header image


This is the blog of Ian Rosales Casocot. Filipino writer. Sometime academic. Former backpacker. Twink bait. Hamster lover.

Interested in What I Create?


Wednesday, June 22, 2022

entry arrow8:22 PM | In Dumaguete, The Arts Flourish Part 5: An Incubator for the Arts

In June 2021, two rooms on the second floor of 58 E.J. Blanco Drive—an art incubator founded by Sandra Palomar-Quan that shares a name with its postal address in Dumaguete—were converted into exhibition spaces hosting the first solo art exhibit of local urban artist Dyck Cediño.

The venue was a curious thing to take in, especially for Dumaguete locals: the house on that address is an old residential space built in a split-level style that was ubiquitous in the 1950s, and had recently been a massage parlor and spa with a yoga center that had closed right before the pandemic, and which then sat empty for some time before it became what it is now: a haven for artists.

That June, while the world still swirled in heightened concerns over the pandemic, 58 E.J. Blanco Drive was haven for Mr. Cediño, who goes by the artistic name of Deadlocks. He himself had once admitted that his current Dumaguete foray was an unexpected one, which was for the most part pandemic-induced. He was in Manila when the lockdown was announced in 2020, and had been making preparations to do the move back to the United States after graduating with a BS Physics degree and then an MBA from Silliman University. But the move was inevitably postponed by pandemic realities, and he quickly decided to hurry back to Dumaguete just before the borders closed. In the long lull that followed, he turned to drawing as a kind of salve from the pandemic boredom—which was something he had already been doing on the side while studying in Dumaguete. Later on, he established with like-minded friends a tattoo parlor near ABC Learning Center along Hibbard Avenue in Bantayan. The business, surprisingly enough, thrived even during the lockdown, and the drawings he was making on the side would come to constitute the bulk of the exhibition presented at 58 E.J. Blanco Drive.

The exhibit—self-titled “Deadlocks”—was very much an introduction into the art of someone we knew for so long as a tattoo artist and a skateboarder, an uncanny look into the mind of someone who thought of his art as something that “emphasize[d] spontaneity, the elimination of artistic expectations, and the urgency of the present.” That it was a surprise was itself not really a surprise—Deadlocks had long since considered himself an outsider in the art world, hence his embrace of not having any expectations at all with regards the machinations of that world, doing art as a spontaneous exercise of reflecting the world as he saw it in the moment. In that sense then, “Deadlocks” was a way for that world to take urgent notice without it necessarily being a calling card.

And notice that world must: “Deadlocks,” curated interestingly enough as paper pinned to the walls and as drawing notebooks lying about on several tables, was a thoroughly immersive trip that held bursts of wonders as one got deeper into each sketch and drawing—finding commonalities in styles, finding details that hinted of the artist’s evolution in his creative process, and finding themes that resonated again and again. From one drawing to the next, you could see the artist being arrested by several sparks of inspiration—a set of sketches depicting people on bicycles, a set of drawings that featured lines and shapes reminiscent of Picasso or Mondrian, a set of illustrations depicting “saints” with halos with telling details of not-so-saintly preoccupations. Then he sets upon those established parameters and pushes later drawings of those sets to another level altogether.

A work by Deadlocks

What I loved the most was a series that Deadlocks restricted to a small rectangular space right in the center of each drawing paper, depicting stark and surreal imagery in ink that recalled Biblical depictions of hell, various kinds of Armageddon, staircases to heavenly realms, the immaculate hearts of Christian dispensation, and other nightmarish landscapes. Their darkness and their humor collided to work as a biting commentary on our religious preoccupations and mindscapes.

Deadlocks’ exhibit was the physical manifestation and latest evolution of the work being done by Art/n23, a talent agency that caters to contemporary artists and designers from the Philippines—a partnership created by Ms. Palomar in Asia and Cristina Herfort in Europe. It was Art/n23’s first major exhibition after moving into 58 E.J. Blanco Drive, which launched the space into an art incubator at the height of the pandemic. But Deadlocks would only be the latest Dumaguete artist Art/n23 would come to represent at that time. A year before that, right before lockdown happened, it had taken the black and white photography of Dumaguete biologist Jean-Henri Oracion to Art Fair Philippines, where the works—a haunting photo series of trees being cut down for road-widening projects in Negros Oriental—became Art/n23’s centerpiece in the photo section of its booth exhibition.

In an interview with Adobo Magazine’s Arthel Tagnipez, Ms. Palomar said that Art/n23’s initial conception was meant to be “progressive,” designed to be a creative agency that “push[ed] the boundaries of what [art] space and [art] management [was],” while at the same time “[tackling] relevant issues on the current practice of art management and where it could be years from now by a creating a non-physical space that [was] more sustainable and accessible for the global landscape.” That was Art/n23’s origins—an online art space. With 58 E.J. Blanco Drive, it has found itself going for higher stakes—providing a physical space for artists, not just from Dumaguete, to create art, to teach art, to sustain artistry. In other words, a haven.

Sandra Palomar-Quan, a native of Antipolo City, Rizal, considers her work as a necessary juggling of three roles—multi-media artist, consultant, and researcher. After completing her BFA in painting from the University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts in 1992, she went to France to pursue work and further education, earning an MFA at the Paris American Academy in 1994, and then an MFA in intermedia/multimedia at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts [ENSBA] in 1998, winning the prize of its foundation in multi-media work in 1996. Returning to the Philippines, she became the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Manila from 2012 to 2015.

In her cultural work, Ms. Palomar has endeavored “to breach the gap between subject and experience in art, willingly participating in its dissemination through skills training and managerial projects.” This led her, in 2010, to establish a company, Palomar Fine Arts Services, in her hometown of Antipolo City for continued training of fine artists and art assistants. She has taught at the De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde, and has also organized exhibitions and contemporary art production projects for designers and visual artists, both local and foreign—honing a specialty in art production and the management of public and private cultural organizations.

Following the footsteps of a sister, a professor of biology at Silliman University, she moved to Dumaguete City where she currently teaches, as guest faculty, at the Fine Arts Department of Foundation University, starting in 2019.

She was drawn to Dumaguete because of its “slow pace,” its “down-to-earth, and peace-loving locals.” “Because Dumaguete remains human in scale, I found it a good environment to raise our daughter,” she says. “We can walk or bike for our errands.”

58 E.J. Blanco Drive Studios, formally the Palomar Fine Art Studios, was the offshoot of two projects she was pursuing: establishing a home for retired creatives, and founding an independent art center. “The first was born from a performative and conceptual art practice,” she says. “And the second [is] from an entrepreneurial practice in the arts.”

It was a longtime dream, stretching back to 2016, but “the key to its realization was finding a structure that already existed,” and which “could be occupied in a relatively short amount of time to become functional in the spirit of adaptive re-use.” Around that time, she and her husband were staying in an apartment at Amigo Subdivision, which quickly became a gathering place for local artists to talk shop—and also became the site of another business venture: Mister Saigon, a food delivery service that focused on Vietnamese food. After a failed attempt to collaborate with local government to find such a structure, they chanced upon the house in the present address, only a stone’s throw away from their Amigo residence. Finding it available for rent, they signed the lease—and 58 E.J. Blanco Drive Studios was born.

The drive to establish such a center sprang from a specific inspiration.

“I had a friend who survived an aneurysm after visiting Dumaguete,” Ms. Palomar says. “He was back to painting after a month into his recovery. Although he is disabled in some way, he symbolizes the people who inspire me and give me courage to make and support art that lies in the margins of the ‘scene’ and the market.”

“The biggest challenge now,” she continues, “is finding like-minded individuals who share a vision for a community of creatives who care for the environment, the differently-abled, and a sustainable future for slow and local food, products and practices.” Which is why she has designed the space “as a laboratory to achieve a self-sustaining cultural enterprise—the end goal being a common-use facility for artists and artisans.”

Mister Saigon, meanwhile, became a full-fledged restaurant, operating out of an old garage in the venue—and maintains a slew of faithful patrons who love Vietnamese food. The venture helps sustain 58 E.J. Blanco Drive Studios, which has also converted many of the compound’s tertiary spaces into studios for local artists as well as shops. At the moment, it houses the creative spaces for visual artists Sharon Dadang-Rafol, Iris Tirambulo-Armogenia, and Hemrod Duran, as well as a branch of Ritual, a “sustainable specialty store that serves as an experiment in biocultural diversity and waste reduction, selling local and interesting products without plastic bags or bottles, and with special attention on underutilized plants, food history, and ingredients,” ran by Bea Misa-Crisostomo, also a recent migrant from Manila.

The Palomar Fine Art Studios at 58 E.J. Blanco Drive

An art workshop with Iris Tirambulo-Armogenia

A nude sketching session with travel diva Angelo A. Villanueva

Today, 58 E.J. Blanco Drive Studios runs several arts programs, which it manages on site, including an open call studio grant [which since 2021 has hosted various creatives, including a writer from Manila and a fine arts students from Foundation University]; La Pièce Unique [a curated “one-wall, one-artwork, one-dish” event hosted quarterly in the venue’s salon, which engages the public to view art, taste food, and exchange friendly and critical discussion—and which has featured the works of Daniel Fabros, Totem Saa, Vincent Ardidon, and Jose Elvis Alaton, a deaf artist who works at Mister Saigon]; free introductory art workshops; year-end art and community bazaar; and various art events co-sponsored with partners in other cities [in 2021, they hosted extensions of Art Fair Philippines, VIVA Excon 16, and fotomoto.ph.].

In a sense, the pandemic helped bring about the fruition of 58 E.J. Blanco Drive Studios. “The pandemic allowed the creation of a co-working space that was much needed at a time of physical distancing and mental fracture,” Ms. Palomar admits. “Our stakeholders found meaning in coming together for the following reasons—to provide a context to gather and engage artists, designers, academics, cultural workers, and art enthusiasts in a safe space of camaraderie and collegial exchange, to increase the visibility of local artists’ work to a larger audience hors region by maximizing each other’s remote and online networks, and to bring awareness of events happening in other city centers and to physically introduce and present the work of artists based in and outside of Dumaguete.”

“The pandemic taught us that a ‘larger’ community is as susceptible to the effects of a crisis as much as a small one,” she continues. “It is important today to consider how any sizeable group of people can work efficiently and resiliently.”

For Ms. Palomar, the Dumaguete art scene is large enough to sustain something like this experiment in art incubation and art space. “[The scene’s] constituents require a kind of nurturing that requires attention to its specificity before we can ‘reach out,’ [and] I hope for 58 E.J. Blanco Studios that it finds the right balance between growth and creativity; that we do not participate in a simple-minded gentrification of an already fertile populace.”

The right balance between growth and creativity. This is what every art city, like Dumaguete, should always aspire for—and 58 E.J. Blanco Drive Studios is leading the way.

[To be continued…]

[0] This is Where You Bite the Sandwich