Arts & Culture

Art Foothold in Flux: MCAD Manila

Ten years of MCAD Manila

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With Instagram geotagging and my curiosity as navigation tools, I was led on a nostalgic trip back to my alma mater’s district late last year to share in the delight and awe of The Extra Extra Ordinary, featuring Taiwanese artist Chou Yu Cheng, Filipino artist Garry-Ross Pastrana and Indonesian collective Tromarama.

A set of printers was timed to go off every 30 seconds, leaving pieces of paper on the floor, amid a pulsating soundtrack in an exhibit that I haven’t been able to forget even after a year. In a similarly calculated scheme of circuits and switches, a staccato to the senses was composed by the hodgepodge of lamps and light fixtures on display. I stayed over an hour, trying to make sense of the meaning, inspiration, as well as each visual in-between created by the multiple combinations of warm and stark lighting.

The Façade of the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design along Dominga Street in Manila.

Space in scale

Welcome to this bit of Manila. Taft, as we fondly refer to the general area, is home to many, including university students for the duration of a degree, or some would argue a lifetime. This concrete jungle and cradle are tied together by residential high-rises, sidewalk livelihood, and historical landmarks and institutions.

Aligned to the area’s inexplicable diversity, bursts of modernity and discourses for endless learning, just a short walk from Taft Avenue is the Museum of Contemporary Arts and Design (MCAD) Manila. Almost hiding in plain sight, it is one of Metro Manila’s vanguards of new creativity.

Initially pitched as a large space for students of College of Saint Benilde School of Design and Arts to freely nurture their ideas, the building’s versatile design and floor plan have enabled the structure to eventually become a stage for local and international talents. Today, the installations and activities housed in the museum are as manifold as its neighbouring communities and the artists it represents. Dividable horizontally and vertically, the museum hosts exhibitions across multiple scales to accommodate the pursuits of artists and designers.

B-Side speaks to Chris Green, the museum’s deputy director, surveying a peek into the landscape and direction of art and design in this part of the globe.

What Lies Within: Centre of the Centre (2019)

How does MCAD Manila differ from other museums in the Philippines? And how does it compare with international galleries?

As part of the artistic community of the College of Saint Benilde’s School of Design and Arts, the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design is a unique institution that offers the experience of and the exposure to contemporary art and its various publics, with a focus on Manila, Philippines as context.

Distinct for its position as a non-collecting institution, MCAD’s contemporary art exhibitions, public programmes, as well as other cultural and art-inspired undertakings showcase the possibilities of technology and new media, and it presents content that encourages engagement with art and culture, its practice and production, and its presentation as well as interpretation.

Pacita Abad: A Million Things to Say (2018)
The Serenity of Madness (2017)

What is the museum’s main purpose and how is it evident in its initiatives?

Running independently throughout the year in parallel or in-support of the exhibition, the museum’s free, wide-reaching education and public programmes take hold of a range of discursive positions.

Not only covering contemporary art and design, but also culture, politics, philosophy, family and society. These aim to engage with all social demographics irrespective of art knowledge, age or race.

The free programmes may take the form of workshops, lectures, seminars, printed materials or community events.

Michael Lin: Locomotion (2016)

Does being part of the College of Saint Benilde’s School of Design and Arts community shape MCAD’s vision and projects in any way?

Being a part of an art college, MCAD’s programmes have been moulded in line with the school’s courses, creating an environment that allows for the exploration of ideas, dialogues, and learning and creative pursuits.

The museum’s approach of presenting experts and leaders, not limited to the local scene but from across the globe, supports the curriculum of the college. This is achieved through exposure to high-level, real-world thinkers and practices delivered outside the context of usual classroom operations. Being open to the public, this context also influences local and regional universities, secondary schools, and training providers who now look to MCAD as a key knowledge provider.

MCAD understands that diversity and collaboration not only assist the museum on a local basis, but they also contribute to an ever-expanding network in a greater sharing of knowledge both within and outside the sector.

These cultural links not only support the museum’s growth but in conjunction support the College of Saint Benilde, as each brand name becomes synonymous with the other.

The Vexed Contemporary (2015)

In helping to paint a picture of the museum’s 10 years, have there been projects or exhibitions that stood out?

Without a collection as a point of reference, MCAD is able to adapt from project to project, seeking to present a varied, surprising, nourishing, challenging and unexpected programme.

MCAD’s recent exhibition programme represents a culturally diverse range of artists, designers, practices and discursive contexts, which have engaged a wide cross-section of audiences and stakeholders across local, regional and international narratives.

The museum has included the first South East Asian solo exhibitions of international artists such as Paul Pfeiffer, Michael Lin and Apichatpong Weerasethakul. The museum has hosted the first screening of Isaac Julien’s Playtime as well as all-Filipino group shows.

MCAD has honed collaborations with prestigious institutions such as the National Arts Council Singapore, Artspace Sydney, Jim Thompson Museum Bangkok, Parasite Gallery Hong Kong, Kadist Foundation Paris and San Francisco, Taipei Contemporary Art Center and Independent Curators International. These have culminated in the museum showcasing over a hundred artists and designers from every corner of the globe.

MCAD Commons: Library of Unread Books (2017)

Could you describe the landscape of contemporary art and design in the country?

The Philippines is unique in its history of art practice. Having the first artists trained in the Western tradition (Escuela de Bellas Artes was founded by Damian Domingo in 1821) created a country of painters and artists. The Philippines, through Manila, once sat in South East Asia as having one of the most active local art scenes, which thrived due to art exhibitions and a market driven by local collectors.

South East Asia also had other art centres with varying degrees of activity and internal support. Jakarta and Yogjakarta for Indonesia, Bangkok for Thailand, Kuala Lumpur for Malaysia, Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi for Vietnam, and Singapore were some of the more active centres. These were tapped by foreign museums, notably the Fukuoka Art Museum and Queensland Art Gallery, during the 1980s and more actively during the 1990s to take part in shows, which were later included in collections.

The economic prosperity of some South East Asian countries during the 1960s and 1970s saw the beginnings of cultural interest with the establishment of museums and proper art schools by the government. These developments were scuppered by events of Martial Law and fears of the communist threat. In the Philippines, however, then-First Lady Imelda Marcos established cultural centres and backed the movement of internationalism, which was ongoing in the West. Artists were sent to study internationally, like Roberto Chabet, who was appointed the founding director of the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

Where do you see the contemporary arts and design scene in the Philippines going? Any hopes for it as an institution?

The world of contemporary art is global. However, the thinking and art discourse within the Philippines, while evolving rapidly, continues to be locally oriented.

Participation on regional and international stages have become an important aspect of building MCAD’s identity and reputation. Increasingly, regional and international collaborations have an integral role in the development of MCAD’s programming. MCAD will continue to use its growing regional reputation to provide programming outside of an existing local experience of art.

Critical Research Residency: Acts of Life (2019)

What can MCAD Manila visitors look forward to at the end of 2019 and in the new year? Does the museum have any new goals?

Just 10 years old, MCAD has evolved rapidly. It has developed core museum content and programming that run in a planned and analytical way. It is receptive to changes and evolutions occurring both locally and regionally. But it is not reactionary in the sense of making immediate changes to its core activities relative to immediate events, dialogues or trends.

Now with an established brand, identity and presence, the museum is set to evolve and move towards the shaping of an institution.

Among MCAD’s exhibitions is our current show, What Lies Within: Centre of the Centre, featuring Australian artist Mel O’Callaghan, French artist Laurent Grasso, British artist Suzanne Treister and Swiss artist Pamela Rosenkranz. This will run until 1 December.

On 6 February 2020, MCAD will open a collaboration group video show in partnership with the Netherlands-based Han Nefkens Foundation. On 4 April, an MCAD Commons Exhibition will cater MCAD’s singular programming to a larger audience to allow for engagement, creative development, ideas exchange and support of the artistic process across the areas of research, art practice and curatorial discourse. 4 June will see a solo show by Korean artist Haegue Yang.

These combined with our ongoing public programming, includes a January 2020 public lecture featuring Yung Ma, the curator of the Contemporary Art and Prospective Creation Department at the Centre Pompidou in Paris and artistic director of Seoul Media City Biennale.

MCAD’s ambition is to continue developing and launching our 2018, 10-year anniversary programmatic incentives, which include the following aspects: conferences, research, publications, residencies and mentoring.

MCAD aims to host a yearly conference reflective of the currents of global contemporary art and culture and the discourses that surround it. The museum plans to be a foundational base to support postgraduate research at the MA and PhD levels, and in the history and production of local design and material culture. The museum also aims to establish an in-house publishing arm, which specialises in producing monographs of contemporary Filipino artists.

Running biannually for both Filipino and international artists, MCAD offers residencies that aim to nurture and develop the work of mid-career artists. This is achieved by providing a space for the exploration of new work and ideas or the progression of current work. Lastly, to support the continued integration and development of College of Saint Benilde and MCAD, a mentoring programme will run as a conduit for professional artists or designers from local, regional or international fields to work directly with Benilde students or alumni.

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