ZENSORS- Looking into the Value of Exchange

6 09 2009

by Vanini Belarmino

On a normal day, my mind circulates on full speed blue printing matches of people I have worked with in the past or those whom I have had overt conversations about life, love, art, passion, books, etc. At times, I carefully follow works of certain artists. Then later, imagery is formed in my head of what it would be like to bring these varieties of people together who have yet to have the opportunity to meet.

Team Photo after the ZENSORS Performance Jam: (Left to Right): Teresa Rances, Asian Cultural Council Representative; Annie Sarthou, Board Member of Bencab Foundation and Museum; Mayumi Okabayashi, Visual and Installation Artist; Auraeus Solito, Filmmaker; Vanini Belarmino, Producer and Curator; Diwa de Leon, Composer/Musician; Chiyo Ogino, Choreographer/Dancer, Benedicto “Bencab” Cabrera, Philippine National Artist for Visual Arts; Nine Yamamoto-Masson, filmmaker; Rishab Tibon, Arnis expert/Visual artist; Boy Sanchez, Project Assistant; Lirio Salvador, New Media Installation Artist and Musician; and Shunsuke Francois Nanjo, visual and installation artist. Photo Courtesy of Boy Sanchez

Surviving its second year, ZENSORS pursues the vision of establishing a sustainable platform to encourage artists to work outside the comfort zone and collectively develop artistic processes that speak from within, across different artistic practices; and engage institutions and audiences across international boundaries. It attempts to introduce a fresh perspective on collaboration by coming together and enabling those involved in the process to learn something about themselves and from one another. ZENSORS encourages its artists to seek and respond to the impetus offered by the situation, environment and the people around them. Essentially, it aspires to find a common ground, a meeting point for diverse individuals as well as institutions and cultural spaces, normally working independently from one another.

Blueprinting of Artists for the Philippine Project

In July 2009, after all the planning, unable to sleep the night before my flight to Manila because of a gamut concerns, I had to make a quick decision of changing the entire line-up of Japanese artists. This is a whole story in itself but the long and the short is that I had to respond to the situation that required immediate action.
It was not an easy situation but it was also an opportunity that offered a fresh take on ZENSORS.

Considering the atmosphere in Baguio particularly in the newly set-up Bencab Museum, where the project was to take place, the choice of Japanese artists was geared towards the visual arts practice. With the exception of Chiyo Ogino, choreographer and dancer, whom I’ve worked with in an interdisciplinary exchange in Portugal and Poland in 2006, I invited visual and installation artists Shunsuke Nanjo and Mayumi Okabayashi, together with filmmaker, Nine Yamamoto-Masson, bearing in mind impressions that I’ve gathered about them and their works over a period of accidental meetings and discussions in the past year.

Shunsuke Francois Nanjo, fitting the clay mask before the ZENSORS Performance Jam. Photo: Rishab Tibon

Shunsuke Francois Nanjo, fitting the clay mask before the ZENSORS Performance Jam. Photo: Rishab Tibon

With this, I’ve taken into account that for the Philippines the likes of internationally acclaimed filmmaker/director, Auraeus Solito; Philippine National Artist for Visual Arts, Benedicto “Bencab” Cabrera; composer/musician, Diwa de Leon; and new media installation artist/musician, Lirio Salvador were to take part in the exchange process.

As I’ve met each of them on separate occasions nor have any of them worked together before, I’ve spent a fair amount of time discussing with them in person (or via email, facebook and skype correspondences) the basic premise of ZENSORS prior to our meetings in Manila and Baguio. I repeatedly stressed the abstraction of such a process whereby the existence of a framework comes only with the coming together of each and everyone at a given place and time. ZENSORS follows an invisible structure where the contributors decide everything: when they meet and when they get to the place, what the mood is, what the weather is like, etc.

In an attempt to have a base for the explorations, ZENSORS followed a theme on “Parental Guidance.” This was in reference to how each one is shaped or influenced by his/her own environment, family life, history, tradition, heritage, roots and identity. To provide a perspective that loops both familial relations and art, the visiting Japanese artists had a dialogue with Filipino artists Julie Lluch, sisters’ Sari, Aba and Kiri Dalena and filmmaker, Kidlat Tahimik.

Altogether the diverse selection of artists for ZENSORS who carry with them trans-national identities coming from Japan, Philippines, France and Germany had a two-day meeting in Manila, introducing their works to one another and then engaging in a 3-day professional artist laboratory in Baguio. Together they explored how they can connect their work regardless of their music, film, dance or visual arts background.

Value of Exchange

There was a recurring question of how those coming from the disciplines that require ample amount of time to produce work (i.e. film, visual arts, creative writing), present their creativity at the ZENSORS performance jam in a period of 3-days? Mayumi, for example, spends nine-months in her studio painting. Auraeus and Nine dedicate at least over a year on research for their films. Shunsuke allots a minimum of one-month to familiarise himself with the surroundings in order to develop ideas for his installations. Diwa has formed a habit of becoming a “hermit” as he composes music in the comforts of his studio. Then there is Chiyo, who is actively engaged in “delivery performances” that meant constant development of site-specific works for her choreographic pieces. Lirio, on the other hand, has his share of making original sculptural instruments/pieces that he uses for his improvised music. While Bencab follows a very disciplined regimen over his many years of visual arts practice.

Filipino Filmmaker, Auraeus Solito, attempts to perform a traditional Palawan dance to the music of Diwa de Leon and the video collage prepared by the Japanese artists during the ZENSORS Professional Artist Laboratory. Photo: Rishab Tibon

Filipino Filmmaker, Auraeus Solito, attempts to perform a traditional Palawan dance to the music of Diwa de Leon and the video collage prepared by the Japanese artists during the ZENSORS Professional Artist Laboratory. Photo: Rishab Tibon

The answer to the question was another question: How can one express and transform one’s work into a performative action?

The days went by quickly. I have been with the thought of ZENSORS in the Philippines for about 450 days; 10-days with the four Japanese artists; 3 days with a team of 15 individuals; and the awaiting 150 audiences at the museum on the 21st of August.

By this time, creativity was overflowing. Layers upon layers of artistic responses were apparent. Bencab led the “patong”* together with a number of Baguio artists; Diwa composed a 20-minute original music for the ZENSORS jam; there was an interactive sound installation, reverberating chair to be more precise by Lirio; a poetic visual installation by Nine; Shunsuke produced a clay sculpture his first public performance; Mayumi premiered as a live painter; Auraeus’ unfinished film was interspersed with images and video collage done by Japanese artists; Chiyo threaded her moves in between the spaces available. There was a live jam of all the different elements that never expected to meet.

There are many artists but such format or non-format is only braved by a few.
One can plan. Lay everything down. Clarify and create a concrete outline and then something unexpected happens. In a team where different personas meet, motives and expectations differ, perspectives are diverse, egos collide, the greatest value of exchange surfaces when everyone acts and moves towards a parallel direction.

Japanese choreographer/dancer, Chiyo Ogino checks out Diwa de Leon’s Hegalong, a traditional two-stringed Filipino instrument. Photo: Rishab Tibon

Japanese choreographer/dancer, Chiyo Ogino checks out Diwa de Leon’s Hegalong, a traditional two-stringed Filipino instrument. Photo: Rishab Tibon

When I saw the sincerity of how the artists of ZENSORS worked together and their dedication to achieve excellence – amidst all the givens: limited resources, shared accommodation, Manila traffic jam, long transits, shifting weather conditions, mood swings, the pressure of having a brief artistic encounter with a public presentation in the end, I feel grateful to gain both their confidence in such an idea and in themselves.

While I cannot claim much credit to the creative output presented at the Bencab Museum, I take pride in laying the groundwork its realisation. The participating artists of ZENSORS encapsulised my work by a powerful creative force shared with the audiences in the spirit of collaborative exchange. At the height of adrenalin rush a few hours before the show, I am assured that there is a great reason of going through the above-mentioned process and it is all worth it.


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