By Alain Zedrick Camiling
With the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic, it is inarguable and undeniable that the cultural and creative industries are facing gruelling losses including the copious population of freelance workers who obviously receive sparse sustainable support from the local administration and institutions during this pandemic despite the innumerable loss in terms of jobs, projects, and gigs. Curators Con Cabrera, Renan Laru-an, and J Pacena II facilitated dialogues with Riksa Afiaty, Taufik Darwis, Sakura Kuretsune, Greys Lockheart, Meta Moeng, Miki Nozaki, Kanade Yagi, and Tanya Villanueva, through FREE-Lances, an online zine published early this year by BMLab and supported by the Japan Foundation Manila, that echoes reflections, experiences, and plight of individuals who identify themselves as freelance workers or associated with freelancing. Read through our brief yet insightful conversation with Cabrera and Laru-an.
Although the curators have had their specific contributions and responsibilities in relation to the project, the zine was indeed a ‘collective exercise’, as managing editor Con Cabrera shares with Art Plus, between the three curators and those who have had chances of working with them throughout their commitment to the sector. The team has worked with freelance workers across Southeast Asia and Japan who are engaged in various articulations of arts management and collaborative creative work, among many others. “In effect and organically, we extended our invitation to friends in the arts sector whom we have shared experience in freelancing. We let them articulate the concerns that they would like to share publicly or issues that they would like to amplify in public discourse”, adds Renan Laru-an as editor.
The zine also features interviews with select practitioners in the management of visual arts namely Kris Yoshie (Director of Yokohama Paratriennale and SLOW LABEL, Yokohama, Japan) and Theodora Agni (Shifting Realities, Yogyakarta, Indonesia) as well as Filipino performing arts practitioners Jared Jonathan Luna and Ness Roque. Launched in February 2021, the curators admitted that they have also struggled working during the pandemic, particularly working while balancing fatigue like their contributors. “For a publication project, the process was condensed into around 5 months because the grant required a time frame”, adds Cabrera.
The curators themselves can actually relate to their respondents. As Cabrera reflects as artist and curator, she cites specific instances which she can relate to, particularly Meta Meong’s essay on building and sustaining communities as she is co-founder of 98B COLLABoratory as well as Tanya Villanueva’s SALN. “To be able to quantify struggles by showing actual currency provoked me to also think about my income and expenses, especially since a portion of my earnings is directly connected to my position in the artworld”, she adds. Cabrera shared how she relates to Riksa Afiaty and Theodora Agni’s contributions about the roles of arts managers in Indonesia which resemble similarities in the Manila art scene. “The contributions in the first issue have specific ideas and stories that I feel connected with me as a long-time freelancer who tries to work on anything and everything. It provided a sense of comfort and drive to open up to more freelancing stories and see value in our shared experiences”, she expounds.
On the other hand, Laru-an mentions that the values and struggles of collaboration remains something that they resonate with. “This was made more concrete by our conversation with Kris Yoshie and Miki Nozaki, who are working on disability arts and arts management in Yokohama, and in the conversation of Jared Jonathan Luna and Ness Roque on the liveness of collaboration in international performing arts in the time of a pandemic”, he explains.
As the pandemic is still ongoing, the cultural and creative industry sector can only hope for better, just, and sustainable support from each of their local administrations, wherever they are in the world, apart from the world’s complete holistic healing from the COVID-19 pandemic. FREE-Lances indeed narrates reflections, experiences, and plight of artists, professionals, and practitioners across the cultural and creative industries which serve also as a reminder that freelancing has become a lifeline for millions of individuals, as mentioned by a representative from a lower house in the Philippine legislature, but still being neglected and not being treated as essential in most parts of the world. Recently this year, the Philippine Senate’s approval of the Freelance Workers Protection Act or House Bill 8817 finally pushed through. The act aims to safeguard freelance workers through a required provision of memoranda of agreements, ensured timely payments, protection from client retaliations, and taxation procedures or guidelines which are freelance-specific in nature, perhaps it aims for equitable treatment to freelancers, in a nutshell. With these, we remain hopeful of a better, just, and sustainable ecosystem for the cultural and creative industries.
Published by BMLab with support from the Japan Foundation Manila, FREE-Lances is free and accessible through this link. Curators Con Cabrera, Renan Laru-an, and J Pacena II can also be reached through the zine’s official Instagram account.