struggle bus as process

A few years back, Woff père randomly mused, “I think everyone should have a death song.” (That’s Woff Sr for you: thoughtful, sensitive, morbid, and always planning ahead.) Curiosity piqued, I asked him to elaborate, which led to a conversation about music chosen as some sort of final personal declaration after one dies.

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I never really thought about this as an art project premise until I started writing a grant application in late 2016, after a banner year of musical losses including Bowie, Prince and Juan Gabriel.  I wrote the grant on the fly with Dad’s sentiment on my mind: not entirely sure what I would make, but having just finished the karaoke chapel video installation piece, thinking it might end up something like that.

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Fast-forward about a year: with my intended project venues falling through, with work and other obligations dismantling what little free time I had, and with a substantial amount of creative block and personal grief kicking in, I found myself unable to move forward. While I often joke about being on the “struggle bus” at some point with a project, at least it’s usually moving slowly in a direction. This time the bus felt like it was up on cinder blocks, with no destination.

While a basic premise was still in play (asking people what their death songs would be), I couldn’t figure out how to make art about this. The public-ness of a project about sensitive subject matter felt unsafe. The visuals felt unclear. Video no longer seemed viable. Add to this an awareness of other artists and organizations who were deeply immersed in death as a subject in their work and programming, and I began to feel in over my head– like a charlatan, like I had no right to make work about this.

Over the summer, I did what often helps me out: I stopped trying to force an agenda, and just started working in my art journal for personal reasons, instead. I’ve kept journals on and off for over half my life; they ground my practice in something private and personal when so much of my professional work must be public and social.

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Out of these journal noodlings, some images started to take hold. These images confirmed that the project’s primary form needed to be a book. Not like my journal, or my other books, but a semi-narrative mix of drawings and text. As realizations go, it was a classic case of the answer having been right in front of my nose the whole time. (Sometimes the struggle bus takes a very circuitous route to a destination right next door.)

In any case, this breakthrough launched me into a frenzied period of drawing piles of things, some of which made the final cut, some of which didn’t.

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With project momentum came proper book design, in the form of Colleen Kiyoko Pualani Barrett, an amazing young graphic designer and USF alumna who’d once been a drawing student of mine. An ace with In Design and typography, she harmonized my ideas, kept the project on track beautifully, and taught me some new design tricks along the way.

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The book having taken a more intimate, personal tack also allowed me to get a handle on the more public-facing website component of the project. Having discovered that my friend Juan Luna-Avin had been doing an eerily similar art project called “Soundtrack of our Lives,” I proposed that we find a way to team up, and intermingle our projects without cancelling each other out.

Since Juan’s project was more of a live experience DJing peoples’ funeral songs, and mine was becoming a book, I proposed that we compile our respective interviews with people onto a single website, with a shared title, the somewhat light-feeling, double-entendre  “Ultimate Song Request“. With some consultation and the usual technical tweaks provided by one of my oldest friends Max, the website was up and running.

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Juan and I then co-hosted an “Ultimate Song Request” event at the Luggage Store: this functioned as the launch party for the web project as well as my Death Songs book. Juan DJed peoples’ ultimate song requests, we both chatted about the genesis of our respective projects, several artists presented/performed, the audience participated in some break-out conversations about their songs, and we all shared a toast to absent friends.

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Given all the sturm und drang along the way, the book, the web project and the public event all turned out remarkably smoothly in the end, and much the way I’d hoped; funny and strange, and a little sad (but not too much so.) I don’t think the project is done, but it’s at a good place for now.

While I’ve been a professional artist for long enough now to expect and accept some discomfort and uncertainty along the way, the obstacles on this project threw me for a loop. I feel extremely relieved to have eked this one out despite some delays, and extremely grateful for the many people who cajoled, encouraged, and collaborated with me along the way when I was stuck. Sometimes it takes fellow passengers pushing the struggle bus out of a ditch to get it back on the road.

muni struggle bus

 

 

song of the open road

The earth expanding right hand and left hand,
The picture alive, every part in its best light,
The music falling in where it is wanted, and stopping where it is not wanted,
The cheerful voice of the public road—the gay fresh sentiment of the road.

O highway I travel! O public road! do you say to me, Do not leave me?
Do you say, Venture not? If you leave me, you are lost?
Do you say, I am already prepared—I am well-beaten and undenied—adhere to me?

O public road! I say back, I am not afraid to leave you—yet I love you;
You express me better than I can express myself;
You shall be more to me than my poem.
-WW, SOTOR, Leaves of Grass

I wrote a bit last year about the passing of my friend John. Grief journeys look different for everyone; in my case, it needed to be an actual journey, in the form of that un-taken motorcycle adventure  that I’d failed to do in 2017, commemorating our epic 1997 voyage.

Having set aside a bit of time this summer to go on this journey, I’d originally planned to take my classic old BMW R75/5 on the road. A minor electrical fire (!!) in the headlamp assembly in June suggested to me that I risked spending more time by the side of the road than on it, were I to attempt taking a vintage bike on a long trek.

the bmw slash five
I scrambled to research and procure a more modern, road trip-worthy bike on my budget on short notice, and ended up in possession of a 2014 Suzuki V-Strom that more than did the deed.

the suzuki wee strom

The John Francis Donahue Memorial Road Trip took place in July and August. Our mutual friend Max rode with me for the first 2 days, and other than a few days off the bike here and there with Herb and other friends, it was an entirely solo bike adventure. (I’m pretty sure John joined me for a few days between Nanaimo and San Juan Island, though.)

While there were plenty of moments of grand fun and delight, it was, on the whole, an incredibly tough trip, emotionally more than physically. My body can still hang with long days in the saddle, I was happy to learn, but my heart and mind don’t have quite the same steeliness I thought they once did. (Hell, maybe they never did.) There were a number of days where I felt a total loss of nerve, and a great deal of sadness and anxiety. Still, I’m proud of having taking this trip; I don’t think it’s my last.

After 3 weeks, 3 states, 1 Canadian province, 2717 miles and 126 adventures, I arrived back in SF pretty drained, and glad to be done. John Donahue, I don’t know how you did things like this so often and so effortlessly, but I’m glad to have had a chance to have ridden alongside you a long time ago and somehow on this trip, too. Thanks for keeping me safe.

(Still here I carry my old delicious burdens;
I carry them, men and women—I carry them with me wherever I go;
I swear it is impossible for me to get rid of them;
I am fill’d with them, and I will fill them in return.)

Carlos Villa: Worlds In Collision at BAMPFA

As some know, my mentor Carlos Villa organized an iconic series of exhibitions, symposia, curricula, publications, and web projects under the “Worlds in Collision” umbrella from 1976 until his passing in 2013. I was deeply influenced by these projects as a young undergrad at SFAI, and for many years afterward. These projects and conversations addressed multiculturalism, education, activism, and identity politics with the intention of shaping a more inclusive art world and art history.

When friend and curator/writer/archivist Lian Ladia (of Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive and Planting Rice) asked if I would be interested in organizing a symposium revisiting Carlos’ legacy for BAMPFA, it seemed like an ideal opportunity to reflect on Worlds In Collision as a whole, to see where we stand currently in relation to its original concerns.

event header, adapted from the cover design of the 1994 book

Styled in a format reminiscent of the original symposia, the April 21 event was a mix of panels and breakout conversations, organized around 3 themes: Carlos Villa’s History/Legacy, Worlds In Collision Then and Now, and Filipino American Arts. An extraordinary group of panelists framed each conversation for about an hour; this was then followed by smaller moderated breakout discussions to engage all attendees, ensuring that everyone took an active role in these conversations.

Peoples’ dedication to the event was clear, with participants flying in from Seattle, Los Angeles and Washington DC, or driving in from hours away within California. And it was truly glorious seeing the mix of generations and communities that attended, all so ready to engage and collaborate. It was a lively, often emotional afternoon: it seems clear that Carlos’ vision, and the work of Worlds In Collision, continues on in good hands, in many forms, with tremendous generosity of spirit.

CARLOS VILLA: WORLDS IN COLLISION

Opening Keynote: Amalia Mesa-Bains

Carlos Villa’s History/Legacy: Theo Gonzalves, Jeff Gunderson, Lian Ladia, Dewey Crumpler, Amalia Mesa-bains

Worlds In Collision Then and Now: Moira Roth+Mark Johnson, Thea Quiray Tagle, Brett Cook, Jacqueline Francis + Kathy Zarur

Filipino American Arts: Patricia Cariño Valdez, Kimberley Acebo Arteche, Michael Arcega, Jenifer Wofford, Alleluia Panis

Closing Remarks: Theo Gonzalves

Breakout Conversation Moderators: Jessica Tully, Johanna Poethig, Valerie Soe, Patricia Cariño Valdez, Rafael Vieira, Maurizzio Hector Pineda, Dorothy Santos, PJ Gubatina Policarpio, Dara Danger Del Rosario

M.O.B. in HK

Manananggoogle continued its conquest of Asia with its presence in Our Bones Are Made of Starlight, a group exhibition at 1A Space in Hong Kong, curated by Justin Hoover.

M.O.B. was unfortunately unable to go to HK, since this show came not long after we returned to the US from the Manila Biennale. Justin and the 1A gallery team shuttled and installed the work and procured additional props on their own; many thanks to them for their efforts.

The exhibition ran March 24 – May 6, 2018.
Here, a few snaps of the installation.

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M.O.B. at the Manila Biennale

In February, M.O.B. went on a week-long whirlwinder to Manila for the first-ever Manila Biennale. Open City 2018 was held in and around the walled city of Intramuros, in an amazing mix of exhibitions, performances, lectures, presentations and market events. Manananggoogle was invited to return to its ancestral haunts as part of the Biennale’s performance program, curated by our old comrade Carlos Celdran. (The brilliant Ringo Bunoan curated the visual arts components). Congrats to everyone on Team Manila Biennale, from organizers to volunteers, for a great first run!

It was a week of utter mayhem, stress and delight: it was an utter blast. I’d do it all again at the drop of a hat. Here, a few out-takes from our Biennale adventures and performances.