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The digital art museum that Filipinos deserve?

By SCOTT GARCEAU, The Philippine STAR Published Apr 18, 2022 5:00 am

Have you been to the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ 21AM website?

More than just an adjunct to the CCP’s art trove and cultural outreach, it just may be the digital art experience that Filipinos deserve.

21AM was envisioned, years back, as a way to rewrite and rewire Filipinos’ thinking on art, acquisition, and the process of creation. Its new name harks to the original 1969 CCP Art Museum, but it’s meant to be seen through a 21st-century perspective.

Navigate the online space.

Launched last EDSA Day (Feb. 25) with the unveiling of its first online art exhibit (“The Collection of Jane Ryan and William Saunders: Restitution in AR” by Pio Abad and Frances Wadsworth Jones), curator Marion Pastor Roces explained that this project was a long time coming. COVID and other hiccups moved the unveiling a bit later, but the site looks to reimagine how we think of Filipino art and culture.

“This is a space that grows with interaction,” its chief designer, David Loughran, says. “The hypermedia space helps bridge past and history, while helping us prepare for the future.”

Peruse the CCP Art Museum collection online.

Enter the website, and there’s a kind of A.I. narrative guiding you through all the features. Hop from page to page or use the arrow keys on your laptop or phone to navigate 3D models. It’s meant to be a treasure trove of past collections, reinvestigated and re-interrogated through a post-colonial perspective. Independent curator and cultural critic Roces worked with the CCP’s Visual Arts and Museum Division and CCP artistic director and vice president Chris Millado to design the accession system based on Roces’ curatorial guidance, and undertook preliminary conservation assessment of part of the CCP Collection.

As people start returning to physical spaces, including museums, 21AM sets itself up as something potentially much more: an online entity with a vast memory, packed with cybernetic futures. The entire CCP Collection of Modern, Contemporary, ethnographic and ethnomusicological art and cultural materials will be accessible in the near future on 21AM.

“Bulol Dancing Figure (Ifugao),” (66 x 18 cm, wood, CCP Collection.

Making all the data simultaneously viewable and updated online involved a custom-built accession record system design to consolidate the CCP Collection. The CCP says: “Museum data-basing conventions from the colonial period and old, now-untenable hierarchies such as the ‘art/craft’ divide were jettisoned in this new design.”

Roces promises that the site will question the “givens” in our culture. “No ‘givens’ will be given a pass,” she promises. Instead, 21AM focuses on the “process of making,” instead of merely when certain pieces were acquired. “You can immediately access all 4,000-plus items online in terms of how they were made,” she says. (I found this claim a little dubious; not all artworks seem to be available for viewing yet.)

Hypermedia links allow app users to place exhibit items in various locations and post.

A big push for the 21AM initiative was Filipinos’ perky online habits — up to 75 percent in the country are online an average of 11 hours a day. As the curator points out, “Filipinos now get most of their info from online, for better or worse.”

The original CCP Art Museum was known for “germinating a mid-20th century visual arts avant-garde.” As the CCP says, “conceptualism and installation art found its first avatars in the first directors of the Art Museum. Now, 50 years later, that history gives 21AM its core institutional memory.”

“The Collection of Jane Ryan and William Saunders” by Pio Abad and Frances Wadsworth Jones is viewable online.

But there’s a new digital landscape to play around with. 21AM promises to showcase new exhibitions (such as the amusing and informative “Collection of Jane Ryan and William Saunders”), permanent collection rooms (“The Collection”), hypermedia links (“Augmented Learning”), a 24/7 Chat Room, a Digital Human Rights Hub, a feature to curate your own collection online (“My Archive”), and possible NFT (non-fungible token) access in the future.

Victorio Edades, “The Builders,” (120 cm x 320.5 cm, oil on canvas, 1928, CCP Collection)

If there’s a guiding purpose behind this, it’s to expand Filipino understanding of its own art and cultural history, reflected through new disciplines. As the website puts it, “21AM opens the domain of art to the global arena where complex ethical issues surface in light of massive, technologically-driven shifts in the contests over truth.”

This is still a work in progress. Perhaps that’s part of the point. 21AM offers new ways to expand Filipino understanding of its own artmaking and explore its history. And being a free, online museum, there’s much more space to add those augmented layers of understanding. Infinite space, in fact.

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Visit 21AM website at