Artist Eisa Jocson, winner of the Hugo Boss Asia Art Award, explores the body’s malleability

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MERGING the past and present of Filipino culture through body movements is the focus of Filipino artist and 2019 Hugo Boss Asia Art awardee Eisa Jocson.

On Nov. 6, the Director of the Rockbund Art Museum (RAM) and Chair of the Hugo Boss Asia Art Jury Larys Frogier and Managing Director of Hugo Boss Greater China Jerome Bachasson, announced that Ms. Jocson was the recipient of the 2019 Hugo Boss Asia Art Award, chosen from among the shortlisted artists who included Hao Jingban (China), Hsu Che-Yu (Taiwan), and Thao-Nguyên Phan (Vietnam).

“The award to me is recognition of my practice that is somehow difficult to categorize or to grasp, somewhere between the visual arts and the contemporary dance. It also means bigger responsibility that comes with wider visibility and access to opportunities,” Ms. Jocson wrote in an e-mail to BusinessWorld.

Aside from the recognition, Ms. Jocson is also granted with a stipend of RMB 300,000 (P2,184,000).

The internationally renowned Hugo Boss Prize was established in 1996. In 2013, the Hugo Boss Asia Art Award was established to complement the Hugo Boss Prize. The Asia Art Award focuses on Asian contemporary art as a way for artists “to think, invent and represent the changes of Asia under globalization.” The award also serves as a curatorial practice and platform for theoretical research on inventive and collaborative projects.

“As a female artist conceiving stunning and always unexpected art projects from performance to sound and visual installations, Eisa Jocson has already a unique position in the contemporary art scenes in Asia and globally,” Mr. Frogier said in a press release. “The artist creates multilayered images, revisiting the vocabularies of dance and music, as well as infiltrating local popular references and contemporary visual art formats. It is with great intelligence that Eisa Jocson engages today’s life and art, always repositioning her own practice into the unknown, going beyond fixed identities, genders and frontiers.”

Born and raised in Sta. Mesa, Manila, the 33-year-old artist started dancing ballet at age seven, and was exposed to the visual arts while assisting at the production studio of her aunt’s visual merchandising business located in their backyard.

“Alongside my ballet classes I was one of the star students in the arts classes. I chose to go to Philippine High School for the Arts, focusing on the Visual Arts, as I felt it was more expansive than the practice of ballet. Though for the first two years of high school, I still minored in ballet. In University I took up Sculpture but then was asked to shift course by my parents to Visual Communications (the other option that they gave me was Nursing),” she told BusinessWorld, adding that her aunt brought her along for pole dancing lessons during her last year at University.

Ms. Jocson said that her works are informed by her background in dance and visual arts.

“The visual arts and contemporary dance operate within different set of parameters (histories, conditions and locations), with this in mind I try to manifest the work that would best challenge the audience in each context,” Ms. Jocson wrote.

Currently exhibited at the Rockbund Art Museum, Ms. Jocson’s works explore the malleability of the human body.

The karaoke video titled Super Woman KTV (2019) features a combination of performances inspired by folk rituals, oral traditions, and contemporary pop songs. Ms. Jocson studies the cultural meanings found in popular songs in the Filipino culture and finds that it represents “collective notions of femininity for different generations in the Philippines.” The ongoing project aims to create a contemporary adaptation influenced from precolonial rituals.

Corponomy (2019) is an intertextual installation of dance sequences, karaoke videos, and live performances by her own troupe. Ms. Jocson put together a wide repertoire of genres centering on overseas Filipino workers in the entertainment and service industries. It features pole dancing, macho dancing, female hostesses, and Disney princesses. The word “corponomy” was used “to describe the body as it adapts to different economic situations, as well as the dynamic relationship between marginalized communities and mass culture.”

“I see the body as malleable material sculpted by its history, conditions and location. Filipinos are known to service the world in various roles, from domestic worker, entertainer, nurse, seaman, musician, teacher etc. Labor force that uses affective labor (care) as the primary skill,” Ms. Jocson wrote. “I want the wider audience to encounter the complexities of the Filipino condition and how much care work is undervalued and exploited by the capitalist system.”

“[Eisa] Jocson’s performances evolved into a stage in the main area with a backstage to show different aspects of her performance and ways for the audience to situate themselves with her work from past to present,” Senior Curator of Rockbund Art Museum Billy Tang told BusinessWorld in an e-mail.

In the exhibit, Mr. Tang noted that all the artists are engaged with various techniques on moving-image.

“[For me], the most interesting way to read this is to try to understand how each artist uses moving-image as a medium to think and explore — and how many of the artists use moving-image as a device to play off and create new forms of dramaturgy within the context of the viewer and their relationship to the space,” he explained.

Ms. Jocson has recently started working on Manila Zoo — the third part of her Happyland Series — set to open in Frankfurt in April 2021. The exhibition “proposes humans performing the labor of animals in the zoo.”

“I’m interested in further pushing the malleability of the laboring-performing body and to go deep into human-animal relations,” she wrote.

The Hugo Boss Asia Art Award is open to artists under the age 35 who are working primarily in or born in Greater China (Mainland China, Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan) and/or Southeast Asia, as well as have produced an outstanding project or solo exhibition of critical significance.

The exhibition of the four finalists’ works runs until Jan. 5 at the Rockbund Art Museum in Shanghai, China. Guests may try the augmented reality guided tour with the curator on mobile devices. For information, visit Anne P. Soliman