Conversation with Don Maralit Salubayba


This interview with Don Maralit Salubayba was conducted throughout the last quarter of 2012.

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1. Hi Don, can you give us a rundown of your projects this year [2012]?

I conclude that this year is, by far, my BIG year (and I can mean that literally)! It started with a collaboration with a New York-based Korean artist Chunghee Han at the Treasure Hill Artist Village (March 2012). After that I worked on a 15ft Sinan-tao sculpture for an Asian Cultural Council event in Manila and went back to Taipei again for the Kuandu Museum Biennale where the space allotted for my work was 12x12x12 meters. On September, my 7x13ft painting was exhibited in Maelstrom - the group exhibition presented by Valentine Willie Fine Art and Tin-Aw Art Gallery in Singapore.

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The monumental piece for the monumental show, “Maelstrom”, in Valentine Willie Fine Art (Helutrans, Singapore).

My other projects included my work as a visual designer for a multimedia play, “Bird Song,” with Australian writer Ren Flannery held at the Guling Theatre in Taipei as well as a re-staging of a Gilda Cordero Fernando play in the University of the Philippines in November.

2. Where are you at the moment? You mentioned that you’ve wanted to focus less on exhibition-driven works. Instead you hope to pursue something more process-oriented/ project-based. What got you to this point and how would you differentiate those two artistic processes (that is, if you'd differentiate them at all)?

Like I mentioned earlier this year, there is a longing to push my craft and also to explore more venues for my art-making: the “project-based trips” type or sometimes I’d call them “outside-my-realm” activities. That particular hope for such practice was met this year, and it will continue being satisfied with the projects lined up for me for the next two years.

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This year, it has been about international collaborations as well. Differences in culture, language and artistic sensibilities are always at the fore, and that is the slate I start on with these sorts of setups. For instance, the collaboration with Chunghee in Taipei pretty much opened up the idea of creating a space-within-a-space. Putting aside the institutional framework to that sort of work, what was interesting to me was the confidence or level of bravery I needed to venture to such space-related problems in the production of work. It’s a very different process compared to working on just wall-bound works. At the same time, this paper labyrinth work produced a quality of interaction very distinct from a wall-bound piece.

Speaking about the dynamics of collaboration, the collaboration with the Australian writer and Taiwanese actors was a roller coaster not because of the language in theatre (which I am not a stranger to!) but due to the distinct sensibilities that surface among other visual artists working in an international context. This sort of experience provides a learning curve for everybody when ego enters and stays in the room.

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Detail from the Kuandu Biennale 2012.

And to answer the question on how I got to this point – of collaboration and installative projects: Most of my paintings have always been inspired by my shadowplay practice. This process of researching stories and characters, puppet-making, light and image layering as well as using alternative materials is something I enjoy and something that echoes in my paintings. The desire to work in the process-oriented way moved me to look for projects that are not restricted to wall-bound painting shows.

3. Early this year, you thought you wanted to veer away from exhibitions in very rigid commercial avenues, and you wanted to have more open-ended projects. However, last month [October 2012], you told me you solved this issue! What do you mean? Do you feel that the string of opportunities the past few years pushed you into some sort of artistic transition? Did painting/ straightforward works on canvas limit you in some way? Do you feel most comfortable when you are shifting between mediums, between roles (artist, organiser, teacher), between places? After all this shifting events in your artistic practice, what have you decided to direct yourself now? What can we expect from you?

I was indeed trying to give commercial venues a rest this year because the thing is, I guess such spaces would have their own expectations of what I was to show. Hence there was that risk of repeating works. These open-ended projects I was talking about presented ideas and processes where I am allowed to push myself. I am at this point where I feel that there was no need to prove myself any longer. But what was necessary was to put challenges in what I’m doing now. I suppose “solving this issue” meant looking past commercial venues. And the collaboration last April and my project with the Kuandu Museum satisfied that.

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In regards to shifting medium and roles, it’s hard to define if the “shift” is a position I will play on from now on. After all, this multi-hat/hybrid role is a contemporary one (don’t forget I have the role of a Family Man!) and is also the most effective. But I do plan to give more time to teaching next year. The Philippine High School for the Arts in Makiling started a residency program and at the moment an art space in Alabang is asking help in creating a program that is geared towards helping younger artists. This is will be my “Planting Rice” stage (haha, knowledge-sharing, that is!) There are collaborative projects and puppetry performances in the making from this year until 2014 – so watch out for that!

4. Looking back at your string of projects, which residency programs and institutional platforms engaged your practice to experiment the most? I.e., where did you feel most kindred or satisfied with? Would you like to introduce to us the impressions that stuck to you the most from artistic communities and collaborations during your residencies abroad?

The residency program of CASA San Miguel informally prepared me for what to expect in such platforms. And my residency under the Asian Cultural Council pretty much set the standard for the programs I worked under after that. The ACC residency was in 2004.

I remember when I was at the Headlands Center for the Arts, the handbook for recipients of the ACC grant mentioned that the institution’s expectations on their artists were far from any rigid parameter. All they wanted from the residents is for them to experience the space of their residency for they believe that the impact of the place varies with every individual. The engagement to the space may affect the artist and his work in some way or not at all, and this open protocol allowed me to stick with my experience of space. It left a good impression on me to a point of it becoming my standard in looking for residencies.

Most residencies in Asia are community-based or involve a community. In engagements such as this this, the residency program under the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum opened a closer view at what the community would mean to my practice. Through this platform, I realized that connecting with a community is not just about asking them for materials and anecdotes. What it entailed was an active learning from them and allowed my practice to involve them past the materiality of a project. Under this framework, the authorship becomes shared to an extent.

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Vermont Art Center Exhibition: SPACE BETWEEN-video Collaboration with visiting artist Xenobia Bailey. 2011.

Residencies can be a privilege or a miss. Their values are measured by space and time where you are tasked to be in a new place and it is also when you learn to manage your own time to work or reflect on things you want to work on. These platforms function as cross roads as well. These opportunities are where artists meet up and exchange information and ideas. While residencies generally effect positive results in networking, it can be draining as well. Imagine having to introduce yourself and your work over and over again! Through this introductions though, you can pave your way to becoming “discovered”. But really, it’s a good reason to travel and be places different from your comfort zone. The impact from my residences is not solely ushered in by the institutions that brought me off the shore. It is being elsewhere where you navigate through the systems of the place and be with different people and the food that largely moved me.

I can produce a drama series out of the issues of collaborations I have encountered! Haha! But I guess it all boils down to ego and how much you’re willing to compromise for and in your art. As much as it is advised to leave your ego outside the room, it would always find its way in! It’s really a matter of getting to know one another as that would test your level of understanding.

A notable collaboration was with Paschal Berry, a Filipino-Australian artist based in Sydney. Our level of communication was naturally open and transparent and that helped a lot in understanding all the facets of the collaboration. This dynamic added to the strength of the process. This collaboration, where each project is three years in-the-making, is proving to be so successful that we will be on our third project in 2014.

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Collaboration with Paschal Berry and the ANINO Shadowplay Collective (Detail).

Collaborations show that processes are more significant than the results of the project. I appreciate the avenues we are pushed to navigate through in our problem-solving. Such processes allowed flexibility among every player and came out with creative solutions to the challenge of each task. What makes collaborative projects worthwhile is to realize that these are composed of situations where you are still learning and that you are discovering more as the projects progress.

5. I remember us talking about what residencies can do to artists, and even the way it can be misdirected to an individual's sense of prestige (i.e. "bragging rights"). What should we take with us, or remember, when we are endowed with the opportunity for this sort of residency project? Are residencies for everyone (who needs residencies anyway)? What is a good practice/attitude to bring back to our own community after being overseas?

The idea is to be ready to accept anything. I actually did not bring any materials besides the most basic materials but brought with me a willingness to get out of my comfort zone. You definitely got accepted on the basis of your past works and the quality of your portfolio, but the idea is more about pushing past your boundaries, starting on a clean slate even, with no pressure of repeating yourself. It’s of course a gamble as you think of practical matters of being able to sell and if you’ll be accepted/acceptable to your clientele and community. However, that should be the galleries’ problem which won’t be a big issue as long as you maintain quality in your works.

As I mentioned earlier, art residencies are opportunities. The most you can do is to take as much as you and digest it all when you come home. You will know what you would need anyways (and what you don’t need, but in due time). Residencies equip you and inspire you. To be able to observe and gather new experiences is very rewarding!

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Be cautious, though, in over-“exoticizing” yourself (like, “the artist who made it to America!) I am uncomfortable with that idea of “making it big” just because you came from a trip! I still think how your practice/ work become should speak for itself. Because I teach, there’s a different level of satisfaction in sharing your trip to your students and colleagues. I do understand that urge to let everyone know you’ve been somewhere, that you’ve been on a spectacular eye-opening trip. But I restrain myself from boasting about it as I think my work could communicate my experiences, and having other people initiate the exchange about my residencies determines a deeper level of interest and engagement.

All photos are courtesy of the artist.


About Don Maralit Salubayba

Don Maralit Salubayba (1978-2014) was an artist engaged with a range of visual practices such as painting, shadowplay theatre and installation. His works would contain personal narratives but are allegorical in scope. His body of work discusses the tenuous nature of reading historical precedents, the vagaries of personal and collective memories and the allure of finding reconciliatory methods within existing institutions of thought. He graduated from the University of the Philippines and, in 2009, he was bestowed the 13 Artists Award. His works have been featured in Taiwan, Singapore, Japan, Vietnam and the United States, while his productions have been presented in leading institutions in the Philippines and Australia.


Planting Rice