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MANILA, Philippines – In the Philippines, the gig economy is thriving, allowing freelance creatives to pursue their passion in the arts while having a steady stream of income and flexible work schedules.
The setback is it doesn’t come with health insurance and retirement benefits, making it one of the more vulnerable sectors during this global health crisis. The COVID-19 outbreak definitely opened up the need for social amelioration to support this community, which relies on independent job opportunities to make a living.
Pineapple Lab is a Makati-based creative hub dedicated to finding innovative ways to showcase the works of Filipino artists and connect them with international creatives and collaborators.
In this two-part conversation, we invited artists and Pineapple Lab co-owners Andrei Pamintuan and Jodinand Villaflores Aguillon to talk about how their life and artistic practices have been affected by the pandemic.
They also share their on-going project, ilostmygig.ph, which investigates the impact of the national emergency on the creative industry.
It’s been a month ever since the Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) in Luzon has been implemented. How did your everyday routine change because of the lockdown?
Andrei: My everyday routine changed quite dramatically.
Prior to the ECQ, I was in Australia, attending the Adelaide Fringe Festival, which is probably one of the biggest festivals in the entire world. I was at performances, meeting with artists, and was generally surrounded by so many people. Before being in Australia, our team at Pineapple Lab were running Fringe Manila, where we helped facilitate over 90 arts events, and where artists and audiences come together to celebrate Philippine Arts Month.
From working almost 7 days a week, interacting with international artists, and meeting our beautiful audience, we had to cancel the rest of the festival and close Pineapple Lab.
It’s such a stark and, at times, very scary present. It’s just… you know, you miss the community that you’re a part of. The one that thrives in connecting or feeling and touching each other. I miss being able to create an intersection for so many artists and other hubs in Poblacion.
Jodee: My consumption of media has obviously increased while my physical activity has definitely decreased. I’m used to being on my feet, always surrounded by creative energies coming in & out of my bubbles. But now I spend way more time sitting in front of a screen than I used to. And up until now, there aren’t clear starts and stops to this daze I’m in.
Staying at home gives one space for introspection and a deep yearning to (re)connect. Is it okay if you share any new learnings you discovered about yourself and the community?
Andrei: If there’s anything I learned about myself, it would be my capability to do so much during the day. Working from home, at my own pace, and for advocacies that I am passionate about has been quite fulfilling. I mean, it’s just so tempting to find yourself in the YouTube or Netflix hole. But I really thrive more in having a check-list, being accountable to myself, and doing tasks I’ve set to accomplish.
I’ve learned that the mission does not change, that the purpose never goes away. It’s just a matter of finding a creative means to connect and re-imagine spaces beyond the physical.
What I’ve discovered, which is great (and I’m not surprised really), is that the community that I am part of pre-COVID-19 is still the same community that I am a part of now – walang iwanan. It’s just how we’re working and how we’re collaborating together that has shifted (to a digital space). If anything, the solidarity has only been strengthened.
I don’t know, it’s just that the gusto to want to make a difference – to want to help our network, to not only be a support system to one another but also to help out other members within the community in ways palpable.
And I’m amazed, I really am, by the community of artists who have been part of the Pineapple Lab and Fringe Manila who get up and choose to do something. This pandemic had me witness how artists and creatives all over the Philippines truly are some of the most giving and supportive people. Whether one is a dancer or a singer, an actor, a digital artist, a drag queen, or a healer, they are always quick to want to make a difference. They donate their time and resources. And I think that quick response to selflessness and using one’s talents have made a huge, huge difference in helping our frontliners and those who are marginalized in our communities.
Jodee: Some of my relationships with collaborators and various community members seemed to have strengthened even more during this lockdown. Our sense of community has only been magnified. Our sense of community is ingrained in the type of work we do and the culture we contribute to. Our sense of community goes beyond gathering in physical spaces.
I also learned that I much prefer face to face meetings. Perhaps it’s something I still have to get used to, but I really don’t like video conference calls. On top of wrestling with wifi speed, terrible camera angles, and navigating unwritten rules of digital manners, I find platforms like Zoom absolutely awkward.
As artists, we deal with emotions and ideas at work. Right now, there are news and studies report people’s mental health suffering because of the pandemic. How are you right now? Are you actively carving pockets of peace and rest to take care of your well-being in this period of social distancing and uncertainty?
Andrei: It’s interesting, after coming back from Australia, and while having to self-quarantine for about 14 days, my emotions were quite hard to articulate.
Part of it, I think, was because I just had no idea what to make out of this situation. The initial shock turned into denial, which turned into having what I can only think of as anxiety. And as I look back, I was kind of really in a rut. I am the type of person that keeps problems and worries to myself. And one day, I felt like my chest was getting heavy, and I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t focus. I would have these panic attacks at night because I thought I was manifesting symptoms of the coronavirus.
It came to the point where I felt like I had a heart attack. But really, it was anxiety. The fact that we had to close Pineapple Lab indefinitely was crippling, not only for me but also for our team members and artists who use the space. I also felt that we should be doing something, but couldn’t figure out the best way to do so. There was nothing I felt we could do. So I did nothing. I think I was in a state of helplessness, and I was in my head, big time.
By the end of two weeks, I started to, kind of, lift myself up. There was literally one day, I woke up early, I just went on my laptop, and began creating a series of survey questions for what was going to frame an online gathering we organized for artists and creatives.
It then progressed into Jodee and me doing research on initiatives for artists affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. After attending a meeting with the World Fringe Network, ilostmygig.ph was born.
The sense of urgency I couldn’t articulate, I was finally able to channel into actual work. I was able to find a sense of purpose again, which made me feel okay.
Being in ECQ has also allowed me to do things for myself. I am currently taking a playwriting class facilitated by Dr. Anton Juan through OPEN HOUSE. I have a regular schedule of workshops and webinars I attend. I am participating in the Quarantine Theater Zoom play readings started by a dear friend Missy Maramara. I am becoming an air fryer expert, and I’ve become a “rising star” in an online foodie group called Pinoy Midnight Snackers (PMS), where community members post photos or videos of their midnight snacks!
Of course, I stay connected with friends and family through FaceTime and Zoom Parties. A five-minute exchange could make a huge difference in this time of physical distancing. Also, I get to spend more time with the dogs — Pinya and Manila.
Jodee: It’s up and down for me. It really depends on what day, what time in the day, and what’s on the news. As far as actively carving out pockets of peace and rest to take care of my overall mental health? I’m not there yet. I haven’t gotten to the point of exercising regularly (at all) or creating a loose schedule for myself.
I am doing my best to stay aware of my screen time tho. I’ve been trying to stay away from my laptop entirely on Saturdays and Sundays. Screen-free activities like cooking, cleaning, watering plants, or having very real conversations with my dogs, etc. Those are the things that tend to give me a nice break in between the digital noise (unless, of course, I’m tweeting or Instagramming those morsels of mundane moments).
What is your most deep-seated anxiety about the future of the gig economy?
Andrei: I think my deepest anxiety is that no action will be taken by the government and lawmakers to look out for the social welfare and sustainability of artists and creatives. Sana pagkatapos ng lahat ng ito, magkaroon na ng plano, to protect those who depend on the gig-economy, those who are working hard to support their families, and those who contribute to our country’s economy.
At sana all, lahat ng Filipino.
What are your plans after the lockdown? Are you making major changes in your artistic practice and life?
Jodee: I think (I HOPE) I’m going to continue to do all the things I love to do, but I’ll be way more aggressive in cutting out the noise of consumption created by archaic systems of oppression.
I do plan to cut off my wifi & “misplace” my phone.
In Part 2, we ask Andrei and Jodee more about collaboration amid a quarantine and the ilostmygig.ph initiative. – Rappler.com
A writer and a single mother, Czyka Tumaliuan is a consulting curator at Lopez Museum and Library. An advocate of progressive education and free press, she is also the founder of Kwago bookstore, and co-founder of Komura; book fair, Lockdown Lab and KOPYA digital literature archives. She is one of 3 Filipino fellows in the 2018 Salzburg Global Forum for Young Cultural Innovators.