Heights Ateneo — The Official Literary and Artistic Publication and Organization of the Ateneo de Manila University

BEYOND PANDORA'S BOX: 11th AHAW Sparks Hope Online

Natania Shay Du | Nov 23, 2020

The Ateneo HEIGHTS Artists Workshop (AHAW) continuously hopes to live up to its mission of honing artistic talent, promoting creative practices in the Ateneo, and organizing a platform for sharing insights in the arts through discussions with established artists. On its 11th year, however, in the thick of a global pandemic, the 11th AHAW was presented with unprecedented struggles and new standards to live up to.

Amid doubts on feasibility, AHAW was held on November 7 and 8, 2020 on various digital platforms. Ten Atenean artists were able to improve their individual crafts through a series of critique sessions, panel discussions, and lectures. AHAW’s theme this year zeroed in on human struggles and hope in the burdened realm of the artist, and how they must go beyond their crafts to share  it to others. The discourse that the 11th AHAW sparked encapsulated the hope at the bottom of the quarantined artist’s box—now made more accessible in a world that needs it.

On the night of November 8, the student artists, otherwise known as fellows, graduated from the program in the presence of the AHAW organizers and the panelists who guided them throughout their 2-day artistic journey. Following this will be the fellows’ culminating exhibition, which will feature their improved works set to release next year.

Art education: Coloring outside the lines 

Aside from the traditional practice of individual panel critiques, two pre-recorded lectures were posted on the Heights Ateneo Facebook page before the workshop. 

Gab Garcia, a comic creator and a senior designer at Brevo, spoke about the ins and outs of artist commissions based on his experience in taking on various types of commissions, ranging  from illustration and art direction to branding and motion graphics. On the other hand, Mia Lagos, a designer in creative agency, Cocomilk Studio, tackled the causes of creative block and tips on how to deal with it.

The Ateneo community was then free to comment on the posts with their own questions regarding the lecture. During the workshop proper itself, a subsequent Q&A session with the lecturer was held where the hosts raised the questions on behalf of the commenters. A recording of each session will be posted on the Heights Ateneo Facebook page.

As for the critique sessions, each fellow was paired with a veteran artist who was tasked to  spearhead discussions and mentor their fellow throughout the workshop. 

Feasibility within the limits of the screen

To combat the connectivity problems common to all online gatherings, the AHAW organizers also formatted the workshop in a way that it could address as many problems as they could hope to control.

Unlike the past 10 iterations of AHAW, the 11th could not bring the attendees to a remote location. The AHAW team split the sessions and the corresponding attendees into two batches that would only either meet in the mornings or in the afternoons. The asynchronous feature of the lectures also allowed more breaks between sessions, as the fellows were expected to have listened to the lectures at their own pace before the workshop proper. 

The organizers also held a Fellows’ Night to allow fellows and panelists to bond over digital games and activities. Some icebreakers and getting-to-know activities were also facilitated through group discussions on varied online platforms.

Discussions beyond composition

As much as the panelists’ critiques focused on the technical aspects of the  fellows’ works, their input ranged not only from learning and applying basic art fundamentals, but delved further into the non-technical side of art: using art as therapy, the amplification of an artist’s inner voice, and inner struggles of artists in  self-doubt, originality, and ideation.

From the first session alone, the panelists hammered down not only on insecurity as a whole, but also on the specific vulnerabilities artists are prone to, such as inconsistencies in style, the lack of a meaningful message, and how disappointing the difference may be between the viewers’ interpretation and the artists’ initial intent. One of the panelists, Alfred Marasigan, one of the founders of AHAW and an instructor at the Ateneo de Manila University Fine Arts Department, said “Art is a medium that benefits from failure. Confront your doubts, and create art [from those doubts] a thousand times over.”

On style, some panelists encouraged fellows to ignore the widespread perspectives on art that force them to prioritize technical perfection over the messages and emotions that inspire their work. Karl Castro, a multi-awarded independent artist and designer, advised the fellows to “let the emotion find the form it needs to be expressed in”. Furthermore, the panelists advised the fellows that they need not worry about a consistent style as of the moment, and should instead explore their craft in order to find whatever feels most organic to their message.

On interpretation and how viewers and artists don’t always meet eye-to-eye, Marasigan also explained, “Art is like a gamble in how it affects people. Some gambles are just more certain than others.” Panelists then discussed how the young fellows shouldn’t be disappointed when other people’s perceptions vary from their original purpose, but should use concepts like form and shape language, color psychology, and other specific piece descriptions to further help viewers discover the artist’s original intent.

The panelists also heavily encouraged the use of other artists’ works—both traditional and contemporary—as references to either hone their own art style, add a different layer of meaning to a piece, or explore new topics, subjects, messages, and perspectives. Tamping down doubts on originality, Kenneth Camaro, senior concept artist and illustrator who has worked at various film and video game companies such as Sony, Blur Vf, and Netflix, added: “Wala nang original ngayon. It’s all an iteration of something.” Panelist Camaro emphasized that, nonetheless, it is the artist’s voice and message that make a work unique. 

Beyond style and technique, the discussion also looked into the harsh realities of the creative industry, including the inaccessibility of art materials and formal art education. The panelists recommended using simple objects found in their immediate environments and other media-altering alternatives for young artists just starting their professional career. They also recommended a transmedial approach, which is going above and beyond the medium one is comfortable with, even going as far as to mix several of them together to create one artwork. They pointed out the methods of assemblage and photography as a way to get past that initial barrier without sacrificing their voice and message as creators, and suggest the artists slowly work their way up financially to go on to more expensive mediums.

Common among all critiques was an emphasis on the appraisal of the message behind each artwork, regardless of technical execution, medium, style, story, and perception. Varying intensity in messages—that is, messages that take on social issues and more “life-or-death” situations—did not matter as much as the commitment of the artist in executing any impassioned message in the appropriate medium. Marasigan takes this a step further by saying that “even the personal moments can be enough to find solace and consolation [when it comes to art].”

Hope: Out of the box      

Alyssa Gewell Llorin, the Associate Editor of Heights Ateneo, and director who spearheaded this year’s AHAW, carried out the project with hopes to continue “[helping] many generations of artists take one of their first steps into improving their craft and widening their connections in the field”, imparting these sentiments during the event’s opening remarks.

Co-directors Andrea Faustine Isaac and Brianna Louise Cayetano joined Llorin in fulfilling this vision. In a joint statement, Isaac and Cayetano expressed how they felt during the process of preparing and hosting the 11th AHAW: “It is definitely challenging translating a face-to-face workshop online. We definitely had to make sacrifices in order to give the same quality and results.” 

“I want to remind you of the main goal of this event,” Cayetano added. “We hope that you continue to learn new things that you can use to further yourself.”

During the fellows’ graduation, Heights Ateneo’s 68th Editor-in-Chief, Zofi Agama, extended her congratulations and thanks to all those involved in the workshop. “We hope that the workshop has helped you understand how to hone your capacity to wield art as a tool for self-discovery and as a tool to tap infinite potential,” Agama expressed.

In times of uncertainty, isolation, and darkness, the world must be reminded that hope remains—so long as there are people brave enough to take it out of the box and bring it into the lives of individuals still left in the dark. Artists, in their unique mission to find and create beauty in the world, may just be up to the task. 

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