Tuesday, December 20, 2011

A Full out Day of reTrashing

So, as many of you know, I've opened up a laboratory here in the mountain-perched village of Sabagan. My lover Bianca and I have been experimenting with transforming what is commonly know as Trash into our living accouterments in what was our bare house.

The house, has turned into a virtual laboratory. Studio or house is no longer the word. We've been delving deep into the requisite conceptual shift to see trash not as trash but rather something immensely practical.

We've been making some dazzling discoveries.

Today, I opened up the house to show the village youth and a mother's group our discoveries. The type of creations we are making out of trash are imminently salable products. Knowing how to make this stuff is an awesome livelihood skill for these out-of-school youth and unemployed mothers.

Fun! Here they are learning to cut bottles to make glasses, vases, ash trays, etc. We're all excited! Tomorrow everyone comes back for more.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Poverty as a Creative Opportunity

A living on the street in Manila receives a heart shaped banana pancake in a decorated banana leave sleeve.

I've been reflecting alot on my art practice in the last year. I have been doing art (which is usually for rich people) in one of the most materially poor countries in the world.

What is poverty exactly?

When it comes right down to it, poverty is a perspective, personal or collective on one's financial, material or existential state. Yep, that's what I am saying: fundamentally, poverty is an idea, a label-- a belief even. It is the idea you are lacking something that you should have or need.

Now, many spiritual folks will debate that this is in fact possible: Our moments are our perfect creations and we have all that we need Here in the Now. Poor people however, will urgently disagree, "I could really could use some food/money/gas right now!"

Such thoughts of lack however provide an opportunity to the other-- the neighbor, you and me. It is the opportunity for generosity, magnimitty, goodness, love. Poverty is an opportunity for the you and me to provide those immersed in need, precisely what they feel they lack. The condition of poverty is the perfect correlate for it's polar opposite to express itself: abundance and generosity!

Yet relieving another's need can be peformed in different ways. Giving can be cold and mechanical-- a welfare check from the government in the mail. Or it can be full of creativity and colour-- a gift wrapped in a hand painted paper and encircled with flowers. It can be about admelioring societal statistics, or it can be about creatively embracing the unique nuances of a person or people's existential state. The later takes time and imagination of course-- like a good painting. Truly, it is not so much about the material provided, but about the way of giving-- the way one expresses abundance to the other. As such, giving becomes an art. As such, I dare say, poverty becomes a blank canvas of artistic opportunity.

In this way the antiquitated verb 'to bless' gains relevance. In the way that The Lord would 'bless' a person or people with particular abundance, so too can we artfully address poverty with profound, poetic and luminous blessings of creativity.

This is even more so when we unite together to collectively and creatively express light to the shadows of lack and poverty. When two or more join together to craft and weave a blessing, the effect gains luminosity exponentially. Through socially media, an unprecedented opportunity presents itself for social co-creative blessings.

Such blessings are like a soft and colourful tapestry woven by a village to lay over a neighbour's rough and jagged floor. The co-creative expression that is woven for poverty has the opportunity to attain the highest ideals of beauty. For this is a tapestry woven not out of threads of cotton or silk but of hands joined together in a common task. The primary colours that form the expression are not red, blues and green, but instead joy, connection and oneness.

I can see it now, one day in the not so distant future, things will be alot more harmonious here on planet Earth. The enlightened humanity ahead of us will shake their heads with envy at our era. "There was so much poverty back then!" Poverty will then be seen clearly and valued for what it is. "They had so much glorious opportunity to manifest the most beautiful things and express love so colorfully!"

I am smack dab in the field here. Drop me a line if you'd like to help co-create.

Jaffari gives the Japanese ambassador an origami lotus flower made out of his youth group's prayer for the Japanese people after the 2011 Earthquake.

Completed! The Women of Gilbraltor neighborhood, Baguio, Phillippines pose with 113 coasters made entirely from recycled and woven trash (sachets from chips and other corporate food). These Trashure coasters are next their way to a Fair Trade store in Germany. Orders like this inspire massively here in the cities, jump-starting community recycling and, most of all, getting folks to think differently about garbage.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Building a re-Home

My lover Bianca and I have decided to undertake a novel challenge.

We have been laying the ground work to manifest another library project in the village of Sabagan for the last month. The library is to be built using recycled bottles. Bianca and I will be moving there in the next two days to fully apply our expertise to the project. The mayor, councillors, the guide association and schools are getting very excited by the project we are proposing. They are keen to get the community recycling going and with the "trash" that flows in, build their library.

But our moving there is the easy part. Getting settled is another matter! We'll be moving into a completely empty house. We'll be bringing our backpacks with nothing but our cloths and living gear. And... our creativity.

You see, we are going to make our furnishing from trash. Our chosen house, is located right beside the library site and the town recycling depot. The depot is there but the community is not yet using it. I will be working with all the community schools to jump start the project. Soon the recycling depot will be filled with all sorts of exciting and sorted items.

And... We're going to build our home! Yep. That's our self imposed challenge! We're going to build everything from our couches to mats to mattreses using recycled materials.

You can follow our village adventure and more of my Trashured discoveries (trash > treasure) on this new Facebook page that I have setup.


Friday, November 11, 2011

Creative Destruction

I am reminded from my early fire painting days that destruction is the beginning of creation, failure the requisite passage to success, a problem the spark of solution. The best and most meaningful beauty is shorn of the fires of tribulation, trial and test.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Failure. Complete.

Well, it's official. I feel like a total failure. It is October 8th. I've been trying to return to Canada for a year to be at my little brother's wedding. And, I am here in Sagada. I havent been able to pay one 400$ bill and get my visa right. People keep offering my tickets, but thats even more depressing because i cant do shit with the offer. I've tried working here but the wages are so low that I get sick and my savings are all wiped out.


I DO have all sorts of great projects blossoming. Alas they have all failed to flower in time to see me back. To get a sustainable and profitable local/global business going takes at least a year.

So what the hell? Is it Bad luck? Bad planning? Complete Moral failure? These conclusions and condemnations wallow my mind in a mire. I write about them lightly, yet in truth they hang about me like dead weights, dragging down my I initiative and enthusiasm like some convict thrown over the boat with a ball chained to his ankle.

I am so sad I can't be there for my little brothers wedding. I think that's the worst of it. I feel like I am letting him and my whole family down.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Typhoon Survival with Chicken Soup

A massive typhoon has just passed over the Northern Philippines. It hit here really hard. The winds and rain have knocked out the power, the cell service, trees and more.

But, the folks here are used to such things! Already things are returning to normal. Alas, landslides have blocked all roads connecting the town back to the rest of the world. My friend Federico, who has been visiting from Manila, will have to stay another night!

Bianca, Federico and I spent yesterday inside the house as the ferrocious wind battered the hills, houses and trees. We watched from the cozy comfort of the balcony doors as it blasted branches away.

The brown-out evening was spent cooking a warm and spicy chicken soup together with a couple bottles of beer. We enjoyed our cooking over candle light, then gathered around a fire in the fireplace to sip our hot chocolate and tell stories while cuddling on the couch. Well, just Bianca and I enjoyed that last one!

It's a great thing that Federico brought so many great books up for the Guina'ang library project. We've been testing them out. What a pleasure to curl up in doors and read one wonderful book after another! Some amazing children's books have been donated.

The generator at the hospital is working. Hopefully, their wifi is to and I can post this.

Saturday, September 24, 2011


Woven Straw Mat. This is a new art medium my Dutch friend and I are exploring: Co-Creating with villagers canvases and products out of used drinking straws.

My new Dutch friend Maartin has been visiting Bianca and I here in Sagada. It's perfect timing because Bianca and I have just moved into a gorgeous new house with lots of room, a great kitchen and living room complete with grand balcony and hearth. It's one of the nicest houses in Sagada. I am pleased to say that Maarten has been entertained in great style!

Maartin has been searching for business opportunities in the Philippines. For nine months he came up short. Then he met my friend Muriel who told him about our trash art endeavors here in the North. He made the 14 hour trip up to talk business.

And talk business we did! We have all sorts of exciting ideas on leveraging recycling, community manufacturing, and our international connections.

He returns to Holland now and shortly I return to Canada. We'll see what we happens!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Trash for Sale

My exhibition at the Baguio Museum ends this week. The two small paintings have sold but not the big one (4ft x 2.5ft) Price 1100$. It is made by the trash weaving women in Natonin. The frame is custom constructed to be easy to assemble and dissemble. Orders welcome! Drop me a line.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Luminal Deliveries

Phew! I have returned from three weeks of Jedi traveling between villages. I have Wifi and can now at last post some pictures of the luminal deliveries, cocreations and connections that occurred as I passed through this particularly impoverished and disconnected region of the Philippines that sees no tourists or foreigners.

Several folks have made trash painting purchases in the last few weeks. These purchased enabled these three weeks of luminal deliveries. I promised these patrons some photos of where their money is going.

Here we are!

Some of the ladies who do the weaving for the trash bags and canvases that we've been selling, live in the remote village of Natonin. There's no banking here! I passed and was able to pay them for the items that have sold. I was able to give them new designs, and get them started on new orders for Holland and Canadian markets.

I was able to make a two hour side excursion to BNTAS Highschool. I had been invited to their crazy remote and challenged school. With zero art supplies the students all worked with trash and plants to build these amazingly beautiful Mandalas. I was also able to buy various tools for them to use in future recycling projects.

I was able to make a second visit to the Paracelis National Highschool on my journey back. I saw to the completion of this giant mosaic mandala with the 2nd year highschool class. Here I pose with the teachers who hosted me and with whom I lectured in their classes.

I delivered a baby crib, cloths, food and toys for this family that has just had a newborn baby born to their daughter-- now an otherwise destitute single mother. The family lives in the humblest bamboo and grass hut, without electricity or running water. It was a great pleasure to bring this hardworking and hospitable home some unexpected blessings.

Upon returning to Sagada I was able to deliver the specs for an order of 100 coasters for Germany to the women who weave. Here are the first six!

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Making mandalas with Trash and Organic Materials

Here's a little video of my work with the crazy remote school I mentioned in my past post.  The movie features a series of trash and plant mandalas made by students from the Ga'dan tribe. BNTAS Annonat Extension
is a remote school in the Paracelis region of the Northern Philippines. It was established four years ago to serve the isolated Ga'dan tribe. Six teachers live full time at the school. They work hard under Spartan conditions to not only teach but also to establish
the basic infrastructure and repair typhoon damage. Our Mandalas are dedicated to them!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

122 Letters

I've been sharing my recent work with a crazy remote and challenged school in the mountains of Paracelis, Philipinnes.  The school serves the isolated Ga'dan tribe.  The teachers make a 2 hour commute over rough road, then stay the week in the two room school-- the other four rooms were recently destroyed by a Typhoon. 

Despite their sparse and challenging situation, the students are so keen to learn and connect.  

When I did my little customary spiel on Canada, they we're full of questions.  Do you grow rice?  How do you get married?  What foods do you eat?  What do they youth do for fun?  Etc.  These students come from such a vastly different culture.  It struck me that they would make fantastic pen pals for students of the same age back in Canada.  I asked them what they thought of the idea.  They loved it!

So, we wrote some letters!  122 to be precise.  Each letter begins "Dear Mystery Friend".  The student introduces themselves and where they are from.  I personally love to write letters, so  I shared some techniques with them-- including some flowers or leaves, making a little drawing or two, custom made envelopes.

The result:  We've got 122 amazing letters just waiting for mystery friends!  Anyone out there have a class or bunch of youth who would be interested in old-fashioned-pen-pals?  The kids were aged 9-16.  If so, drop me a line!

Becoming a Jedi...

I am finally getting the hang of being a Jedi. It's easy actually. It's all about flowing with the force. You flow, the force does the rest.

In this way I showed up to the Gag'gad'dumpay Youth conference on the Environment with Irene and several other teachers last week. It took us nine hours to get there. I had just traveled six hours from my art exhibit in Baguio, and didn't have time to even get home to Sagada, let alone prepare for the conference.

The conference was being convened to give the youth of the Paracelis, a poor and isolated are of the Philipinnes, a chance to be empowered on environmental and population issues. Irene, from the department of Education had seen what I had done in the mandalas I done in the past and wanted me to do another.

And so, with barely even having a chance to talk to Irene, nor to get a supply of art materials, we arrived. One hundred and fifty youth greeted us and a dozen teachers. I was the only foreigner and everyone was expecting some sort of miracle from me! I must admit a bit of panic and frustration overcame me.

I was there with nothing!

But, that folks, is how a Jedi works.

He shows up with nothing but faith, openness and creativity. The openness and the creativity being one and the same.

And sure enough, everything fell into place. Magically. First, I discovered a classroom with the most lusciously bare wall you can imagine. It's alluring blankness enchanted me at first sight. My eyes widdened and my heart began to pound-- it was perfect!

And thus the weekend co-creation began. Sure enough the students and I found lots of colorful garbage. We began to cut it up into little squares. And then, with paper and pen and a couple boxes of crayons, we all made mandala sketches on paper (imagine sharing 5 boxes of crayons crayons with 60 kids! There were only 7 crayons a box and I felt slightly biblical as I broke them and passed them around to all).

Even with only seven boxes of crayons, these paper sketches turned out amazing. We then mined them for symbols and patterns, we used the most prevalent to sketch with chalk on the beautiful blank wall.

With the pattern established we said a little prayer to bless the mandala and the process. The youngest began, then the oldest, then everyone joined in adding pieces to the blossoming mandala of garbage.

And... a week later, with the help of another class of highschool students, we finished it off. Tad aaa!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Mosaic Trash Mandala in Progress

I was in Paracelis last week for the Gag-gag-Dumpay youth Conference. Here with 150 youth at the environmental summit, we began a mosaic mandala-- out of trash! Here it is unfolding, piece by piece of colorful-cut-up-sachets at-a-time. I am as surprised as you and everyone else how people it is turning out to be!

Saturday, August 20, 2011

122 Students, 2 Rooms, 1 Ball, 1 Computer and Some Very Committed Teachers

I've been making mandalas from a crazy remote and challenged school in the mountains of Paracelis, Philipinnes.  The school serves the isolated Ga'dan tribe.  The teachers make a 2 hour commute over rough road, then stay the week in the two room school-- the other four rooms were recently destroyed by a Typhoon. The coffee and food is cooked over a wood fire in their plank and bamboo living quarters.  The school has one ball and one computer for 122 students, yet boy are they eager to learn!  I don't think I have taught at a school yet were I was received by a cheering crowd, so many smiles and so much grattitude by both the teachers... and the students!

Despite the complete lack of art supplies... we all worked together and made the most amazing mandalas ever!  The students scavagenged garbage, leaves and grass to make the most original and beautiful mosaic mandalas. The teachers themselves we're dazzled.  When I arrived they asked me what art supplies I was bringing with me.  I had just smiled.  

"We didn't think you could actually coordinate 120 kids at once, let alone have them make such beautiful art"  

I think that was my biggest reward-- to see the kids inspired to new heights by the creative and collaborative challenge.  

Once I am back in civilization and I can connect to WIFI I will post pics.  

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Trashing the Gallery

I am very proud of this.

Last week, the weaving women and I finished off all of prototype pieces. With the help of framers, carpenters and friends, I was able to make it to Baguio with the art pieces for the show.

It was a great example of existential determinism manifesting magically. Traditionally, my art has been about my personal culture and my work. This time, it's about the work and collaboration of women (household and family supporters) in different villages and their indigenous culture. The work all came together beautifully. But, by the time all the art was ready to leave Sagada I had missed the last bus to Baguio. Jed helped me pack it all up and I left town with a massive 6 foot long roll on my shoulder. I ended up hiking 3 or 4 kilometers this way until a gold mining truck picked me up. He was heading straight to Baguio!

We made it late that night, and the next day I got all the art setup. The evening opening featured my work and that of five other cordillera artists. The show featured the leading edge Igorot artistic explorers of a region already immensely rich in culture. What an honor to be part of it!

Rebekah, an American friend who made it to the opening, gave me a particularly profound compliment after the show. She said that in all her travels she had never met someone doing what I was doing. Usually a 'foreigner' experiences a culture. Here I am honored with a position to help shape it, to take and work with an exceptionally good part of the culture, use my skills and connections, and take it (and the other artists) to a whole new level.

It's kinda like when you're watching the tide on the beach. The waves come in to a certain distance. Then, sometimes, one, two, even three waves happen to coincide and... Whoosh... They propel each in so much further soaking your socks and shoes!

Like that. But the waves are the best elements of different cultures on our planet.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

One Man's Trash is a Woman's Treasure...

"One man's trash is anothers Treasure."

So the saying goes. But perhaps we can make that a little more relevant... "One man's trash is a women's treasure."

Here in the Northern aphilippines, the older women use a splendid technique to weave the trash from chips and sachets into all sorts of bags and things. They take discarded sachets and wrappers, diligently clean and fold them, then weave them up. I've been working hard with four different women to apply modern aesthetics to technique and on improving their designs and taking sales from Canada, Spain and Holland.

We're working hard towards an exhibit in Baguio on the 9th. My friend Victor has invited me to show at the Baguio Museum with five other Philipino artists. I am very excited and honored. So too are Brenda and Stanpi, the weavers! Above is the latest design.

My dream is to show much much larger pieces at an exhibition in Berlin. In the meanwhile I am working hard with my local buddy Jed, who has a dream of segregated waste baskets throughout Sagada. We'll soon be running out of garbage to weave unless we call get a recycling system going. Jed's baskets would get that the trash right to the ladies, so they can turn it I to treasure!

Friday, July 29, 2011

More 1Books arriving - Video

Here's some great video from my visit to the school last week.

Last week a big load of books had arrived from Canada. A couch surfing connection enabled us to get a third of the books up to the village.

I went up personally (first time in four months). The students and staff are overjoyed by the books and all the international visits they've been getting!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Bringing Light!

My friend Jed's restaurant has an amazing window that let's in beautiful light. One morning inspiration struck. I've used glass bottles and food coloring in exhibits back in Canada. Why not bring some light to Sagada?

I dutifully collected bottles from my house parties over the last month, and soaked off the labels. My little friend Dianne helped me concoct the colors. Sammi the cook helped me hang them, and my friend Angela was able to bring the colors of the rainbow up with her from Manila. And here it now hangs!

I just love the radiant colour effect! I can sit there at Jed's restaurant with my morning coffee and just stare at the luminous colours for a good moment! Depending on my mood one colour or another draws me more.

The technique is so simple. I highly recommend it!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

A Collective Blessing & Luminous Moment

Well, I haven't blogged for a while. As usual this not because there hasn't been anything to blog about-- but rather too much!

I just got back from a momentous two days in the mountains. Packages or books have arrived from Lorraine in Canada and Jane and Claire in Australia. With the help of Laura from Spain and Irina in Manila we got half of Lorraine's books up to Sagada. It's truly an epic collaboration! Laura and I then made the journey to the school together.

What a luminous pleasure to deliver the books.

The staff had been delighted the day before to receive Jane and Clair's books (and photos of their "jolly" visit teaching there). In the big box we brought up, there were dozens of awesome quality books. Thank you Lorraine!

I spent the day visiting each of the classes and reading stories. The students gathered round in ecstatic silence round as I flipped through "The boy who fooled the giant", "Thumbelina" and "Little Red Ridinghood". These kids have never seen beautiful books like these.

There was a moment when I looked up from my reading to see three dozen wide open eyes staring with rapt attention at me and the pictures. I breathed deeply to take it in. Wow. What a beautiful and fufiling moment.

After several classes, my voice was getting a little dry from my animated readings. So, I decided to try something else. I brought the entire box up and handed the books out to all the pupils. Amazing! Despite the random distribution, the kids fell I to a rapt silence-- they devoured with their eyes and fingers the beautiful pictures, words and photos. I might as well have been handing iPads out to a class of Canadian students!

Another box awaits in Manila, Ray has a big crate coming from Manila, and I just got a message from my Mum that she can send some too.

Slow and steady the collective intention blossoms!