Alfred Marasigan

Interview

Alfred Marasigan (based in the Philippines)  began as a landscape painter until he discovered livestreaming and eventually found performance. Through his transmedial practice and serendipitous research, he uses livestreaming as a medium to challenge modes of storytelling, navigate the politics of belonging, and apprehend the trappings of chance. He heavily draws inspiration from emotional geography, Norwegian slow TV, and magic realism.

 

 

Q: How and when did you discover contemporary art?

 

Oh wow, difficult moment to pinpoint, haha! But I guess it’s always been part of something I wanted to do? I really enjoyed painting when I was younger, and I believe the Internet (Tumblr?) was a valuable resource in knowing where I could pour those artistic impulses into. I also couldn’t forget the immense influence of our local art milieu whose ideas have helped me try things out and understand what it means to be an artist in our era.

 

Q: When did you start working with ideas of magic realism? How do you incorporate this into your thinking and production of art? 

 

I think I began looking at my relationship with magic realism when I was studying in Tromsø, Norway. It was such a surreal place and no matter how much contrast it provides the Philippines, I was very eager to find common ground as a way to take root. 

 

I got into it because I just wanted a little bit of actual magic (no matter how oxymoronic that sounds). At the time, I felt that a lot of my postcolonial identity hinged on Western (scientific) ideas and I began questioning why modern science seemed like the only cosmology that we (I?) have. Pursuing magic realism was my way of finding what I could truly offer to the world and in the way that I straddle between realities (virtual/physical, local/global, self/others, real/fiction). 

 

I was also inspired by how Latin American writers used it to forge their own stories and show readers what it means to live lives that defy logic. However, one of the difficulties (and maybe motivations) of incorporating magic realism into my work is that much of the magic in magic realism lies in the language-based medium of literature. Somehow, I am so determined to translate that into visual art where ideas of space, time, narrative, and reality translates differently, especially in the way that people encounter art (in exhibitions, online, sometimes on the streets, etc.). When the Twitter account @magicrealismbot generates a sentence like “An Andalusian empress finds an emerald tomato in her garden,” it inspires more imagination than when you see a sculpture or performance of the same thing. There’s something that tangibility takes away from magic, so I make sure to leave space for imagination (and maybe confusion) in my work. I chose livestreaming because somehow, viewers can’t take the moment for granted (in my head) because it will go away (when done via Instagram stories). I like it when people ask where the work is even though they understand that somewhere in my events, art takes place. 

 

It was also honestly difficult for me to incorporate magic realism into a virtual format because the latter is so ubiquitous. Every time I ask people in performances, only 4% or so still believe in magic. But I think today, we don’t have space in our hearts to find it and the magical is only relegated to moments such as “wow, I saw the sunrise today” or “I made a new friend” instead of “I used a potion to demand justice” or “sprites told me a secret.” But I also like the challenge in finding where these moments may lie where we can still believe them but not too much. I think now more than ever we need a bit of magic (or belief) to have the capacity to imagine some future that may never come. Somehow, these thoughts translate into artmaking for me simply because I want to know if art is truly the only magic left. 😜

 

Throughout my work with magic realism, one of the most important things I found out is that magic involves a deft interplay between concealing and revealing. I think that in art, in teaching, in coexisting with people, and in the overall practice of knowledge production, that dynamic taught me a lot.

 

 

 

 

Q: You talk a lot about serendipity in your work; archiving moments, spaces, ideas, stories and phenomena, how does your identity play a role in this process? 

 

I think my process is a metaphor for putting together a fragmented sense of self. Throughout my life and education as a Filipino, it has always been debated who we are and what our place in the world and in history is. As a citizen, I feel incidental and it’s not a good feeling to have. I think I decided to embrace it and find the magic in being a randomized sim in the global economy. We are Pacific Islanders, Southeast  Asians with not one but three colonial histories, Christians (mostly), I am gay, a ~ *millennial* ~, I am kind of a city person but grew up in the province, middle (ish) class, INFP last 2019, a Libra, an artist. I felt like most of my culture and the way I processed it was so arbitrarily put together and I just wanted to stop justifying why I am here. And if I didn’t make sense culturally then maybe I’ll just keep not making sense in the rigid, factual, categorical way that people think. That’s why most of my livestreaming, I feel, is acts of assembling together very disparate elements into one chunk of time – it’s an effort to exist nonsensically but rightfully. This is also why I value serendipity – not only for the fascinating origin of the word but also for just a fraction of a moment that something happens, it feels right, even when so many forces didn’t predict it. 

 

 

 

Q: You've studied and taught in art schools in the Philippines and Europe. How has this helped shape your practice?   

 

Teaching has definitely contributed to the way I handle knowledge. It was precious to me before but now it’s more valuable by virtue of being able to share what you know. It means that I am part of what people may take as truth in their lives and it is a beautiful responsibility. 

 

In another way, it is also something that helps me learn about performance since I never really had any formal education on it specifically. Showing up for a class, articulating your thoughts, multitasking, and dealing with a physical audience has helped me see my work and practice more from the outside.

 

 

 

 

Q: Do you think it's hard to be an LGBTQ+ / Queer artist based in the Philippines making work which involves identity? What would you say is the biggest challenge?

 

I think it goes both ways. On one hand, it gives you more freedom to experiment because people don’t expect LGBTQ+ / Queer artists to adhere to traditional ways of artmaking; on the other hand, we are still held back by a lot of unspoken social rules. I find myself having to adjust a lot to many different circles because I don’t know how I will be perceived; whether it’s inherent to me or to the people around me is still something I’m trying to process. I feel this way not just in the art scene but in the country overall, as an LGBTQ+ member. Sometimes I feel the need to “tone it down” when I’m in professional settings, or if there’s a macho, serious, or holy vibe. I think what hurts the most is that I am so willing to learn from different social groups but I’m not sure if they’re willing to learn from me. But just another disclaimer, it may also not be because of me being gay, but because of me being from another school, region, work group, class, political beliefs, etc. 

 

Art scene-wise, I think being a queer artist is common and even celebrated, but isn’t exactly at the forefront of discussions regarding artistic merit, research, and ideology. While it is prevalent in literary, anthropological, and entertainment fields here, it feels less of a category or advocacy and more of a personality trait or flair. I think it’s because it’s not criminalized? People are generally accepting but anti-LGBTQ+ harassment laws aren’t exactly in place (and no gay marriage either). 

 

It’s very complicated (haha!) but the biggest challenge is the need to compromise a lot and to pick oneself apart to be accepted. This is why I think studying in Europe was eye-opening for me because that is where I discovered that my postcolonial concerns were in fact intertwined with my queerness in my search for identity. But I guess that’s also the benefit of living in extremes; in the Philippines, it’s so complex that it’s grey, but in Europe (Norway and Germany, and some other countries I went to for 10 days) it’s so extremely polar where in a heartbeat people can hate identity politics and literally love all that I am. 

 

 

 

Q:You work a lot with livestreaming. What drew you to using this as a medium and how exactly do you do this within your work?

 

I think the Arctic really helped forge my way into livestreaming. I knew so little about Norway and after trying out all the things I know to understand a place and its people, I looked at their media and found Norwegian slow TV. It was insane! The northern lights, the expensive beer, and the perceptive people; I’ve never seen a way of life that can squander time so poignantly. I think it fascinated me a lot because coming from Metro Manila where I feel like a slave of time, where multiple schedules and universes overlap, the Arctic feels like an inside-out version of it. There are so many stories that also overlap but are so muted and subtle that you feel at first that there’s none. Both places have really interesting ways of contorting time. Place was also a major concern I had before going to Norway, and there I got into thinking about time a lot, and how place and time are also inseparable.

 

In my work, I use livestreaming as some sort of an all-encompassing container for so much of the ideas going on in my head. I actually feel like I’m working with photography, video, and performance all at the same time without training in any of them! In any case, across these referential media, I see time as a storage and the moment as the work. I just feel like in presenting myself, I need to say so much but don't really have the resources and attention that I can afford, so livestreaming is a handy (though demanding) one-hour max (for now) way of fulfilling that need. I just didn’t want to “tone myself down” anymore but also didn’t want to deprive people of grasping my work. I want to tell stories, to do research, to go places, to make objects, to interact with people, to be seen, to talk, sing, dance, live, and exist, and somehow that one hour is my way of living out everything that feels absurd and unreachable in my daily life. While obviously containing fantastical elements, I don’t want to “invent” things either and I keep my materials grounded in found “reality” – existing stories, weather, places, clothes, actions, words, etc. If it feels too produced, then it’s not my livestreaming work. Livestreaming allows me to discuss simultaneity by cramming in different audiences, time scales, materialities, agents, and instances into one moment. I always come back to how people always tell me to “live in the moment.” When I began asking “where is the present anyway?”, that’s how I got into livestreaming.

 

I don’t know if I’m making sense so far (haha!) but just as an insight into my process, I’ll describe some sort of template that I keep seeing in the way I work with livestreaming. First, I just go around and walk and try to get a feel of where I am physically, emotionally, geographically, socially, historically, etc. All this is after I apply for or get invited or commissioned for a livestream or whenever I just feel an intense, intuitive need to pursue a moment (the timing and venue also plays a part in the final work). Second, I ask for a schedule and use that time to be hypersensitive about what ideas emerge whether it’s from my past, from my feed, or from somewhere leftfield like the streets. This is also the same time where I begin assembling everything together – renting venues and equipment, making objects, canvassing outfits, rereading texts, encountering people. Third, after all that wandering, I expect to end up with an image in my head (this comes from my background in landscape painting) that inspires me so much and explains a lot of the serendipitous things that should’ve come together by now. Sometimes, when I am blocked from doing something (one time I was supposed to work in a military base but it turned out to be unavailable), I take it as a sign that I should go in a different direction and that’s not where I’m meant to make work anyway. Lastly, when all is ready and the image is meaningful enough for me and my perceived audience, I announce the livestreaming and proceed with it. Intended or not, whatever happens in the livestream becomes sucked into the work. Post-livestream, I let it stay or not depending on the online platform (I mostly stick to Instagram live, but have used Facebook and am open to using Twitch, Vimeo, Reddit, etc depending on the idea and prompt). No livestream or act within it is repeated more than once and in exactly the same way in future works, and I avoid showing the entire recorded stream in a space other than online or using a phone as a monitor to preserve the time-specificity of the work.

 

Q: Who and what inspires your work? 

 

At the moment, across all my works, and in no particular order, I am inspired by Kapwani Kiwanga, Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker, medieval manuscripts (digitized), Martha Atienza’s Our Islands, natural history illustrations and monographs, Chuck Palahniuk’s Rant, Taal Volcano, Lav Diaz’s Hele Sa Hiwaga ng Hapis, horses, Bas Jan Ader’s final work, giant vegetables, Shinichiro Watanabe’s Cowboy Bebop, most of Jorge Luis Borges’ short stories, Rihanna’s motocross-themed fashion show, alchemy, Pierre Huyghe’s whole body of recent work, Buddha and square-shaped fruits, Peter Brueghel the Elder’s Landscape with the Fall of Icarus, the boys who hurt me and the men who loved me (and vice versa; may or may not be mutually exclusive), Sondra Perry, Norwegian Romanticism, cosmology, my friends from my time in Tromsø and Berlin, David Hockney, my own country’s histories and folklore (I’m starting to zero in on regional ones), Matthew Barney’s Drawing Restraint 9, and the random old man who juggled three whole heads of garlic on the streets where I live.

 

Q: What do you think needs to be done to support LGBTQ+ / Queer Filipino artists wanting to break into the international art scene? What advice would you give anyone reading this?

 

The (currently inefficient, patriarchal, quasi-authoritarian) government, the private sector, and Filipino citizens should work together to make a humane environment LGBTQ+ / Queer Filipino artists to create and experiment for – poverty-reduction laws, (actually and finally) passing the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Expression (SOGIE) Bill without political theatrics, artist unions, healthcare, and (day-?) job security.

 

On a personal level, when you’re stuck somewhere, make the pain count beautifully whenever you can. AND!!! Don’t forget to take advantage of many online opportunities (that’s how I started out and am still operating). As intense as it is, the Internet is a valuable means in finding supportive groups and individuals. In any case, contact me! I talk a lot.

 

Finally, choose what makes you feel most alive. 

 

Q: Looking forward, what are your future plans for yourself, your work and art after the coronavirus pandemic? 

 

Do we have a future? Nah, I’m kidding (?). I have four shows borne out of trying to cope with the lockdown (and with anything in my life honestly).

 

Apr 8 (CA) – Livestream with MST Performative Art (10AM, GMT)

Apr 11 (UK) – Livestream with HORRID Covid (11AM, GMT)

Apr 26 (PH) – Minecraft in-game exhibition and music festival Infinite Summer with Club Matryoshka, Likido, Spoonin Boys, and Para://Site Projects (PH)

Late Aug/Early May (UK) – Don’t Forget the Sweetener with Pink Salt Art Collective 

May 3 (ES) – Digital project launch of Affine 10 – Volery with Tangent Projects

 

Honestly though, I can’t wait to walk around again and proceed with my projects physically. I feel like home is something I’ve always struggled with (whether it was bodily, nationally, or interpersonally) and being trapped with next to nothing and with not much consolation is terrifying. But at least now I’m steadily building some sort of life outside of art and seeing my worth beyond my work.

 

However, I really hope that a post-pandemic world will rethink its entire value system, and we will all emerge in the light changed for the better. I’ll persist until I find someplace, someone, or something that feels like home.

Published: 15/04/2020 by Queerdirect

Edits by Tamar Clarke-Brown