When I look back at the endless apologies and renegotiated deadlines I presented Zeus in development of this entry, I'm reminded of those turbulent days but also, it's revealed a precious kind of relationship, one like a smoothed skipping stone, without which I couldn't have fathomed to have made it this far. So firstly, my opening to this interview must reflect my sincerest gratitude for the illumination of support and my gushing admiration for one of the most genuine souls I know - Zeus Bascon.
In this interview are questions presented in an attempt to connect the currents of both our lives during this point in time. Honestly, I was looking for company in the dark and, like a moth to a flame, gravitated to the glistering sheen of silk and stitching found in these works of art. As alluded, this project has been crawling its way since late 2019. In the practice of facing my own demons, I have found myself in a magical pocket of time where, with retasos (remnant fabric) in hand, I learned that our darkness truths, when faced with pure intentions, shine through most beautifully.
To accompany the interview is a collection of images shot for Denuo for the collaboration pieces of
JAF Handicraft & Piña Industry with Artist Zeus Bascon. These images were taken in the dark, following only the light reflected - and maybe I'd be so bold to say that the same can be said about the kindness we must nurture within.
This interview took place on May 28, 2020.
Q: The first time I met you I became an instant admirer of your work. It’s been a few years since then and my affection has only grown. Could you let our audience in on the type of work you create?
A: Hi! :) It's been more than a decade I am practising as a visual artist and the works I am producing continue to extend: from illustration and graphics to paintings to objects, installations, and collaborations to photography, costume design, and the performative and then video. But in spite of the range of forms and disciplines, I consider myself a storyteller, creating images of the certain realities infused with the fantastical and the supernatural.
Q: I like to believe that there are indescribably magical instances when people find special connections with one another. I could always relate with your genuine visions and unrelenting determination to push forward through your work. It’s no easy task and sometimes, speaking from experience, sustaining self-confidence, and self-abundance is daunting. Where do you go, internally or even physically, to navigate meaning in the work you do?
A: Especially in recent years, creating art seems to have become more of a work than play and dreaming. There were some projects that required funding due to its scale and needed assistance with labour, these challenges of production need me to be really strategic with decisions in order for the idea to materialize, I move to an organized schedule of production and I tend to lose the vision during... I am lucky I have set-up a studio where I can be quiet for long hours and just look and retrace what has been accomplished. These kinds of projects I get to be surprised still after seeing the completion of the piece. I am grateful to have retained a sense of wonderment? Working with a team, in producing an artwork, would mean to me that I am being understood somehow (by the team members) and that is very important, it is hope.
Over the years, I have been practising constantly exploring in and out of the self as a way to find guiding questions as to where I am during, and it helps a lot to be reminded of the landscape that shaped my imagination and my being. It keeps me intact, and in a way helps me to narrate the present I am concerned with: whether it is about making sense of a dream, the signs the universe present, the unsettling situations we witness, or the current emotions I am dealing with.
Q: Lately, I believe more and more that maybe art isn’t at all meant to be understood. Whether you agree with this or not, how has your practice and creative life influenced your values and becoming as a person?
A: For me, Art has always been a mode of expression, all understanding and to have no understanding at all is okay, and to believe is to feel. Ever since I started, I have always written in my artist statement, " a continuous exploration of the self in order to determine the current state of being." And I am still learning and becoming. Especially now that I have come to accept layers of my self that I am starting to experience factors in life that have been impacting people in a chaotic stream of joys and sufferings, to seek for help when needed, to accept defeat and start anew, when to not accept defeat and must resist.
Q: Denuo’s had the privilege to document a collaboration piece you’ve done in 2019 for Sustainable Fashion awareness in partnership with Fashion Revolution Philippines on their project called The Walkthrough. Could you tell us what it is, who you worked with and what exactly are we seeing in this piece?
A: Yes, it was with Juler Fernandez of JAF Handicraft & Piña Industry, they produce handwoven fabrics of natural fibres such as Abaca, Cotton, Piña, and Silk, they are really beautiful! :) We think the exhibition would be the perfect opportunity to share the actualities of the weaving industry in Kalibo, Aklan. He is a visionary and has been making efforts to initiate changes in terms of how enterprises in their community can thrive amidst the limitations that are present within the regional. I am very thankful to Jaf for welcoming me and sharing with me the access he has to the local agencies and their activities.
The work we presented is titled Tawo-Tawo, it is an installation featuring an elegant coat made of handwoven Abaca-Silk blend fabric, in between the weaves you can see golden glittered tulle, and then lined with emerald green box satin - as a painting; a full-body armour made or fabric scraps as a practical means of creating a garment; and a slide of an editorial shoot located in a dumpsite accompanied by statistics produced during a road-mapping workshop regarding the weaving industry in Region 6.
Tawo-tawo is the Akeanon translation of the word scarecrow. Tawo means Tao in Tagalog. We wanted to present a plot where the human becomes the central figure of the destruction and rejuvenation of the issues we encounter at the present. Our collaborative effort illustrated the cycle of production and consumption of fabrics within the locality of Kalibo, and also produced an image of how can we engage ourselves in lighting hope to struggling communities, considering how the issues of the global fashion may have been impacting our own local industry.
Q: Your work spoke volumes and hit a cord with Denuo. Particularly, the magnificence you injected into misrepresented or undervalued materials, processes and ideologies resonates with our understanding of fashion. If I could be so bold, I’d say that insufficiency of artistic integrity contributes to the global “fashion problems”. What advice would you give someone looking to deepen their connection with their creativity and empower self-expression?
A: We began our collaboration with an image of a scarecrow, I remember we were doing sketches of garments as a representation of a Manananggal. We even tried proposing a billboard size print of a singular body in the middle of a burning piña plantation (digital fires of course). We were eager to make a singular image of a nightmare. But focusing on the problem rather than the material may blur one of our intentions of highlighting the sheen and the beauty of the fabric. What kind of hope can spark from something negative?
Going through the process of this project I look back on the many opportunities for us to know more. Fashion was definitely part of my interest but Fashion Revolution conducted a series of seminars that supplied us with a foundation on the issues we're about to tackle. The next 2 months, I spent living in Kalibo, with a series of workshops with entrepreneurs, seeing the many craft works they produce in the region, meeting with artisans, and people in charge of the local agencies. Every day was an opportunity to learn, I stayed in the training house where the sewing and fabric dyeing and meeting of clients happen and I can only be grateful for the experience Jaf has shared with me. It was overwhelming, especially towards the end when JAF Handicrafts was preparing for the Manila FAME. But it all was perfect timing since I get to know and observe how it happens there.
Not all of my projects undergo this process of engaging with people in a community. Most of my works are products of conversations with the self, as I go deeper within. Over a period of 1 year, Tawo-Tawo has been a conversation between Jaf and me; it is our mission for the community; and an attempt to merge art and fashion.
Q: As a Filipino, how has freedom of expression empowered you and how would you like to see it evolve?
As a person, I have never lost the will to create, as making art freed me from overthinking. As a Filipino, it made me find paths of origin through stories from our elders, illustrations, and materials I chance upon. Although I never did extensive research, it was my way of absorbing and let signs and patterns intertwine with my actualities. Although I am fond of imagining things, with a load of varying information coming it is hard to have a fixed vision - it gets moulded every time, even if you try to actualize that image, you still be forced to follow the changing of its form and that's what makes it exciting.
Q: Without a doubt, your piece is enchantingly unique. In reference to our times now when differences and distancing have become more apparent and problematic, would you have any insight on how we can connect with one another through art?
A: I have been creating works since the first day of this lockdown, I continued working on pieces that I have started/conceptualized months/years before. It is interesting to pick-up materials from different timelines and tries to make sense of them now. I think what this pandemic gave us in terms of creating works is the time to re-evaluate why we are making things. To take a break halfway and spend time looking at what you are making, it reflects you and then you'll see and then the work becomes you and that's what you share with others, your self.
Q: Finally, should you wish anything for those reading this or appreciating your work, what would that be?
A: To not lose hope. :)
As a representative of Denuo, I would like to extend a message of support to those reading this - reach out to us anytime. If there is one thing we've learned so far it is that a genuine and healthy community is our freedom and right.
Thank you to David Allan Olan Model, Byron Caldo and Babbie Borja Assist, SS Studios Set, and those involved.
Tawo-tawo by Zeus Bascon & Jaf Handicrafts
The Walkthrough by Fashion Revolution
To get in touch with Zeus Bascon, please feel free to send us a message to firstname.lastname@example.org or via comment below