Embodied Memory, in eMotion

Trying to learn more of Bacolod’s art history, which is a crucial part of MassKara Festival origins, I got the chance to meet Rafael Paderna, a painter, illustrator, sculptor, ceramics artist – a jack-of-all-trades & a living cultural heritage of Bacolod’s art history.

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“The woman is a caretaker of the Earth”

One of the original founders of Arts Association of Bacolod, whose most active member Ely Santiago coined the concept of ‘MassKara,’ Rafael Paderna belongs to a generation of artists that have memories of the burgeoning arts scene of Bacolod in the 1960’s & 1970’s. At the same time, he is also part of an artist generation that left the island during adulthood, only to return later in life with a different perspective on community arts organizing (bridging the insider/outsider divide).

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Inside the studio of sir Rafael Paderna

I felt very grateful to be invited into Rafael’s home art studio, personal art collections, and be around his living spirit imbued in his art objects. Hearing of his stories coming into artistry as a young person, migrating to the states to start a family, and returning to Bacolod’s art scene as a kind of ex-exile, I felt humbled to hear of his journey through art.

Speaking to Rafael reminded of something sir Eli, director of Silver MassKara Foundation, had mentioned when I asked him about MassKara Festival’s archives: It doesn’t have any. One time, a tourist came to the office asking for a directory of all the public sculptures in the city. Neither the tourism office nor MassKara office could point him to any official list. While this example hints at a structural shortfall of the city for its lack of investment in preserving cultural arts, I think this reality also speaks to how the archive is embodied.

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The cultural arts heritage that exists here cannot be transmuted into museum directories; it must first be recognized as living, breathing, embodied knowledges & experiences.

I, an outsider of this community, cannot say what is or not is cultural heritage; it must first be recognized by its people, a ‘subject’ of value, in order for it to be preserved.

Who will build the archive of public sculptures in the city? The government? Unlikely, since they don’t invest heavily in arts. The tourism office? They don’t even know the importance. The foundation for the festival? That’s not their role. The initiative to organize, I believe, begins with the people. Filipinos are among the most socially-networked countries in the world. Almost everyone knows someone with a smartphone. But it’s all too easy to upload photos on facebook and forget that these memory tools may be harnessed beyond the I’s momentary eye.

Serious investment in participative social media technologies and its users as skilled workers will reveal the people themselves as archivists already. However, in the current state, most people offer their labor for free making self-recursive content for multibillion dollar corporations like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter.

The work of co-building community arts archives will require a different operation of capital that values this labor of plugging memories into the machine, not just for a ‘like, but for long-term preservation of cultural heritage.

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Outside of the Negros Museum, Rafael Paderna’s sculpture depicts a sacada sugar farm worker transformed by technologies of carabaw and computer chips. What does the laborer/worker look like today?

Rafael’s sculptural work now incorporates old computer parts with brass-glazed concrete and other durable materials. As hard and fixed as the sculptures appear, they are also mutable and in movement. This, I think, is a gesture of playful optimism to think about our human state merging with machines.

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On one hand, we have adapted to technologies (computers, smartphones, laptops, tablets, etc) wired in our veins, which program our internal systems of operation. On the other hand, this transformation is not a fixed one. We still have the chance to dance, to move, to find new ways of fluidity even with permanent hardware surgically and psychically lodged in our system.

Unfortunately, the audio interview I captured on my Zoom is of really low quality and I’m not as adept yet at editing audio. Glad to read more interviews with Rafael collected by Bacolod bloggers. This project for me is a continuous learning lesson about what needs to be archived and what is in danger of getting lost. But who decides? Aesthetic choices? Programmed codes? Or the participation of the community – computers, users, robots et. al. 

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