a period of one month, lethargy set in. I refused to prepare the next exhibition. I refused to wear the work. I notice too that I do not agress in approaching my audience. I propose humbly that a moment within the flow of their lives be turned into an art context. Some not quite understanding what is demanded of them ask where my gallery is. Most are polite as they perfunctorily go through the works. During these times, I am made aware that I may not be communicating any better than if the works were presented in a regular gallery. Also, I ask very few of those I meet to be my audience since I feel the validity of the work does not hinge on the number of times it is viewed or experienced. It is sufficient that I have found a way to remove and relocate the art object away from specific ideologically connotated spaces. Still, fearing capture, I am ambivalent as to the degree of visibility I must muster out there. Finally, having accepted the reality of my inevitable relationship with the very same system I profess to work without and secure in my autonomy as an agent critically aware of the co-opting discursive powers of these institutions, I have performed briefly within four major museums: the Vienna Secession, capcMusee d'art contemporain de Bordeaux, PS 1 Contemporary Art Center , and at the Hayward Gallery. I have even exhibited artifacts of the performance and continue to critique the system with works installed within these institutions. I sincerely feel that I have not compromised the integrity of the work since it existed and continue to exist independent of these institutions.
Recently, one of the poucheswas collected for $10,000 as part of a bigger work by an artist from Tokyo. I was uncomfortable at first about this purchase, feeling that the that the gallery's autonomy was compromised if it could be collected. But later, it occured to that although the pouch could become part of a collection, the core of the piece, the "performance art gallery" could not. On several occasions I have counter offered to exhibit the works of artist-curators from Europe who were in search of Asian artists for inclusion in the exhibitions they were developing. Two graciously accepted my invitation. As to the future of the work, two events quietly showed me the way. One day, a little girl in my neighborhood who usually plays outside my yard grabbed the scapular and demanded to know what it was. My response surprised me. I did not show her the artworks. Then at a wet market, I brought out the artworks for a family of fruit vendors . They showed polite appreciation, held the works with care, gave them back to me. I handed out the little exhibition brochure in return as signal to end the transaction. I realized I have not fully shed the ways of the Center. I could not perceive the child as one of my audience. The brochures I publish do not communicate to market vendors nor to children essentially the audience at the periphery. Written in English, our second language, my text is still a discourse on the merits of my project of disavowing the center instead of the text itself taking the form of the disavowal. Should I produce a text for children? a text in Filipino our national language presently undergoing the process of intellectualization? a text using popular cultural forms, a comic book perhaps? Or should I produce a text at all? I am deep into rethinking the tricky problem of discursive production since "all discourse embodies hegemonic aspects". (Mojares 127) I would like to believe that there are no heroics in performing Scapular Gallery Nomad, just the wearing of a piece of cloth and a constant sensing of my own scale and order of things daily, intimate, liminal, fragile and finite. I hope to attain a symmetry between what I can expend and invest on my own, who I have become and the fruits of my own labor. Performing beyond the limits of the center, I have empowered myself proportionate to and within the limits of my own energies and my subjectivity. Only those who love me have had the courage to tell me that I look like the fool. I appreciate the image for the fool is who we are when we abandon the infirmed center and place ourselves at the periphery. Here I regain health quietly trying to invert the perverted order. Here I have chosen the schizophrenic’s walk into the woods over the psychiatrist’s couch. The dance/trance on the canvas. The readymade. The spiralling of a jetty. The running fence. The blurring of a painting. Dada. The beautiful chance encounter on a dissecting table of a sewing machine and an umbrella. The fat and the felt. The scream. The leap into the void.

Anderson, Benedict. 1983: Imagined communities. New York: Verso.
Bennett, Tony. 1995: The birth of the museum. New York: Routledge.
Burgin, Victor. 1986: The end of art theory. London: Macmillan.
Crimp, Douglas. 1993: On the museum’s ruins. London: The MIT Press.
Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari. 1987: A thousand plateaus. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Fisher, Jennifer. 1995: Trick or treat: naming curatorial ethics. In Sunil Gupta (ed.), Africus the 1st Johannesburg Biennale. London: OVA.
Foucault, Michel. 1988: Technologies of the self. In L. H.
Martin, H. Gutman, P. H. Hutton, (eds.), Technologies of the self. London: Tavistock Publications.
Mojares, Resil. 1991: Talking politics. In S. Reyes (ed.), Reading popular culture. Manila: Ateneo de Manila University.
Roces, Marian Pastor. 1998: Scapular Gallery Nomad: curating upon a body. Unpublished manuscript read during the international conference on "Frameworks for Art Theoryand Practice", Bombay, 1998.
Said, Edward. 1983: Opponents, audiences, constituencies. In H. Foster (ed.), The Anti-aesthetics. Washington: Bay Press.
Tucker, Marcia. 1992: "Who’s on first?" Issues of cultural equity in today’s museums. In M. Mitchell (ed.), Different voices: a social, cultural, and historical framework for change in the American art museum. New York: Association of Art Museum Directors.

1.In conceiving a rather odd project in studying the technologies of the self, Foucault proposed "a history of the link between the obligation to tell the truth and the prohibitions against sexuality." He asked: "How has the subject been compelled to decipher himself in regard to what was forbidden. It is a question of the relation between ascetism and truth." I have taken the liberty of forming my own question based on his formulation.
Michel Foucault, "Technologies of the self" in Technologies of the self , Martin, Gutman, Hutton (eds.), London: Tavistock Publications, 1988, p. 17.

Artists who have exhibited or are scheduled to exhibit at the Scapular Gallery Nomad: Claudine Sia, Fernando Modesto, Lao Lianben, Simryn Gill, Adrian Jones, Andrew Cross, Sunil Gupta, Thomas Baumann, Martin Kaltner, Herman Seidl, Anthony Tan, Kenwyn Chrichlow, Maria Fabiana Barreda, Carl Gombert, Tata Montilla, Midge Lynn, Bobby de la Fuente, Varsha Nair, Karla Sachse, Michael Maislinger, Tsuyoshi Ozawa, Xin Xiuzhen, Manny Reyes, Agnes Arellano, Steven Pettifor, Ces Avancena, Veronica Basilio, Jon Pettyjohn, Tessy Pettyjohn, Neal Oshima, Matt Gatton, Ronald Achacoso, Badong Bernal, Urs Jaeggi, Joel Soliven, Nap Jamir lll.  

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