Capturing the Unique with Karilynn Ming Ho
From observation, it seems pageants, talent searches and other forms of competition is a significant part Batan’s traditions and customs. Contests provide an avenue for people to engage and contribute to the community. It can be a vehicle for propagating cultural traditions, learning from others and celebrating the arts. It seems the competitive factor of these events add a level of drama that trigger spectators into a joyful frenzy, while contestants live out their Hollywood dream in lightning speed. Star idols and everyday heroes are created, if only for a brief moment in time.
Competitive events are integrated in school functions, religious holidays and town festivals. It has become an expected part of every organized event.
Unique Batan was a community project by multi-disciplinary artist Karilynn Ming Ho. Riffing off the town’s love of performance, Karilynn sent out an open invitation called, ‘The 30 Second Talent Show’ to anyone willing to share their unique talents, beyond the standard singing and dancing. To subvert the common structure of showcasing talent, as well as the type of talent usually celebrated, Karilynn’s project called for the eclectic and the unconventional to share without a win/lose end goal. Each participant only had 30 seconds to demonstrate their talent as an equalizing factor.
Unique Batan was advertised through Facebook, posted flyers and word of mouth. While canvasing and distributing the invitation, the concept of the project was explained as a collaboration and not a contest. There is no prize and everyone who participates will be part of the show. This was decided by the artist and Elmo’s House to reframe the exchange as a give and take. Everyone’s time is valued not by money but by the project itself. This deviation from the normal talent show structure, caused some confusion. As many pointed out, this kind of thing has never been done here before.
Unique Batan’s strong community engagement concept, opened for a practical and much anticipated collaboration with the Local Government Unit (LGU). The LGU legitimized the project and brought in additional support from Batan Elementary, Batan Academy, and trust from Batangnons. Karilynn Ming Ho was given full access to the town meeting hall for the project location, as well as some needed equipment pre and post production. The location at the top floor of the Municipal Building was symbolic as most Batangnons has never before accessed this pubic space.
In anticipation of the large crowd expected to turn up for Unique Batan, snacks and tetra-pack juices were ordered the day before the shooting. Doors were opened 30 minutes before show time just in case. The first hour or so however, was disheartening when nobody showed.
An emergency meeting convened instead on how best to re-strategize. How can this project be more attractive to potential participants? Should we take the project to the streets? With so much going on in town, that was not possible. The equipment on hand could not accommodate the ambient noise and variable lighting that would complicate the editing process.
Although it was disheartening to sit among all the steaming pork buns and video equipment on standby, the set back was a lesson in accommodating for the unexpected. Fortunately, friends and key LGU staff called acquaintances, and canvassed the streets and pulled people to the show. People eventually came and Unique Batan took shape.
All the difficulties and adjustments to the project added to the narrative, making it a true reflection of what makes Batan unique.
The vision changed slightly. With less participants, more time was given for each person. All the difficulties and adjustments to the project added to the narrative, making it a true reflection of what makes Batan unique.
The completed video was projected in front of the Residency facing the town hall, as part of ‘Pag-Unawa’ group exhibition for the yearly Batan Fiesta in December 2017. Unique Batan ran for five consecutive days two times between 7-8pm when the sun went down. There was no special announcement aside from the tarpaulin posted in the wet market about the show. As the video ran, people stopped, sat on the steps of the plaza and enjoyed the show. People watched their friends and neighbours perform on the big screen, sharing their talents with pride.
What did you plan to achieve during your time at Elmo’s House and how did it change once you were here?
I really didn’t have a plan before I arrived to Elmo’s House. I knew I wanted to immerse myself in the town to properly assess what kind of project would be appropriate for the context of Batan. Realizing the audience for the new work would be Batangnons, I wanted to make something that would resonate with the town but also introduce them to the medium of video and performance as art. After a few days of observing and acclimatizing to Batan what really resonated with me was how the town engaged in acts of “performativity”. There were constant sounds of people singing karaoke, sounds of marching bands, kids playing basketball to a cheering crowd, kids dancing to top 40 pop music in the gym, pageantry, parades, speech contests and church singing (yes! It’s crazy, but we witnessed all these activities in a span of 2 weeks!!!). I also noticed that there was an inordinate amount of stages in the community. I realized early on that performance is important to the social fabric of this community, as entertainment and as a bonding activity, and I wanted to facilitate a project that would reflect this town’s values, as objectively as possible, in both it’s conventional and unconventional forms.
It seemed there were some apprehension on the part of the Batangnons to showcase their hidden talents. From your observation, why do you think that is?
I think it had to do with trust. Batangnons didn’t know who I was or how they were going to be mediated on camera. Displaying oneself on camera is a vulnerable activity at the best of times, and it probably didn’t help that I didn’t speak the language. I think many people in the community are used to showcasing their talents in a more institutionalized/ formal setting. It was difficult for some to conceive of “talent” that doesn’t involve big costumes and makeup, or the fact that this was not a “prize” driven talent show, placed before a panel of judges.
I also think that the concept of video as art was unfamiliar to the community, and so I think there was difficulty translating what the final outcome would be.
Unique Batan really encapsulates a particular time and space for me. It was a means to better understand a culture and a community of people, their values and passions.
Unique Batan relied heavily on community involvement. What other challenges did you face?
The biggest challenge was that there was a basketball tournament going on that exact same weekend (and they LOVE basketball in the Philippines). So it was difficult to compete with in terms of recruitment, but also the incredible sounds coming from the gym, which heard in the video.
How does Unique Batan fit within the concerns of your upcoming show? Did Unique Batan prepare or affect it in any way? Unique Batan is its own piece conceived for a particular context and audience. Unique Batan is probably more aligned with some of my previous work, involving performance or performativity in front of the camera. But I suppose most of my work is about bodies in front of screens…
What does Unique Batan mean to you?
Unique Batan really encapsulates a particular time and space for me. It was a means to better understand a culture and a community of people, their values and passions. Unique Batan revealed to me a unique cross section of people who live there, talented in all sorts of ways, and generous to no end.
What’s your favourite part of Batan or Residency as a whole? Challenges?
The residency was super productive!
Favourite part: Spending time with Kuh, Ryan, Larissa and Asahi, day trips, chatting, eating and making art!
Challenges: Mosquitos and roosters!
Your upcoming body of work for the Richmond Art Gallery engages in questions about the future as affected by advancements in computer and software technology. Can you tell us more, as well as the public art component of the show? The piece is called For The Left Hand Alone and it is an installation incorporating video, sculptures and textiles. Conceptually the piece takes phantom limb syndrome as a point of departure and uses it as a metaphor for the fragmented bodies and narratives that inhabit the space of the virtual. The public art work is titled: Mirror Flower, Water Moon and the image is of an orchid in front of a really saturated colourful pattern. The pattern based on Universal Adversarial Perturbation images, patterns/ algorithms meant to disarm artificial intelligence. The species of orchid in the image are known to chemically or visually deceive it’s pollinators in order to enable it’s reproductive success. Both are forms of deceptive technologies.
Learn more about Karilynn Ming Ho