Entry by Kuh Del Rosario
I decided early on that the Logbook will be a special section of the website featuring happenings in and around the residency while also touching on the personal that indirectly affects the project. It will be a catch-all for things that do not necessarily fit under the other categories on the website. But there is an invisible line that is always in my periphery. This line functions to protect the project from becoming too much about me and my own experience. Respecting this border also ensure some privacy, at least online.
This consideration is one of many that mirror the kind of considerations I make in my day to day, to maintain balance for myself within the work that I do. Because I share my home with artists-in-residence, this is an essential part of sustaining the project and retaining mental health. However, for the very same reasons, there are times when I cross these boundaries to initiate connections and built trust with the artists, by sharing ideas, opinions and observations.
In this way, balance is continuously being calibrated as Elmo's House develops, in response to the needs of each artist-in-residence and their current project(s). Mostly, this process is intuited and requires minor adjustments. At times, this process is arduous as the personal and the public collide in such a way that makes harmony hard to sustain. This has never been more trying a task than during the last months of 2018.
Since then, I have been mulling over what I need to do, the steps I need to make, what I should take from the experience and what to let go of in order to continue.
What I have decided may prove to be the wrong thing to do down the road, but as it is now, I feel I have no choice but to respond publicly. The more I ruminate over this; the more certain I become that my voice and the reflections over this matter is an integral part of the narrative and one I cannot deny from past residents as well as artists considering to apply.
What took place at the end of last year was a conflict with one of the artists-in-residence that went beyond professional conduct. As I grapple with all the events that took place during this clash between myself and the artist I have committed to hosting, I struggle to understand how any of it to have happened at all.
There was an innocuous start to the residency, with a tour of the house and then of the town. The artist was given space to acclimate to their new studio and dwelling. For the majority of the day, like past residents, the artist was in command of their time, aside from the fixed meal schedule served at noon and 7 pm. Of course, there are many exceptions to the meal regimen and was modified accordingly. Lively discussions about art and politics after dinner cap off the evening and the days went on without anything beyond the norm. When people seemed to fade from the studio work, day outings to nearby beaches were arranged to clear and recharge the mind. Request for tools was acquired, albeit a few days late. Supplies for the artist and permission from a nearby barangay was procured to paint murals at an old ruin located by the sea. Dinners with guests were prepared as well, to initiate conversations and connections with people who have lived and worked in Batan for most of their lives. The Batan Fiesta capped off the residency, which presented a natural climax to the completion of the work.
In summarizing this residency, it sounds like a success. Aside from the little hitches which delayed or hampered the studio work, the accomplishments during the one month were immense.
As the residence director, I was particularly excited to have this artist at Elmo's House, as they were to be the first recipient of the Elmo F. Del Rosario award which grants a Philippine-based artist free one-month stay at the residency. Because past artists-in-residence were all from outside the Philippines, I looked forward to their difference in perspective and insight.
What transpired from the first of the two separate meetings with the artist, (the first conducted mid-residency, and other a wrap-up meeting) was a conversation that revealed such incredible disparity of interpretation of events, my initial reaction was to laugh. But the tone of the meeting was far from funny.
The artist claims the residency is exoticizing Batan, as well as the artist. The artist felt uprooted in their own country, feeling a kind of alienation never before experienced. The artist was understandably upset. Further, the artist perceived me to be a man-hater, which left the artist questioning if they were even needed at all. As the conversation devolved into a confusing volley of attack and defence, it was clear there would be no definitive conclusion.
The residency continued, but the tension was palatable and coloured every interaction. The second meeting was conducted right before the residency was scheduled to end. This conversation was more of what came before. The artist said the creation of Elmo's House was a self-serving ploy to gain clout within the Philippine art community. I was exploiting Batan and its people. The artist was also angry because they felt I misrepresented the residency as being formal, rather than having an informal structure.
It has been over a month since these conversations took place, and it is still traumatic to recount them. I am not faultless. There are many regrets I harbour from how I responded; I should not have responded at all and just listened. But I got caught in the emotional tornado that is kicking up dust to this day.
I can't say everything the artist said is groundless, I was, after all, lacking the vantage point they have as a born-and-raised Filipinx. I am a Philippine-Canadian living in the small town of my paternal family, and I am still adjusting, feeling it out and checking myself every step of the way. It is possible I missed something, my very own dark side of the moon.
So what are the next steps? How does the residency move forward? What should I take and what can I discard from all of this? The answers will come in time, and whatever comes of all this, I will remain steadfast in my work.