“Roots, Basics, Beginnings”

By Patrick D. Flores

To introduce the writing and the textual work of Raymundo Albano (1947-1985) is to sort of glide across terrains of “serious games.” Serious because Albano ponders. But he also plays a lot. Thus, the game of figuring out, challenging, contesting, losing, gaining, testing, teasing, baiting, biting. He does not seem to mind that the thinking meanders, or that no thought coheres. That being said, he, too, stakes certain claims, and with conviction at that. He rolls the dice, makes his moves, and leaps into the “unthought known” of Mieke Bal. You might want to call it his gambit, but for him, it is by constantly paving paths, following through efforts, and building on frameworks that an art context may be able to animate itself, to achieve, in his words, “style.” In Albano’s agenda, “roots, basics, beginnings” (taken from an eponymous exhibition in 1977) matter, and primarily because they constitute the material through which process or method takes place. Whatever may be inferred or alluded to or implicated emerges from these: lineage, rudiment, origin. Whether critique comes in to complicate or relations intervene, the “intelligence” of the material cannot be severed from the “integrity” of the lifeworld from which it is generated and through which such lifeworld is reinvested. Some would call this “context,” others would say it is “impulse” or “urge.” Whatever it is that may be brought to our attentiveness as that which excites what we broadly reference as art, it should, in the imagination of Albano, stir up a world “suddenly turning visible,” a condition quite akin to Michel Foucault’s “sudden vicinity of things.”

True to the spirit of Albano’s expositions, this introduction will not be long-drawn, or “extenuate.” It keeps to the register and acuity of his improvisations on the essay, criticism, think-piece, polemics and poetics, theoretical tract, manual or memorandum, field notes, journalism, diary. To weave in and out of these circuits of rhetoric and reflection is an achievement in itself. So few have been able to mingle all these pursuits and at the same time direct a museum, create art, write poetry, present papers internationally, and attend to other errands besides. According to one account in the eighties, one of those loose-leaf ephemeral materials in the archive, Albano, in spite of his administrative tasks, “manages to paint regularly (‘evenings’) and in quantity (‘possibly more than what a dozing painter has’) and with marked development (‘I just keep my theories sharpened’). To develop this technique and for research, he makes posters (‘hangover from printmaking days’), designs sets for Bulwagang Gantimpala, conducts workshops (‘to interact with people’), and is in constant travel (‘through streets where one can discover things that appear new’).” One watershed in Albano’s career was his participation at the Ninth International Biennial Exhibition of Prints in Tokyo, an exhibition that was held in 1974-1975 at the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo and Kyoto. He sent three entries, and Step on the Sand and Make Footprints (1974) was conferred an Honorable Mention by an international jury of which Emmanuel Torres was a member. In an interview for Sunburst (March 1975 on page 8), he confides: “I just sent them a blueprint, a piece of paper with instructions to spread enough sand for four people to step on. It was the only floor piece on the show. They said it qualified because a foot print is…a print.” According to him, an Italian critic raved: “The print goes back to the primitive in man. The first print man made was of his own body. A catalyst for the imagination.” And that “a joke can win.”

This anthology addresses the concerns of Albano in the intersecting fields of the creative, the critical, the cultural, and the curatorial. It is to these that Albano speaks: the discourse and practice of art making and instilling it with presence in the world of ideas, exhibitions, and the particularities of lived life that is oftentimes captured in the category of “culture.” This is the ecology of his generous writing, its province. And it is a robust ecology, something that Albano, born in Bacarra in Ilocos Norte, had learned quite early in life. His sister Fe Albano MacLean relates that while Albano was in grade school, he would design pillow cases for his aunt to sew. He would also make lanterns and decorate floats for Easter. In the late fifties, he began to pursue writing when he was in high school in San Sebastian College in Mendiola, where he was involved with the school organ, after which he took up English at the Ateneo de Manila University and contributed to the literary journal Heights. This anthology includes some of his poems. It is worth noting that many of the germinal modernists and interlocutors of modernism in Philippine art history wrote poetry like Aurelio Alvero, Hernando R. Ocampo, and David Medalla. According to the poet and literary critic D.M. Reyes in an unpublished text: “With certainty, the poet Emmanuel S. Torres has listed Raymundo R. Albano as a voice worth the renewed attention in the lyrical traditions of the Ateneo de Manila. His poetry pursues a style at once abstractive and pictorial—not as posture but as fluent assertion of a fully achieved sensibility. This command shows in the way he frames a situation—eliciting drama in the ordinary, as painting would seize upon an insight, stark with tension. Drawn to nuance, Albano secures poetic lines taut with details, the world of things beheld in suspended animation—mirrors in a dressing room, walls of lime, egrets and rain, people and crickets, or even the remnants of a lovers’ quarrel. His poetry lets loose howls of music, too, as the undergirding tempo of revelation, pulsing with fear, tenderness, or cerebral calibration. Quite importantly, concept emerges from his verse through patterns, for the examined life gains dimension through fleeting symmetries perceived in broken vigils. This is the sensible effort of both poet and painter, discerning shades of a single color or depths of a solid substance, the refinement of perception rendered as personal triumph.”

Albano never stayed overseas for a long time to pursue studies. It was only in the late seventies when he went to the University of the Pacific in Stockton in California to fulfill a grant as artist-in-residence. He became director/curator of the museum spaces at the Cultural Center of the Philippines around 1970 when Roberto Chabet left seemingly in haste. While at the Center, aside from making art (painting, print, photography, performance, poetry), he planned, curated, and wrote about the different projects for the diverse programs of the space. In 1974, for instance, as director of the Museum department, he oversaw the following:

  1. The collections of Arturo de Santos and Potenciano Badillo. The de Santos collection consisted of archaeological pieces from trade ware to glass beads. The Badillo trove was largely built around the Islamic heritage, specifically of Maranao and Maguindanao lineage, to include musical instruments, weapons, and brass ware.
  2. The Main Gallery that presented retrospectives, surveys, and large exhibitions.
  3. The Small Art Gallery that hosted experimental exhibitions.
  4. The End Room, which was at the end part of the Main Gallery, that became a space for experimental chamber theater for “abstract theater pieces and hyper-realistic dramas.”
  5. The Thirteen Artists Program, a grant-giving scheme to artists engaged in innovative work.

Over and above these, Albano initiated publications like the Philippine Art Supplement and Marks; a program for the regions outside Manila like Los Baños and Baguio; and platforms for the image like “Carousel” (a slide-show project) and the exhibition Otherwise Photography. It is clear that Albano’s inclination was outward in terms of extending the prospects of form and engagement. The “outside” of the Center meant the art market, too, or any other entry point into the public. In fact, Albano was the curator of the early projects of the art gallery that would later be known as Finale Art File in the eighties, including Four Masters, Four Worlds.

This anthology does not dwell on these; the practice across the Albano years at the Center, from 1970 to 1985, is so exceptionally dense that it deserves a distinct study altogether. This is to ensure a closer reading of the efforts and to resist the temptation of conjuring hagiographies on supposedly patriarchal potentates of so-called conceptual art and further flatten the complexity of the Philippine art scene.

One wonders, in retrospect, what had shaped Albano’s mind. A conversation with his colleague, collaborator, and conspirator Judy Freya Sibayan would sketch out some contours. A deep wellspring was the popular culture around him, specifically of the graphic kind to encompass the komiks, posters, billboards. He was also fascinated with artists like the bricoleur Italo Scanga; the video, conceptual, sound, and performance artist Terry Fox; intermedia artists Lynda Benglis and Michael Snow; the conceptual artist Tom Marioni; among others. He read Art Forum often and was struck by the critical and curatorial work of Robert Pincus-Witten. To just constellate these trajectories is already a daunting task, so we leave it for later. It might, however, be germane to say at this point that Albano, while keen to interact with the contemporary art world whirling around him, was in touch as well with the wisdom of Philippine modernists like Hernando R. Ocampo and his superior at the Center, the musical artist and musicologist Lucrecia Kasilag. It should be instructive to study how Ocampo, Kasilag, and Albano conceptualized the “Philippine” in relation to the nationalism, the nativism, and the avant-garde around them. In this regard, we look forward to recovering and reading the manuscript titled “Things Change.”

This anthology begins and ends with Albano speaking, not really writing. First, he responds to questions posed by the art critic and artist Cid Reyes. Then, he interviews Fernando Zobel. Alongside his texts are some of his poster designs and the documentation of his installations as a curator at the Center. These are all the intimations of the artist-curator who has ceased to be mere imitator or native informant. Let the basic work of research (artistic biography and art history) and annotation (critique, theory, aesthetics) begin and take root. And do not forget the joy. Albano: “There must be more comedy in art.”

From Raymundo Albano: Texts. Download the whole book here.