Post-Prod Notes On Krem
Written by Marc Gaba on May 2012
Contemporary art, unlike the art popular in secondary education textbooks and mainstream media at least in the Philippines, is not universalizeable, and for that matter, it is not universalist either. I say that to confess that my appreciation for contemporary art was never immediate. While I never disdained it (and in some instances I even liked it—I refer here to the earliest days of Big Sky Mind and Surrounded by Water) I simply missed the beauty of its actions, the aesthetic and intellectual configuration of its engagement with current life.
In some ways, it’s like contemporary poetry, where much of my formal training has taken place; like poetry, the works that will very likely endure as literature are not terribly famous (it’s like, why find out about Lisa Robertson when there’s Neruda and Rumi!). More often than not, appreciating it requires an inductive education. In my case, the Whitney Bienalle of 2004 provided the booster; thereafter, my engaged interest was solid and consuming. Contemporary art is a lived form of thinking. I can’t quite imagine my own life as having much spirited value without it.
I put up Krem Contemporary Art for that reason. From the start, however, I did not want to position it against the works of the past, not even works that might be considered traditional. I still think that strong art is strong art, and while Krem was certainly an alternative space, I wasn’t interested in conventions associated with most other alternative spaces. The underground energy did not interest me much, and I cared a great deal about presentation. I was not and am not too interested in the youth culture aspect of art spaces; the space was called Krem (a Filipinized form of the French word crème) simply because I wanted to present shows that refused conceptual naivete, that cared about felicities of design presentation, and that seemed to me to be coming from artists whose practices will remain relevant for a long indefinite time. (I showed my own works when no other artist could show.)
Another rationale is the fact that studio work, as many might attest, could be incredibly lonely. It’s enjoyable but not for too-long stretches. After a few years of making art and exhibiting, I wanted to do something that was more outward, more community-oriented. When an enabling chunk of funds came by way of a Christmas bonus from my UP teaching gig and from sales through Art Cabinet Philippines, I had half the amount I needed to put a gallery up. Poet and artist Kristine Domingo (who now directs Altro Mondo Gallery) came in as supportive industrial partner.
How would Krem sustain its operations? The planned solution was to add a café, and run it after hours. There are already so many openings every week, and it felt silly to compete. I was also thinking that it would be great for people from Makati, since they wouldn’t have to deal with daytime traffic. (Additionally, Quezon City really looks better at night.) Krem Contemporary Art began its operation on January 17, 2011.
Then after a year, it closed. Reasons: the café failed to attract a clientele; very few works were in the large scale that most collectors like; because I ran it as a one-man team, I often became sick three months in, and so it was closed more often than I would like; I jumped into operation forgetting that the artists I wanted to feature want a great deal of time to prepare for shows; I didn’t have the financial power to court artists or buy artworks outright; just about any penny I earned doing other things went directly into paying for rent and it really didn’t feel good anymore. I could’ve found ways to stretch its life, but when it became clear that some artists will never show at Krem, I felt its raison d’etre peter out.
All in all, it was a good experience, in part because Krem was, at least for me, an artistic work. What I did not say and have not said in public till now is that Krem is also an artpiece. If it weren’t, then I would have exhausted all means to relocate it to make its run more lucrative. But its placement was in part its interest for me.
The street (Scout Ybardolaza) resembles a provincia part of Quezon City, and placing a gallery-white estabishment along it, especially one the size of Krem, does say something about the position of Philippine contemporary art in the context of local, national and international cultures. Krem was also intended to recall Situationist art, hence the odd placing, and to me as an artist, it was a reckoning of art’s interfacing with commerce, consumption and nourishment.
In my head, the work is called In/Corporation, where the etymology of corporation—from corpos, meaning body—is significant, in so far as performance and food are realized aspects of it. And because it is a gallery space, Krem is a kind of process-collage, with each show posing and answering the question to an artist of what art he or she would put inside another piece of art. Looking back at the shows that were presented through such a framework pulls in a host of interesting and significant layers.
All in all, Krem presented 8 fully realized shows: “Krem: Yason Banal, Kristine Domingo, Marc Gaba and Norberto Roldan”; “Flowershow”; “Katrina Bello: Thought Patterns”, “Catalina Africa: Sugarwater”, “Mideo Cruz: Journals.” I had three solo shows in the space, “Happy Valentines,” “Birdsounds,” and “The Scandalous Happiness of Sitting Down.” Many scheduled shows did not materialize: “Ang Salarin ng Sta Cruz,” a group show of the photographic work of 5 independent film-makers unified in a short mystery film in the form of an art and slide-show installation (the video was to be projected on the firewall outside); Cian Dayrit’s “Postcolonial Pikon,” which met too many problems in scheduling until I needed bedrest); a fully-imagined show by Norberto Roldan that would have been a sight, but that was interrupted by personal reasons. Another show that was to be presented was a group show of crosses, gathering the work of artists and designers and presenting new treatments of the Christian icon.
As Krem neared its close, I wanted to show it as In/Corporation in another gallery, but that show did not materialize, which is probably good. I just might put it back up in five years or so, with all lessons learned and in full consideration of however my thought has evolved by then. But if I do put it back up, I would do it without a partner. I will want it to become uncompromisingly less focussed on art objects. I will want the space to push boundaries in curation. It just might happen. So much depends, of course, not just on money but also on timing, as well as a deeply felt notion of relevance.
About the author
Marc Gaba is a multi-disciplinary artist whose work encompasses the disciplines of poetry, painting, photography, installation art and music. He received his MFA in Creative Writing from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in 2005, the year in which he also began to make, upon moving to Denver, Colorado, informed contemporary art. His one-man exhibits include Postcapitalism (Mag:net Gallery, Ayala Avenue, 2008), The Distance Between Color and Light (Mag:net Gallery, High Street, 2008), Where or When (Silverlens 20SQUARE, 2009), The Knowledge of Knowledge (Art Cabinet Philippines, The Picasso, 2010), Happy Valentines (Krem Contemporary Art, 2011), Birdsounds (Krem Contemporary Art, 2011) and The Scandalous Happiness of Sitting Down (Krem Contemporary Art, 2011). He has also been a part of numerous groups shows, such as Inkling, Gutfeel and Hunch (National Museum, 2008), Map Ruminations (Art Cabinet Philippines, 2008), Stick with the Enemy (Mo Space, 2009), Flowershow (Krem Contemporary Art, 2011), Shop 6 (Mo Space, 2011), Dia de Los Muertos (Secret Fresh Gallery, 2011), After Mirth (Altro Mondo Contemporanea, 2012) and Conversations of Cities (Tin-Aw Gallery, 2012).
He is the author of Have, a full-length poetry collection (Tupelo Press), and the chapbooks How Sound Becomes a Name, Nouveau Bored, and Atomic Neutral, a single-edition volume of poetry encased in a sculpture as an integral part of the exhibit Birdsounds. His work in poetry has been anthologized in numerous places such as the UP Institute of Creative Writing’s The Likhaan Book of Poetry and Fiction, At Home in Unhomeliness (UST Press, 2008), and the forthcoming Southeast Asian Writing in English: A Thematic Anthology (National Library Board, Singapore, 2012) and Asian Poetry in English (to be published in Hong Kong). He won a Palanca Award for poetry in 1998 and the Boston Review Poetry Contest in 2006. He was a Dorset Prize and Faber-Castell Art Award finalist in 2008, and was nominated for an Ernst & Young exhibit and the Sovereign Asian Art Prize in 2010. He has taught creative writing and art appreciation at De La Salle University and the University of the Philippines.