Alitaptap Artists Village, 2019

My interest towards art platforms, groupings and practices that are not (in) the mainstream is known among my friends. I prefer examining what is not at the center, or frontline, or dominant. A visit to Alitaptap Artists Village contributed to this long standing interest.

I learned of Alitaptap Artists Village earlier this year while they were promoting the Paghilom Art Camp on Facebook. What I knew about them then was that the program was similar to most art camps—exhibit, performance, talks and workshops; but the place looks like a forest.

Jon Romero, a good friend and a sound practitioner, is sort of a regular of this foresty art community. I saw him posting about Alitaptap Artists Village even after Paghilom. He invited me and other artists to visit AAV, to maybe jam or just tambay. Finally, after a month talking about it, I get to go.

On the day I went I was received by Jon and Mary Ann Jimenez Salvador, another old friend, a batch mate in cultural work, and the Gaia-force behind pioneer-sound artist Lirio Salvador.

What’s my take away from this visit to Alitaptap Artists Village?

AAV is a community under construction. It is a cluster of houses on a hilly part of Brgy. Halang in Amadeo, Cavite. The property is owned by, artist Henry "Bokeng" Ancanan’s family. They sold parts of the property to friends, mostly artists too, and mostly empty-nesters or young-families. Most huts are squares and triangles on stilts, with details that characterizes one from another. The huts were built using combination of salvaged materials from old houses, and harvested coco lumber and bamboo from the same property. Utilities, like electricity and water, are available. Access like private and public transportation and internet are likewise available. They have vegetable and fruit gardens. And there is a good stretch of river in the premises. Besides Bokeng’s hut, musicians Bobby Balingit, Paul Puti-an and Omni Saroca are also building their huts; as well as artists Winston Hernandez, AJ Manuel, Manny Garibay, Lito Mondejar and Espasyo Siningdikato. 

AAV is a community of artists. A stranger unfamiliar to provincial life might be confused on what stage the community formation is at, at the moment.  It looks like it is under construction, but it actually feels that the neighborhood is old or is already well-established. In one of the conversations, we called it “the spirit”—the spirit of the community is familiar because the “residents” are already a community (what is under construction then is the physical village). How is this possible? The “elders” came from art groups called Pito-Pito, Grupong Walo, Grupong Ekis, Bobby Balingit is one of the pioneers of Pinoy punk, and Espasyo Siningdikato are artists too from Cavite, identified with Lirio, who are intermedia art practitioners who have taken different names as organization in the past many years. They belong to at least 2 generations—first are those who started their art practice in the mid to late 1980s and others who started early to late 1990s. In other words, they came from the generation of artists who participated in the reimagining of self and national identities post-EDSA, in the midst of expansion/ contraction art world due to globalization, until the emergence of this now categorically influential art market. Works around the village and the projects that were mentioned in our conversation revealed that these are artists engaged in production of all different sorts and forms—they favor performance and installation, but they also do traditional forms of visual arts, music and literature. Building their huts may also be considered an art project as one can immediately appreciate the creative qualities far beyond their structural and functional characteristics. 

Another essence that forms the spirit of this community, I noticed is the residents’ common valuation of art education.  Art education, not only translated as teaching art, but more as a matter of engagement with the community beyond the AAV.

AAV is a community for/of learning art. While their (collective) belief that their sense of self, as artists is realized through art making (and not satisfying an externally imposed superstructure), they also share that the matter that nurtures their sense of belonging is through their community art projects or art projects that are offered to the community beyond the “gates” of the AAV—the local community. These projects are in the form of art workshop for children from elementary schools; nature-tour of the village; community concerts; hosting transient artists; serving as a camp site; engaging other art groups in their art projects; among others. These projects are mutually appreciated by the residents and the local community, which is reflected through the support AAV receives from the Baranggay, the Mayor and the Provincial Government. Local carpenters and other skilled workers who are hired to build the structures in the Village, becomes project staff during bigger festivals. Tricycle drivers even know when they have performances.  In effect, AAV art projects is a portal in which they allow the rest of the Brgy. Halang, Amadeo, Cavite and other guests who participate in their art projects, to enter their world--for those who do not belong inside the community, to understand their way of life.  In return, through these same projects, the AAV artists have more grasp of the embeddedness of their practice with the rest of the society.

Having been nurtured by this kind of symbiosis in their own locality, it is not surprising to hear that the artists of AAV do not crave for inclusion in the “center of the art world.” Participation to activities, conversations, and discourses in the art centers are more incidental than planned or program. With this, is a clear understanding that they, as residents of the periphery or region, are not in competition with what is in the cities or centers. Instead, their energy is directed towards sustaining their practice through their own efforts and ensuring harmonious coexistence with those they encounter in their journey.  

In all these, where my words fell short to capture the beauty of this artists’ village, I bid you to sprinkle fairy dusts, because some parts of it, I already thought is magical.

And also, did I mention they have a falls?