LIFE creates a vicious cycle of urbanization, where landscapes are eaten up by ‘mall’ fever like mushrooms sprouting everywhere.

It is a disturbing site to see. When once a place with strong cultural character, most of our public spaces are reduced to mere imitations and monoculture.

The system has taken over that even the natural salt in our table has been altered to make us believe that anything with a bar coded price is healthier. The danger of advertising, branding and tagging creates the false beliefs on health, nutrition and self-image manifested in the collective psyche how fast food gain devoted followers.


CAGAYAN DE ORO. Claro J. Ramirez throws in a brilliant idea of activating spaces, activating the local and bottoms up approach in a recent art talk in Cagayan de Oro. (Ros Zerrudo)

The public spaces have turned into sanitized urban lifeless jungle where instead of seeing interactive green public spaces with identity, character and aesthetics, people boxed themselves into noisy clutter of boxes after boxes in the new indoor parks and playgrounds that create intellectual atrophy and cultural amnesia.

The new generations of urban planners are faced with the challenge of how we bring back our own identity and character in our architecture, living spaces, public spaces, streets and parks.


CAGAYAN DE ORO. An installation art at Capitol University Museum of Three Cultures. (Ros Zerrudo)

The global identity crisis and iodized curatorial hormonal imbalance reflects a hysterical city planning and urbanization without a purpose and a vision. Once a breathing lush mountain summer capital of the North, Baguio is now reduced to an over-built, over populated urban mess. This is a classic example of a precarious rapid development with total disconnect from the culture and wisdom of the elders.

The basic common sense

The Ifugao indigenous knowledge, skills and practices are a concrete blueprint of our ingenuity as a people in the way they build their houses and how they build terraces with the most basic mountain engineering and design skill.

In the project ‘Nurturing Indigenous Knowledge Experts,’ the Ifugao house is introduced as “the most admired ethnic architectural designs for having employed an indigenous system of construction that is more complex than its seeming simplicity.

The history of the Ifugao architecture is intertwined with that of the people, their socio-cultural beliefs and practices, as well as their traditional knowledge systems and practices. But while Ifugao architecture is deemed an essential part of the people’s remarkably rich tangible heritage that allows present-day generation to understand and appreciate their past, barely is the effort undertaken to conserve it. At present, traditional Ifugao house builders are dwindling and native huts are at the verge of extinction, a disturbing reality which practically threatens the survival of the people’s already vanishing heritage.”

The Ifugao house is one of the strongest icons of cultural identity that has laid out very basic concepts of how to use beauty, functionality, design and comfort in everyday living. Our once strong connection to cultural beliefs, customs and traditions is now vanishing. The Ifugaos taught us the basic common sense of ingenuity in concept with 100% recyclable design in every minute detail.

Back to square one

Juan has to think out-of-the-box to come up with big bang of ideas. A visiting new media artist curator Claro J. Ramirez threw in a brilliant idea of activating spaces and activating the local, bottoms up approach.

In his own words, “Back to Square 1 (BS1) occasions a recurring confluence of art projects across the Philippines to celebrate creativity and the artist’s capacity to do work that engages various publics. It is a deliberate moving away from the clichéd images of the artist as alienated and alienating.”

Ramirez wants to know the strengths of the regions where the process of activating spaces is more inclusive. The BS1 is the multiplication of Juans working as the same force without losing one’s individual identity in the synergy with other Juans.

Ramirez further noted “BS1 projects include visual art exhibitions, multimedia and new media collaborative initiatives, and public for a-workshops, among other activities, which underline the idea that individuals, however different ad independent, make up a social whole.

This independent platform runs on the energies of artists, curators, critics and cultural workers fuelled by the desire to see changes in the Philippines artworld toward decentering and the activation of underused/unused sites.”

The idea of decentralization is not only for politics but also in the art practice, which demystifies that Manila is not the center of the arts, but to some degree the center of practice. This idea of ‘reform’ is Ramirez’s way of saying an active – no to the monopoly of a centralized system.

Reaching out to the Mindanao artists is another way of activating local spaces from the periphery by way of knowing the Juans/artists and the artworks through this dialogue, discourses and conversations. This curatorial process is another leap in the art scene where Manila curators are showing interest in the local provincial scene.

Ramirez curates the Ika-duang Tan-aw (second look) as an on-going exhibition in the Capitol University Museum of Three Cultures featuring the works of Siete Pesos Team exhibited at the Singapore Biennale 2013 composed of Nick Aca, Oscar Floirendo, Errol Balcos, Michael Bacol, Michelle Lua, Jericho ‘Jake’ Vamenta and Rosalie Zerrudo.

Other exhibiting artists are Rodney Yap, Ivan Macarambon, Peter James Pantinalgo, Garry Custodio, GM Liong, Chito Natural, Zola Macarambon, Julie Lluch, Gerald Saway, and Anoy Catague. Watch out in the exhibition, ‘augmented reality’ the first of its kind that has finally reached Cagayan de Oro City.

Ramirez is among the co-curators of the 2013 Singapore Biennale and curator for the Philippines of Goethe Institut's traveling exhibition, Riverscapes INFLUX. His most recent projects include participation in Art Video Exchange at Small projects Tromsø 2012 and the 14th Jakarta Biennale as well as exhibitions at Finale Art File and Mo Space Gallery in the Philippines.

He is a 2000 Cultural Center of the Philippines Thirteen Artists Awardee and was the 2009 NCR Curator for the Sungdu-an National Visual Art Exhibition at the National Museum of the Philippines. He is a multimedia artist whose paintings, sculpture, photography, soundwork and mixed media installations have been exhibited in prestigious museums and pro-active spaces here and abroad.

The visual art scene has ventured into mind blowing new media works which might still be an alienating experience in the areas with no access to technology. This is the challenge of how the organic process merges like the legendary filmmaker Kidlat Tahimik is teaching film making in the boondocks with Ifugao farmers.

I guess curators become more effective and relevant in the ground as they traverse several roles as cultural worker, knowledge manager and community organizer. Understanding the grassroots community and listening to what they have to stay is the reflection of a process that evolved from top-to-bottom approach turned upside down. It is always refreshing to see things from another angle and different perspectives. There is so much to learn from the Ifugao house design applying the indigenous knowledge and practices which were considered obsolete.

I guess our ancestors have given us a solid grounding in the ways of the world that beyond what we was taught inside the classrooms. Little did we know that the indigenous people knew better how to think out-of-the-box.