From the heels of the success of Art Dubai’s MARKER 2016, curator Ringo Bunoan, in an interview with artBahrain’s Joe K Schwarz shares her thoughts on the Manila art scene and how their participation in Art Dubai re-energized Manila’s artist-run scene.

Your background as an art historian, curator, writer, researcher and cultural producer in Manila resulted in several books, lectures and collaboration with art institutions and other artists and intellectuals. In retrospect, what were the vital points in the development of this very special interest?

I consider myself an artist foremost, but I end up doing other things as well because there is nobody else who will do them! Everyone just wants to be an artist. I also believe its good to have a more holistic perspective of art, not just from the point of view of the artist, but also as a curator, writer, researcher, etc. I believe this has enriched and expanded my practice greatly.

Can you give us an overview of the structure of the current Manila art scene, its main concerns, trends, and the most pertinent issues? What is the very focus of the scene at this moment?

Right now there is a very dynamic art scene in Manila, but it is mostly market-driven and dominated by painting. There are lots of new galleries, but very few museums, public institutions, and alternative spaces. I think it’s a very unbalanced situation. There is a lack of criticality, both among the producers of art and the consumers as well. Art education is for me one of the biggest issues we have to address.

How many annual art fairs are currently running in the Philippines? In your opinion, do you think these art fairs shape the scene and widened the gap between artists who are eagerly trying to satisfy consumers and those who are seeking alternative, socially critical or collective, more participatory practices of art production?

There are only a few art fairs in Manila, the most prominent of which is Art Fair Philippines. Art fairs, along with auction houses, which are both relatively new in the Philippines, have really created a wide gap between artists. Art fairs here are not like other fairs where there is a curatorial committee; instead it is run by art collectors so that already indicates what kind of works will be featured. Sometimes there are a few excellent works, but in general, if you’re seeking alternative, more experimental work, its best to go to smaller artist-run spaces or direct to the artists.

What were your expectations from Marker 2016 which you curated in Art Dubai?

I really didn’t know what to expect because I’ve never been to Art Dubai before. But I knew what I wanted to show. I wanted to show a different side of Philippine contemporary art, one that you don’t normally see in an art fair. I’m not interested so much in styles; rather I’m interested in ideas and the various contexts that drive art. I’m also not interested in the idea of ‘Philippine-ness’ – or any of those usual stereotypes or cliches. For me, Philippine art is art made by a Filipino artist, period. I wanted to do an exhibition where the audience would be wondering which country it came from.

Do you think your participation could have somehow redefined the effervescence of Manila’s art scene?

More than redefine, I think our participation re-energized Manila’s artist-run scene. It’s really a struggle for most artist-run spaces in the city, especially for the past decade. Before young artists started out with artist run spaces, or formed their own, now they go straight to the big commercial galleries. Marker 2016 was a reminder that artist run spaces have a vital role in the development of new ideas, new ways of thinking about art and its communities.

And what about the artists’ selection, were you able to apply aspects of your own curatorial practice in such a diverse range of artists?

The selection of artists and works was done mostly in consultation with the spaces. I’m not the type of curator who imposes too much; rather I see the process as a kind of dialogue between myself and the artists.

Of all the photographs, videos, paintings, soft sculptures, works on paper, textiles and installations on display, how did you define the political or social dimension of art? What were the parameters?

It depends what you mean by political. To choose to do works outside the mainstream is political for me.

What inspired you to turn to the work of Roberto Chabet when you were conceiving the exhibition? How does his work fit into the picture?

Chabet was my mentor and always a big inspiration. He was not just an artist, he was also a teacher, a curator, a visionary leader in so many ways. It just made sense to include his work as an anchor for Marker, because he really championed artist-run culture and supported so many other young artists throughout his lifetime.

Could you tell me about the other artists you featured in the exhibition?

Apart from Chabet, I included 15 artists from 4 different artist-run spaces currently active in Manila. They are Issay Rodriguez, Katherine Nunez, Julius Redillas, J Pacena, Miguel Lope Inumerable, Mark Barretto (98B), Jayson Oliveria, Jed Escueta (Post Gallery), Gail Vicente, Tanya Villanueva (Project 20), Wawi Navarroza, Tammy David, Czar Kristoff, Gino Javier, Ian Carlo Jaucian (Thousandfold). It’s a very diverse group of artists of different generations.

The current political and financial crisis is also affecting the art world. The uncertain direction could also offer opportunities to test new ideas. Do you have one or more specific projects in mind that have been stimulated by the ‘economy of means’?

I think all of my projects respond to this ‘economy of means’. Its impossible for me to disregard that, especially coming from a country like the Philippines.

What do you think would be the next phase in the cultural trend in the Far East?

Chabet always used to say that art history is just like the swing of a pendulum – we just go from one end to the other. Before art was centered in Europe and the US, now the focus is on Asia. So maybe it will eventually go back to the West. However I wish we would eventually learn how to come full circle, where things like East and West do not even matter anymore.