Interview via E-Mail
July 19, 2014
Rachel Ishikawa, CA+T Interviewer
Tim Manalo, Artist
Rachel Ishikawa: When did art begin for you?
Tim Manalo: Art began for me at a very young age. Before I was able to attend grade school, I would draw animals, squiggly creatures, and cartoon characters and tape them up on the living room wall with my brother and cousins. My dad also worked at an office supply company, which helped me exercise my creativity and imagination. He was able to get discounts off items at the company’s retail stores for my brother and I, so we always had pens, markers, and paper available at home.
Around the time I was ten, I was obsessed with making crafts. I would always ask my mom to buy me materials at the local arts and crafts store, and then follow the step-by-step projects from the craft making shows I watched regularly. I would also ask for craft kits from my relatives to give to me as birthday gifts and Christmas presents. There were many nights of staying up past my bedtime hot-gluing magnets on the back of felt animals and decoupage-ing tissue paper. My parents have this red panda toy in their house that I made out of pom-poms (pom-poms I also made myself). The head was made out of a single pom-pom with red on the top and a black and white face. I’m still not sure how I was able to make that when I was that age. Every time I see it I’m reminded of that period of my life when all I wanted to do was make crafts.
As I got older, my interest in art took on different forms. In high school I once aspired to be a comic book artist and familiarized myself with all the well-known comic book artists at that time. I would try to develop my own style of drawing by looking up the portfolio websites of these artists whenever I would come home from school. But eventually working with my hands would find its way back when I enrolled at the Ontario College of Art and Design – now known as OCAD University. Originally I planned to major in drawing and painting, but I didn’t have much exposure to sculpture in my high school art classes, so I switched to sculpture and installation instead. I found that fabrication and thinking three-dimensionally is what I’m best at and prefer more than any other art form.
RI: What is your creative process when you approach a new piece? Do you return to certain sources of inspiration?
TM: Yes I do, but I don’t consider them as sources of inspiration. They’re more like notes for possible future art projects. Back when I was a student in art school, I made a habit of writing down ideas that would come to me at any given moment. These notes ranged from drawings, to physical descriptions, to titles. They would usually come to me after reading an interesting book, article, or essay; or from a conversation I had with a friend, or simply from noticing something in everyday life. Sometimes it would even be a mixture of all these things.
When I first started taking these notes, they were always so scattered and random. Over time, I gained better control and [now] only focus on the ones I’m itching to do. There are a lot of steps that follow the initial abstract idea until I get to the fully realized piece, especially considering the kind of sculptural work I do. I need to choose the materials, make a mould, think of how it will be installed, etc. I like to think conceptually, so there’s always a lot of questioning and research I need to do before I can go ahead with the fabrication part. It’s easy to be distracted by the entire process of art making, which is why I find it important to look back on those notes and stay true to that original idea.
RI: Your piece entitled Balut, featured on CA+T’s Food Worlds exhibition, addresses issues of food, culture, and diaspora. I think that food, in particular, is a common source of embarrassment for people of a diasporic community. When did the switch occur for you: from shame to thoughtful discourse?
TM: The moment I was aware of the differences between the food I ate at home and the food the majority of people around me were eating, I found Filipino food to be embarrassing. When I was a kid, everyday life consisted mainly of cable television and school, and [these things] were not supporters of the food that I ate at home. In television no one had rice on their plate with ulam [viand] on top of it, and neither did most kids in my elementary school. Although I grew up in an area with many Filipino families in the neighbourhood, I felt awkward when I would see them eat Filipino food in public. When one of them would bring Filipino food for lunch, the other students would often complain about its smell and how it looked. Admittedly, it bothered me too, but only because it didn’t smell and look as appetizing as it would when freshly cooked. I applaud these former classmates now for bringing menudo [pork stew] and lugaw [rice porridge], but I would never bring food from home for lunch because of the way my other classmates would react to it.
Also, to find a Filipino ingredient like bagoong [fish paste], one would have to go to a Chinese grocery store known for pungent smells and poorly packed products. Filipino food was not like [the] brand name items of the local supermarkets nor was it anything similar to the dishes in fancy restaurants. Filipino food was not as acceptable as the mainstream North American food like mashed potatoes or Salisbury steak. Not to mention the kamayan style of eating with your hands which seemed so barbaric compared to the way food was eaten around me with forks and spoons. It is said that Filipino food has connotations of dirtiness and is often the reason for this embarrassment. But I think it’s more rooted in class status, and new immigrants are usually in the lower working class. In addition, class status already has a lot of weight within Filipino social circles, so there’s always that fear of being judged.
Growing up I was never shy to talk about the kind of food my family and I would eat at home. It was funny to tell friends that they eat dogs and duck fetuses in the Philippines. The shock of these things was often used as the gimmick of Filipino culture. It was sort of a gross joke. But in turn, it also meant I was a joke! It wasn’t difficult to realize later on how condescending it was for most non-Filipinos to laugh at and objectify cultures like that. Being critical was a way for me to deal with this, and as an artist I was able to do it through my work. My hope with Balut is for those who can relate to that shame speak openly about their experiences and extend the discussion.
RI: Balut features a yellow backpack ensconced on a wooden board. The result is the juxtaposition of the childish with the adult and masculine. Is there a connection here?
TM: It never actually occurred to me that this piece could evoke masculinity. I wanted to evoke the elementary school kid through the backpack and the primary crayon yellow. The wood backing was mainly for practicality. I needed the bag cast to be mounted on something so that I can install the electronics at the back and be able to easily hang the whole piece. It wasn’t something I thought to be adult and masculine, although I can now see how someone would go there. Carpentry is usually male dominated, and wood is rough and heavy, so it makes sense. But I feel like carpentry nowadays rarely resonates as such. The use of wood in the design world can be quite feminine, if not unisex. I’m noticing that the current trend is reclaimed wood furniture treated and finished to look smooth and pretty. Not to mention the popularity of wood jewelry among the downtown hipsters. Wood for me is very gender neutral.
RI: In your artist statement for AutoBody, a series of sculptural car fragments, you discuss how the body and spirit are existentially separate entities. Akin to a driver and their car, the spirit maneuvers the body. Particularly in diasporic communities that are marginalized by the hegemony, agency over one’s body is extremely empowering. Could you speak on this in relation to your work?
TM: For sure! AutoBody was made back when I was still at OCAD, and then later I created another iteration of it a couple of years after. But at both of those times, I wasn’t thinking about the body in relation to marginalization. I was thinking more about the impact of two vehicles colliding and capturing it in a way that is sensually felt, rather than violently hit. At the time, I was also very interested in Cartesian dualism and was trying to apply this philosophy to everyday life. The result was the concept for AutoBody. But aside from this piece, the body has often been a recurring point of reference in my work. I did this one piece called, Virtual Model, which is a wall-mounted sculpture of an armchair. I took a dollhouse armchair and had it 3D scanned, then I digitally modified it on a prototype modeling program and had it 3D printed into a life-sized armchair. That piece was about existing in digital and physical spaces. And then there’s Balut, the resin cast backpack, like the armchair, is also an object that suggests the body.
I was always interested in the body ever since I liked drawing as a kid. In my adolescence and before entering art school, the figure was my favourite subject to draw. Eventually, it turned into my favourite topic of discussion when I entered university. Since completing school, I’ve been more educated on marginalization and POC (people of color) issues. I believe that my work is indicative of that through work about the body in general to work that centres more on being Filipino. I realized the need to reference my background as a Filipino in my work, especially since I find that [Filipinos] are often underrepresented in many leading art institutions. I’ve been trying to do this by using Tagalog words as my titles. Balut has been shown in group exhibitions before through non-community arts organizations and spaces, and it’s been extremely empowering to have its Tagalog title read aloud by those attending the show. As I continue my art practice, I want my Filipino identity to be more transparent.
RI: Most of CA+T’s featured artists live in the U.S. or outside of North America. Does coming from Canada play a role in your work? Why or why not?
TM: I think coming from Canada does play a role in my work, even when I don’t intend it to. It once mattered to me that my Canadian identity be shown in my work and that I include something that would allude to some sense of nationality. But when I would try to get [labeled as] “Canadiana,”1 I would usually get “Filipino” instead and talk about my Filipino upbringing. My Filipino upbringing comes from a Canadian context, so coming from Canada is present in my work. I know it to also be quite different from one in the U.S. and especially the Philippines. In Canada, the community is still quite new, so rarely would you find a third-generation Filipino in their mid-twenties. Also, many of the Filipinos who migrate here have done so through a foreign worker program where one member of the family is brought over and then reunified years later with the rest of the family through sponsorship. Any work I produce that addresses my own sense of otherness or displacement is based off of these experiences and conversations.
RI: You are one of CA+T’s youngest featured artists. What can we expect from you in the near future?
TM: Next month I’ll be working on a project with Philippine-based performance artist, Carlos Celdran, in partnership with the Kapisanan Philippine Centre. In the Philippines, Carlos Celdran does a tour through the city of Intramuros in Manila and gives a historical breakdown of each area in relation to Philippine history as a whole. The tour is called “If These Walls Could Talk,” and he will be doing a version of the tour in Toronto in early August. We’ll be going through the downtown area’s landmark neighbourhoods in which the audience will pretend to walk through Intramuros with sets and props I’ll be creating specifically for this version of the tour.
1Editor’s note: Manalo clarifies that “Canadiana” describes art that references iconic aspects of Canadian identity, whether in landscapes (Group of Seven, Emily Carr) or animal images. Douglas Coupland, according to Manalo, exemplifies Canadiana.