Tapao from the big school

Cultural Studies X Art Practice
(concluding #bigschooldiaries)

I restarted my PhD in 2015, rather a long while after I first enrolled for PhD at the University of the Philippines in 2007. I had to put schooling on hold for 7 years to prioritise work (for a project, which I thought was simple, but turned out to be a monumental task, aka the Jose Maceda archives).  

Since then, going back to school had been my unfinished task. When circumstances finally changed in late 2014 to early 2015, I did it, I went back to school. Not picking up from where I left off, but starting again from scratch. 

It was not the same course, school and even country, because at that time my practice and most importantly my art problems have already taken a different shape. 

On the first few months of my year one, I have been asked several times (by those who were in school) why I need to do school when I already have an established career/practice; and (by those who are from the practice) why I need to study something that I am already doing. 

I take it to mean that as an art practitioner, there is an imagination/ belief/ understanding that you know more about your art than anybody else. But this was exactly why I went to school. There are times when I wanted to say something about, for, in my art that I don’t know how to say. There was also a clamour among practitioners to write about the practice, that we represent ourselves, but how and what of it?

It is not that I do not believe that art practitioners know more about their art. I just believe more that art is not an island; that looking at it as a product of a way of life, or a way of life, or culture, connected to other ways of lives, is an aspect that when explored can further broaden and deepen my understanding of more than just my art. What is this “more than”, I didn’t know. This is why I took cultural studies.

In addition, unlike most artists, the essence of my art is not in completing the work, it is in testing its reach— where/how this (art) idea make sense. This is why I refocused my energy from creating exhibits and performances as priorities, I zoomed out to look at what can we make of these exhibiting or performing, what it can contribute to understand what we are doing, in understanding sound practice (in particular)? and art ecology (in general)?

Attending school did not make me anymore a scholar than an artist. I still think that I am more the latter than the previous. I still don’t sound or read anything like scholars. But school definitely gave me what I hoped to gain from it.  It is not the PhD after my name (although this is a much welcomed bonus), but the bigger space, a broader context where I can think art through.

Besides looking at my practice as “what I do” (make, curate, archive), I also now see that my practice is enabled by the clashing and reciprocation of different factors in my environment, in my society, in the bigger politics. While I was very much preoccupied before with senses as autonomous habitus of sound, I now look at sociation, sociality and the struggles that afforded it. Instead of focusing on the interdisciplinarity of this art that I practice, I now spend time thinking through its embeddedness to the histories, societies and other constructs that hosts it.

In short, my tapao in studying Cultural Studies is exactly what I hoped for—a much entangled, engaged, and conflicted world where I can make sense of the art that I do.

To all who are on the same journey, I say: 加油!!!