Last August 1, Tengal (the festival director of the media arts showcase Fete dela WSK) called for people to come to Terminal Garden, (the name he calls his house when it’s functioning as a social center/headquarters for his various projects) to join a workshop on Processing (the programming environment written by graphic artists for graphic art) – to be held four hours from the time of the announcement.
Processing has been my workhorse for years. It’s what I used to make Twinning Machine, the live video sampler/delay around which I’ve used to create performances that enabled dancers to dance with themselves. I use it in performance with the composers/electronic musicians Caliph8 and Malek Lopez to generate interactive animation synchronized to improvised music. Processing is a logical, powerful, environment optimized for creating interactive graphics. As far as I know, however, I am the only one using it in Manila, maybe in the Philippines. In all the time I’ve spent in the Philippine art scene, I’ve never met anyone else who used Processing. In fact now that I think about it, I think that prior to the workshop, I’d met a total of three other Filipinos (all Manila residents) who used code as a part of their artistic practice; and that among us four, three used languages none of the others knew. This is not a happy situation, because being the sole user of a language means that you progress slowly. While there can be some satisfaction in knowing that you’re the lone occupant of a certain niche, the simple truth is that a community raises the overall level of work. A community fosters competition, cross-fertilization, and collaboration. A community inspires its members to better work.
I’ve never been able to discuss Processing with anyone. If the program I write continues to crash in spite of my best efforts, there are no fresh eyes I can bring to look at the problem. I’ve occasionally consulted the forums at processing.org, about this or that, but that kind of consultation takes place in writing, where conversational turns can take hours or even days. The forums chafe becayse Malek and I both use MAX/MSP, a graphical coding environment where you draw lines between boxes instead of writing sentences. There’s a different flow to discussions in real life, or what the characters in William Gibson’s novel Neuromancer called meatspace. In meatspace, ideas layer and bifurcate. You break off remarks in midstream and try experiments. You make bets as to what’s the better avenue to take. Coding is literally a form of creative writing, and just like its literary counterpart, it’s mostly a solitary affair; so I at least find it invigorating and a relief to be able to take a break from the screen and talk to a colleague. I was all for the idea of raising the population of processing-users.
I admit was a little skeptical. It was Wednesday. It was pouring out. People had been posting pictures and video of Roxas Boulevard underwater practically since it was light. Yet here was Tengal putting out a call at three in the afternoon for a workshop scheduled at seven in the evening. Still, I figured that the worst that could happen was that nobody else showed and I could grill the teacher over a beer or something.
In the end, I wonder if the rain might have been a good thing. It made sure that the people who did show up really wanted to code. Six of us wound up sitting around a table: The teacher, Alexis Mailles (who’s French, but based in Taipei), the French sound artist Samuel Andre, Tengal, me, Renz (whose last name I didn’t manage to catch), Tatong Torres, — the painter who erected a gallery in Second Life (which he has subsequently shut down) — plus an extra chair for Grace Escudero, who’d been delayed by work but who took notes at a feverish pace to catch up. Interestingly, Grace and Renz were the only ones who didn’t self-identify as artists. This meant that the majority who had come already coded or meant to code in the context of art. It also emerged that both Tatong and Tengal were already dipping their feet in Python, another computer language famed for its straightforward syntax. Everything pointed hopefully to a continued mingling of art and code in Manila.
It was fun and educational. I picked up a couple of tips that will definitely make my code cleaner. Aside from that, I sporadically had this feeling that I’d crossed over into one of the fictional laboratoria I mentioned in a blogpost I’d written back 2010. The workshop proceeded purposefully but casually over the course of five hours, punctuated with cigarette breaks and lubricated with San Miguel Grandes that everyone chipped in to buy. Sam and Alexis left at 1 AM to perform at Subflex, the performance series that Caliph8 stages every first Wednesday of the month at B-Side. Tengal fried up some Roti Paratha for the stragglers. Five hours is a respectable chunk of time for a workshop, but computer codes are languages, and the most you can do in five hours is make an introduction. Everybody was definitely up for another, and I would love to see a code laboratorium take shape in real life.
I want to end this by mentioning that the workshop was essentially called on a whim. Alexis was visiting Samuel and crashing at Tengal’s. It was Alexis’ last day in Manila and they all decided that it would be more interesting to hold a workshop rather than just hang out. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say they decided it would be more interesting to hang out by holding a workshop. I saw it as a measure of the power of Tengal’s network that he could call a workshop into being in the rainy season with four hours of lead time, but Frenchmen also saw it as a sign of Manila’s energy. The thing they liked most about Manila, they said, was that it was “alive”. People here wanted to get out and do things. People wanted to learn.
Tad studied Zoology in the University of Hiroshima, and graduated with a degree in Philosophy from the University of the Philippines. He was a founding member of the seminal sound art band The Children of Cathode Ray and is a leading media artist who uses sound, video, programming and electronics in the creation of his films and installations, which have been exhibited in numerous local and international festivals and galleries. Email Tad at firstname.lastname@example.org.