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Bunga: What Remains After the Growth

by Aletha Zaire Payawal | May 19, 2020

In celebration of the Ateneo Heights Workshops’ milestone years, the culminating event’s co-directors Mikaela Regis and Dorothy Parungao, together with the founding facilitator and fellow for the 1st Ateneo Heights Artists Workshop Alfred Marasigan, share how the workshops were created, how the workshops have changed over the years, and how they envision the workshops’ roles in the artistic and literary community to endure.

The first ever AHAW in 2010.

The 5th AHAW in 2014.

The 18th AHWW in 2012.

Tracing the roots

In the field of creative writing, workshops have always served as spaces to unlock one’s potential in their craft, tapping into their inspiration and process in the company of fellow writers. Reflected in the yearly Ateneo Heights Writers Workshop (AHWW) is what this year’s AHWW co-director Dorothy Parungao believes to be its “enduring impact” of workshops: as a communal space, they allow writers to learn from each other. Parungao adds that learning becomes possible because “being in a workshop requires humility to be seen through your work”, with said works of the workshop fellows undergoing critique sessions facilitated by the workshop panelists. “I think the core belief upon which workshops are built is that creation is a process—and a responsibility,” Parungao says, as workshops draw from the fellows’ own creative voices and experiences, and at once allow these voices to be interrogated by their panelists, mentors, and peers.

Mikaela Regis, Heights’ current Associate Editor and director for the Ateneo Heights Workshops, explains how the past 25 years of AHWW have shaped the literary community in the Loyola Schools. Having been a fellow herself for the 24th AHWW, she attests to how the critique sessions drive both the panelists and fellows to exchange opinions and question their positionality—not only as writers but also as individuals immersing themselves in different perspectives and schools of thought.

Regis shares, “[W]alang fellow at panelist na hindi sumisibol dahil sa mga puwede nilang mapulot mula sa mga workshops.” (The workshops give opportunities of growth not just to the fellows but the panelists as well because of what they can learn from the workshops.)

Upon witnessing the creative environment fostered by AHWW, Alfred Marasigan, during his term as the Art Editor for Heights, says that he and the rest of the Editorial Board enjoyed the mentorship between the panelists and fellows—to the extent that they wanted to create the same space for visual artists. Marasigan then narrates how he and fellow Art Editor Jamie Bauza brought the project to life, “We wanted to follow the same guidance, but create a different format for the visual arts.” That is how the first ever Ateneo Heights Artists Workshop (AHAW) was established in 2010—a “response to the needs of the art community at the time” as it brought together practitioners from outside the school, and enabled both art-making and mentorship to strengthen the fellows’ creative experience and worldview.

It goes without saying that the workshops’ role in the development of artists and writers in their craft is not limited within the two to three days allotted for the event. Beyond the workshop proper, the contributions of AHWW and AHAW extend much further in the spheres of art and literature. Writers are given the chance to revise their works—all while keeping in mind the advice they have received from their respective mentors and the other panelists—before the works are submitted and published as a chapbook. Visual artists, meanwhile, are asked to create new works that reflect the input that had sprung from the critique sessions and individual consultations, with their art eventually showcased as a two week-long exhibit. 

The landscapes of art and literature are thus shaped by the workshops by “serving as a guide for the fellows to become familiar with their own creative processes, skill sets, and motivations, sharpening them until they are able to produce works that are cohesive and they can truly call their own,” Regis says. 

With AHWW now on its 25th year and AHAW on its 10th, it holds true that workshops have expanded the ways the fellows perceive their process, their work, and their role as artists and writers navigating this world. From Regis’ perspective, not only do the workshops enrich the possibilities for creating new works; ultimately, the fellows are also able to form new artistic identities. While such observations reflect the roots of why the workshops were created in the first place, equally notable, too, are the shifts and changes that AHWW and AHAW have encountered in its growth.

(L-R) Fellow Léane Povreau, panelist Alfred Marasigan, and fellow Juancho Luna in this year's AHAW.

(L-R) Fellow Anj Cayabyab and panelist Michael Coroza in this year's AHWW.

(L-R) Fellow Andie Villegas, panelist May Cardoso, and fellow Bern de Belen in this year's AHWW.

Tending to the shifting times and contexts

Given the fact that the critique sessions are ingrained in a framework where the works are presented for analysis and subject to scrutiny, it seems inevitable for the atmosphere to be stifling and tense. Yet Regis comments that in recent years, based on both her experiences and what past fellows, panelists, and directors have told her, the workshops have been steering clear of such expectations. In contrast, Regis notes that with the new generation of artists and writers whose priorities lie in fostering a healthier and more positive working environment, critique sessions have become a warmer and more pleasant experience. 

While keeping the discussions formal and professional is not necessarily something to avoid, Regis emphasizes that “a huge downside to this is how discouraging this could be to other students who aren’t as technically immersed in art, literature, and their works yet.” She firmly believes that this direction the workshops have been taking lends itself essential to ensuring that artists and writers not only create works that are humane, but that they get to interact with the art and literature community, too, with the utmost compassion and care.

Beyond the divide created by the formality and technicality critique sessions usually demand, there exists a roadblock specific to AHWW’s selection process. Parungao, as the co-director for the 25th AHWW, remarks that the past years have been met with a dwindling number of submissions written in Filipino. While the logistics of the deadline could explain the lack of Filipino submissions, this year’s AHWW team has dedicated itself to welcoming more Filipino writers—their close collaboration with Ateneo’s Filipino department and their emphasis on the workshop’s openness to students writing in Filipino during room-to-room call for applications are testaments to this endeavor. 

Still, within the context of AHWW’s selection process, Parungao notes a more subtle change that aims to rid aspiring student writers of their misconceptions—for instance, the belief that an applicant’s works have to be perfect in order to be selected for the workshop, which in itself defeats the purpose of workshops. Parungao stresses, “With [an] approach focusing on potential instead of craft, we received works exhibiting sincerity, loneliness, angst, discomfort, ambition, and many more, coming from freshmen and even superseniors.”

When it comes to AHAW, one palpable change in the workshop was how it expanded in scale. As one of AHAW’s founding facilitators and fellows, Marasigan points out that “[AHAW] became a bigger and more extensive avenue not just to network, but to also build rapport with people who have been practicing artists—ask them questions.” Much like Regis, he highlights the opportunity to bond informally with the mentors and peers, and how it does not take away from the professionalism crucial to workshops. “The connections that you make and the insight that you get from that experience are things that you integrate into your work,” he adds.

Recalling how the very first AHAW was held at Aerie, a venue near the Ateneo de Manila University’s residence halls, Marasigan contrasts this to how the succeeding workshop venues were usually out-of-town or in far-flung areas. But with this year being significant as AHAW’s 10th and AHWW’s 25th, the workshop directors have incorporated yet another major change—this time paying homage to the workshops’ origins by holding the events within Ateneo once again.

Regis cites the reasons for arriving at this decision as a team, one being the emphasis on the workshops as a learning opportunity—not to be considered as an extravagant event nor a fully-funded vacation. To scale down the workshop venue for this year meant that it was safer and more accessible to the fellows and workshop panelists, too. But the main reason lies in how the logistical adjustment allowed the corresponding workshop teams to reallocate their budget towards more urgent causes. To enrich the workshop experience itself, Parungao mentions that the reallocated portion of the budget went to additional lectures on art and literature.

As opposed to sticking to the original program with only one timely discussion on art and literature, the change has provided more room for discourse and interaction among the fellows and panelists. “For instance, we held three talks this year about focusing on the role of reading and writing in today's climate crisis (Christian Benitez), on the common myths of creative writing (May Cardoso), and on the possibilities of literature and creative writing in juxtaposition to the field of journalism  (Martin Villanueva),” Parungao explains.

But above all else, Regis calls attention to how this year’s culminating events for AHWW and AHAW have crawled into the digital space. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic and its subsequent quarantine guidelines, what were once live readings of the AHWW fellows’ works and a public display of the AHAW fellows’ artworks are now restructured for virtual platforms such as Heights’ official website. While Bunga embodies the culmination of artistic and literary excellence through the AHWW Zine Launch and AHAW Online Exhibit, it signifies what remains a bigger task after a bountiful harvest: the cultivation for the bigger future that lies ahead.

The 5th AHAW in 2014.

The 22nd AHWW in 2017.

Cultivating the future

Bunga’s shift to the virtual space means a live performance of the written works and a physical exhibition of the visual arts from all the fellows are no longer possible, but workshop director Regis views the optimization as something to consider for the future workshops. 

“[I]f there is some good that came out of this huge adjustment, it’s that we were able to realize and explore the multitude of possibilities in making art accessible not just to the LS community but anyone who has access to the internet. Mas marami na ngayon ang makadadanas  sa mga likha ng mga fellows, at ‘yun sa palagay ko ang pinakamahalaga sa lahat.” (There is a bigger audience who can now experience the fellows’ works, and I think that’s the most important thing.)

This matter of accessibility presents itself as a series of critical questions for Parungao as well: “What if we could open the workshop sessions to more people through live online videos? What if we could invite guest lecturers who are usually abroad? What if we could immerse the LS community in a cross-cultural dialogue with regards to art and literature? I think virtual platforms can also help us contextualize the Philippine arts and literary scene in a wider context, i.e. Southeast Asia.” In the context of geopolitical spaces, she considers virtual platforms as a prelude to a wider, deeper expanse of discourse on art and literature—and Bunga being an online launch is the first step towards that.

The workshop co-directors recognize a lot of potential for restructuring AHWW and AHAW for the coming years to better address the community’s needs for the creation of more art and literature. Among these are the possibilities to further unfurl the workshop’s reach: to include not only the Loyola Schools community but outside the university itself, getting in touch with artists and writers of all ages; to become “more adventurous” in accommodating rich, diverse perspectives by inviting panelists outside of Metro Manila; to be more accepting of aspiring artists and writers who may not be technically familiar with art and literature yet, but may reap the most benefits out of joining the workshops.

Now more than ever, Bunga situates itself as a response to the changing needs of a world that has transformed from largely physical to increasingly virtual in the midst of a crisis—and at once a representation of what it means to make meaning out of this new, unfamiliar space we find ourselves in. Bunga asks questions that are, fundamentally, both exciting and terrifying: How can art and literature still instill radical hope in these turbulent times? How can art and literature serve as avenues to create and accept the colossal changes our lives now demand from us?

For Parungao, “art and literature are instrumental in making us reimagine the ‘new normal’ as a better, persisting world—where there are humane labor conditions, inclusive policies, and genuine human connections transcending physical borders.” 

Bunga thus becomes more than a culmination of what has transpired and what has been fostered from the workshops. The cycle of growth continues as we cultivate a better future—one where artists and writers choose to do something good with what they create and in turn, influence the construction of a more humane reality, a more just world.

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