Updated 17:31 PM PHT Fri, March 3, 2017
Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — If New York is the city that never sleeps, Manila has been staying up right along with it.
Comprised of “16 cities and a municipality,” Metro Manila is a megalopolis inhabited by 12.88 million people in a land area of just 237.04 square miles. In spite of the many problems and issues it faces, from the high poverty and crime rates to the high structural precariousness of the supercity, to sketchy politics and economics, there is no shortage of fun to be had in Metro Manila — you just have to know where to look.
Artist and patron Valeria Cavestany has looked in all the right places with “No Chaos No Party,” a book envisioned by her, and edited by writer and curator Eva McGovern-Basa. It features 28 different artists (including Cavestany herself) living, working, and existing in Metro Manila today. The book is a fascinating mishmash of these wildly different identities essentially informed by the same general environment, and yet connecting with, perceiving, and producing from it in very divergent ways. The featured artists work with varying mediums, from paint to collage to dance and photography, among others.
Cavestany and McGovern-Basa, the latter of which has been based in Manila for the past four years, previously worked together in Manila Contemporary, a contemporary art gallery along Pasong Tamo Ext., and upon its closing in 2014, McGovern-Basa was approached by Cavestany to work on a book. “The hellish omnipresent traffic became effortlessly the narrative thread,” Cavestany says. “Our lives are shaped and spin around how to beat the traffic. Exhibits are at unusual hours and days to beat the traffic. And when we cannot beat it, we just adapt and take [the] opportunity to party in the street.”
McGovern-Basa jumped at the chance to produce a “dynamic, exciting publication” that promoted some of the artists in Manila and also had the potential to “champion the importance of books as a vessel of knowledge and something that had the potential to be an art object in itself.”
Since then, McGovern-Basa and her project manager, Oliver Ortega, have been hard at work, interviewing all of the artists in their studios “from Parañaque to Quezon City, Taguig, Malabon, and Makati,” collecting hours of interviews with questions on each artist’s process and relationship with the city, their thoughts on art education, their mentors, views on things like religion and politics, each of them transcribed and translated into “a raw text of 12,000 to 15,000 words.” Every interview is edited to about 1,500 words, then accompanied by images of their work and photographs of their studios and portraits all taken by MM Yu (also a featured artist).
Despite the challenge of putting together a book that is at the mercy of busy artists and the challenge of Metro Manila’s geography, McGovern-Basa calls this experience amazing to have been a part of, as it became an alternative type of art history and education for those involved. “Artists are special and they see the world in alternative and wonderful ways,” she says. “So to provide a platform for their thoughts and to hear their stories first hand is a privilege.”
The title, “No Chaos No Party,” is what Cavestany calls a metaphor for “the incredible adaptive spirit of the artists in the Philippines.” Interested in the chaos theory, particularly Edward Lorenz’s “the butterfly effect” from 1972, Cavestany insists that the same is true for Metro Manila. “[Initial] conditions and small perturbations are very important in chaos,” she says. “So initial conditions here are important in what sort of art we make.”
The deliberate decision to structure the book in a Q&A format mimics a “behind the scenes glimpse into their lives,” akin to a studio visit. “[This] is the best experience for us curators, going and seeing how artists live and work and talking to them in their own environment,” McGovern-Basa says.
Numerous meetings were had with Inksurge, the design studio charged with bringing this concept to fruition, to develop each artist section individually, “because this book is about people, about artists, so the human element, both in text and design was very important to us.”
Inksurge is a design studio based in Pasig, Metro Manila, known for creating visual identities, developing websites, and making other design oddments for establishments and brands like Toby’s Estate Cafe, Bea Valdes, and Yabu.
Founded in 2002 by Rex Advincula and Joyce Tai as “an experimental playground of our collaboration,” Inksurge organically became a design studio. Today, they have expanded to include Kevin [Enriquez], Kristel [Vinoya], and Stella, their bull terrier.
“No Chaos No Party” is the first book they designed — a visual wonder with all of its popups, pullouts, artist-specific layouts and frenetic energy, falling in line with the character and atmosphere of Metro Manila. With the book, Inksurge was able to design a convincing portrait of Metro Manila, as seen through its artists and the different ways they inhabit it.
CNN Philippines Life spoke with Inksurge over email about the process of making the book and what sets it apart. Below are edited excerpts from the interview.
When you were approached to do “No Chaos No Party,” what kind of book did you visualize making, and how different is it from the one it turned out to be?
We started brainstorming in September 2014. Our initial idea was to design and lay out the book with a lot of details and involvement from the artists included on the list. We based that from the objective of our principal: that it needs to be different from any other local art books. It needs to show the colorful and chaotic side of artists residing in Metro Manila.
We visualize it as something more than a traditional art book. We wanted to incorporate it with a designer’s point of view. We showed Eva, our editor, a lot of the design books that we like.
Initially, we had a series of survey questions so we can interpret them as infographics. And there were supposed to be more photos of the location where the artists regularly go to. Most of the responses are lacking substance, so we scrapped the idea.
Also, we wanted to use different papers, depending on [the] artist’s medium, with a lot of inserts (such as stickers and stencils, among others), but we had to consider a lot, such as the time collecting the materials, the consistency of requirements, and printing technicalities and production.
The finished product was more consistent to what [we had in mind] from the beginning: we opted to use one good paper quality. The only big change from our final product was that there should be a slip-case with the map of the Metro Manila that you can poke out and get a glimpse of the cover. It was dropped last minute before [the book] went into production.
I feel like you're most known for your web and branding work, and I noticed you patterned each artist's section, somewhat, on their art and ethos. How different is this process from your usual process when working with brands and businesses?
Many, many years ago, we did a lot of art catalogues for The Drawing Room Gallery. That was our first exposure to working with artists, which many people are not aware of.
You’re right; we had to consider their style of work. Working with the artists, we needed to know which artist would allow us to deconstruct their images. We respect their work a lot, and we don’t want to send a bad message when you dissect their work.
That’s the difference against the process when working with a branding project, we are the one setting rules for them.
What message did you want to come across, at least in terms of design?
As graphic designers, there has been a lot of involvement from our side that required a lot of expectations from our editor, our principal, and the artists themselves. We really immersed ourselves into the project and adapted to what kind of materials we received.
We went through all the images, listened to all audio interviews, collected some of their personal things and handwritten notes, and designed their pages based on [all of] that.
Aside from the design, there was also the collaborative work between the printer and the designers, such as the development of the pop-up, the process of the holographic cover and paper choices.
Designing this type of book is really exciting, because there are no guidelines to follow, no templates — chaotically beautiful.
What or whose section was most fun to work on?
The most fun sections are those who made effort in submitting hand-written types, sketches and journals, personal things, and gave us a lot of hi-res textures we can work on. You can easily see it in our layout on who did that.
How has the reception of the book been?
We are very grateful to the artists who approached us and told us we did a good job in terms of the design and execution of it. They said they were very happy to be part of the book. There is always a difference between graphic design and art books, but somehow we tried to merge them on this first book we ever did.
Artists featured in the book are Poklong Anading, Renato Barja Jr., Valeria Cavestany, Lena Cobangbang, Francis Commeyne, Louie Cordero, Vermont Coronel, Leslie De Chavez, Dex Fernandez, Carlo Gabuco, David Griggs, Gino Javier, Eisa Jocson, Romeo Lee, Jose Legaspi, Pow Martinez, Maya Muñoz, Wawi Navarroza, Manuel Ocampo, Christina Quisumbing Ramilo, Iggy Rodriguez, Peewee Roldan, Mark Salvatus, Kaloy Sanchez, Gerardo Tan, Ryan Villamael, MM Yu, and Maria Jeona Zoleta.
“No Chaos No Party” is available at Aphro, Karrivin Plaza, 2316 Chino Roces Avenue, Makati City and at artbooks.ph.