PinoyArtista is the pseudonym of Jose Gamboa. A Filipino visual artist based in Barcelona, he is the creator of BioComs, where you can be the hero in your very own comic. For inquiries: pinoyartista(at)gmail(dot)com
It is with the appropriate amount of pleasure that I announce my first exhibition in Barcelona.
Spanning eighteen months and four countries, “What Am I Doing Here” is a retrospective of the works created over the past eighteen months since I arrived in Europe. It will include drawings, paintings, photographs, and screen and letterpress prints created in Barcelona, Amsterdam, Paris, Venice, and Las Palmas.
The exhibition will be on the 15th of April, at l’Atelier, a small but cozy bakeshop in Carrer del Joncar 29, Poble Nou, at 19.00h.
Tengo el placer de invitarte a mi primera exposición en Barcelona.
“¿Por Qué Estoy Aquí?” es la primera exposición individual de José Gamboa en España. Una retrospectiva que abarca dieciocho meses y cuatro países, que incluye ilustraciones, impresiones de pantalla y tipografía, pinturas y fotografías.
Six days away, there is still a lot that needs to be done. And unlike other exhibitions I’ve organised before, this is my first solo show–literally: I have had to everything, from booking the venue, conceptualisation, curation, funding, promotion, framing, mounting, and more.
Back in December 2015, I had gotten it on (what I believed at the time to be) good authority that David Bowie was coming to Primavera Sound 2016. The prospect of seeing a creative genius of his calibre live so excited me that despite my source’s admonition not to spread the word, I could not help myself:
Getting into the whole Bowie vibe, I started learning how to play his songs on the guitar, and began researching which day he would perform in Barcelona. Even my sister who was half a world away seemed to be channeling the Thin White Duke:
To be honest, I am not a hardcore Bowie fan, in fact, I was a new one. I didn’t realise it was his birthday or listened to Blackstar until after he had already died.
Then there was that series of highly-publicised deaths that first few days of 2016: Scott Weiland, Lemmy, Alan Rickman, Maurice White. Then Aaron Swartz and Dave Mirra.
But it was the building anticipation of seeing David Bowie live, that whole ‘you might not get another chance’ feeling, then to have it suddenly vanish, that made his death strike a chord. And to make things even more odd, here is where I spent the 1st of January (playing the guitar, to boot):
This inexplicable series of events compelled me to create what will be the #BowieForever series. The series will consist of six limited edition mono screeprints and shirts which will be released over the course of several weeks.
Each mono screenprint is numbered, printed on 300 gsm watercolour paper and signed by Jose Gamboa with a Certificate of Authenticity.
As I created each design (while listening to the mournfully brilliant Blackstar) I could not help but contemplate the power and influence and creativity that could come from just one man, a man who will live forever through his work.
It has only been a few weeks since his spirit rose and stepped aside, and for now, it will be difficult to imagine anyone replacing David Bowie.
One more thing: Before I left the Philippines for Barcelona over a year ago, I sawThe Secret Life of Walter Mitty. Although inspiring, the film was too cheesy and unrealistic for my taste (How can Walter Mitty’s phone never run out of battery? And downhill long boarding is no easy thing). Nonetheless, it was a good film. Anyway, I didn’t realise or remember (until recently) that David Bowie’s Space Oddity featured largely in that film, and I wanted to share Kristen Wiig’s more than decent rendition of it:
…all of which–with the exception of La Fabrica del Sol which was under renovation–I would recommend if you are traveling to Barcelona.
Moreover, I’ve been fortunate enough to have traveled to six cities (Sant Pol del Mar, Sitges, La Palma, Andorra, La Molina, Girona), strolled through four parks (Parc Guell, Parc Citudella, Parc Pedralbes, Parc de Montjuic), attended four musical performances, one stand up comedy show, one stage performance, three lectures related to cultural management, visited one printing press, shifted out of the Master’s Degree to the Postgraduate Diploma in Arts & Cultural Management (a story for another post), signed up for two dance classes which I did not go to, worked three part-time jobs, moved flats once, met loads of people from all over the world, and have learned quite a bit about European culture and this wonderful city called Barcelona.
All these novel experiences are just the beginning and have of course, irrevocably changed me. My philosophy is that novel experiences are by default, positive. So whenever I have to make a decision, I usually try to go for the one that has some degree of uncertainty, but always, always, I choose to act, as opposed to inaction. In this way, the change is encouraged, if not welcomed, and sometimes, the change can happen on my terms, as opposed to the common condition where change is seen as an unavoidable imposition.
Moving to the Spanish Apartment, as well as the new flat (which I have dubbed Rockafort–as that is more or less the name of the street) was surprisingly simple, although the circumstances around it were anything but.
When I was moving to Barcelona, I sent an email to everyone in the university’s Master’s program, asking if anyone was looking to share a flat. I got a few responses, and the result was that I had a place to stay–paid for in advance–even before I had set foot in Barcelona.
The rent of the flat was divided by everyone, and a month later, the occupants had risen from four to five, reducing our individual shares. However, this would only be until April, by which time the rent would go back up again. This, including the fact that one flatmate–who shall remain anonymous–and I were basically getting on like a house drenched in ice-cold water, made me decide it was time to make a change.
So I began asking around, and it so happened that Lena, one of my classmates, had just moved into a flat with a room available. Upon visiting the flat and meeting the other occupants, I decided that I could live here. I contacted the landlord, made the reservation and started moving my things that same day. Being the cheapskate that I am, I tried to move everything on foot: a twenty-minute walk at night in the winter. Only in Barcelona can someone get away with this.
I had to find someone to take my old room, however, as we had agreed prior to my moving in that should I leave before the end of the contract, then I had to find a replacement. Equally important was finding a good person to move in, someone who wouldn’t flip out or make the others feel unsafe (as I mentioned, there are no locks on any of the doors in the flat—not even the bathrooms).
Surprisingly, this again proved to be easier than I expected. Minutes after posting a notice of the room in various fb groups for Erasmus students and others related to housing in Barcelona, I already had several offers and had scheduled visits that same afternoon. In the end, I decided on a French Erasmus student taking up a Masters in Economics at the University of Barcelona. Three days later I had handed her the keys to the flat and had already spent one night at Rockafort.
The change of flat included having new flatmates: three Spanish guys–Adria, Alvaro, and Ricardo, Anna, a Korean, Lena from Hamburg whom I go to school with, and a wonderful pug named Fiji, who is clearly everyone’s favourite occupant.
Other changes include a considerably smaller and colder flat, room, kitchen, bath and toilet to share, less amenities (no lift or dishwasher), slower wifi, and hot water that disappeared while you were showering when any other faucet was switched on. On the brighter side, cheaper rent and cool flatmates all of whom—with the exception of Fiji–are professionals who preferred to speak Spanish, giving me the chance to practice my castellan.
Below is Adria, who isn’t in the above photo because he works crazy hours:
I will be writing a bit more about my new flatmates in a future post, but basically, a lot has changed over the last 120 or so days, and unavoidably, I have changed with my circumstances. The frequency and intensity of these shifts, being compressed in a small amount of time has also accelerated my growth as a person. Having only a few people to call upon in an emergency–all of whom I’ve known less than half a year–taught me to be truly independent and self reliant. Also, it taught me to do something I have not done before: How to develop close friendships in a short amount of time. It means I have become better–not the best, obviously–at relating with others, an invaluable life skill regardless of who you are and where you’re from.
For this alone, all other benefits of studying and working abroad notwithstanding, makes the entire experience of putting oneself out of one’s comfort zone absolutely worth the price of admission.
Regardless of where you are in life, the first day of anything is always a nerve-wracking experience. As I first stepped through the gates of the Universitat Internacional de Catalunya the day after I had arrived in Barcelona, I felt the nervousness that everyone feels on that first day of school. Add to the fact that I had yet to unpack, was still adjusting to the six-hour time difference, and had spent my first night sleeping on a piece of cardboard.
It helped that I was with my three flatmateswho were my schoolmates as well. At least I could get to the university without getting lost. They all had 3G on their phones so could easily use Google Maps or City Mapper (I highly recommend this app) to easily get from point A to point B without getting hopelessly lost, as I frequently do.
After officially enrolling, the other students and I were greeted by Dr. Consuela Dobrescu, the academic coordinator of the program. Each of us was handed a folder containing a planner, highlighters, a folder, a pencil, and a calendar from the university. She then toured us around the campus which was composed of two buildings, one with five floors and another with six. UIC was so much smaller in area than the universities back home. It was not tiny by any standards, and in addition to my course, a Masters in Arts and Cultural Management, they also have graduate and doctorate courses in Business, Education, Architecture, Humanities, and more. Another stark difference is how few personnel they require. There are perhaps two people in charge of security, a few more for custodial and food services, and the rest are academic and administrative staff. At the DLS-CSB School of Design & Arts where I taught illustration, the building is thirteen stories and they employ a small army of security guards, custodial personnel, drivers, and non-teaching staff. Of course, they have over 4,000 students, but in the Philippines, labor is cheap.
School was never a place for learning for me, I feel. I had spent nearly 50% of my life to date in educational institutions, with four years resulting in a Bachelor of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies (a course especially designed for those who do not know what they want to do when they grow up—which is an accurate description for who I was in college and even after), and a year in the University of the Philippines taking up the Certificate for Professional Educators Program in order to teach.
But here I am now, paying a significant amount of money out of my own pocket, traveling more than halfway across the world to sit in a classroom and to listen to lectures. At thirty-five, I am the oldest in my class and two years older than the academic director of my program. My brain stopped creating new connections over ten years ago, and millions of my neurons have ceased to fire by now, so my ability to acquire new knowledge isn’t all it used to be.
So why am I going back to school? And why all the way in Spain?
Several years ago, my French friend Dominique lent me a film L’Auberge Espagnole (in English, The Spanish Apartment). It is about six Erasmus students who share an apartment in Barcelona.
Today, I find myself living in an flat, in Barcelona, together with three other students from different parts of the world. Uncanny how life imitates art.
I believe that commercial air travel is one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century. Thanks to it, there is nowhere in the world that one cannot be in in less than 22 hours. The world has seemingly shrunk, and one can meet up with friends in London, do business in China, and order shoes from the US (again via China).
As I walked into the Swedish furniture complex in Barcelona after having ridden over in a German automobile with a Spaniard at the wheel, a Russian, two Germans, and a Norwegian, I felt the full impact of the much-bandied about word globalisation.
Meet my flatmates (click the image):
All three women are incredibly well-traveled and very independent. Coming from the Philippines where we rarely have the opportunity to be alone, not to mention to travel solo, and where women still play traditional roles, they are all quite exceptional. Although I am accustomed to being the only thorn among the roses–I was the only male teacher when I worked in Mindanao, and the only male reading teacher when I worked in a clinic for children with learning difficulties–this is an entirely new experience, given the variety of backgrounds, cultures, and personalities.
It will be interesting to see how things develop in the next few months. I am certain there will be challenges. For one, I am an introvert who is used to living alone, so there will have to be some adjustment on my part.
Also, coming from a developing country, I will also be faced with a lifestyle that I consider–simply because I come from the Philippines–to be well above my means. As fortunate as we are to have found a beautiful, spacious flat in the suburbs of Les Corts in Barcelona, furnished with appliances, cutlery, dishes, brand-new IKEA furniture, I would still need to be able to find work to support myself while I am here.
The IKEA furniture-shopping expedition culminated with a meal in the cafeteria. Whereas my flatmates bought curtains, frames, carpets, bookends, lamps, and other embellishments with which to beautify their rooms, I had bought a trash bin.
It is a strange feeling, arriving in a foreign country for the first time. It is a process that continues even after you have walked out of the airport, even after you have unpacked your bags, taken your first shower, or have had your first meal.
I arrived in Barcelona airport before noon, and after using the mere 15 minutes of free wifi that they make available to contact my flatmates to get the address of our apartment, I then had to figure out how to get there. My first attempt to board a bus to the city taught me that they do not give change for anything larger than €20, so I had to go back up to the airport to have money changed into smaller denominations.
TIP: When arriving in a new country, bring the local currency in smaller denominations. The bus fare from the airport to the city is €5.90, while the regular bus fare within the city is €2.15. Buying a prepaid card as early as possible will save you money right off the bat. For example, a card worth 10 trips costs €10.30 (only €1 per trip), and is valid on the bus, tram, and metro. Multiple swipes within an hour also count as just one trip.
You could, of course, take a taxi, which I’ve learned is quite reasonable, and not cutthroat in their rates (unlike airport taxis in my country). Out of habit, however, I do not take a taxi if I can help it.
My first interaction with the locals was on the plane. Marta and Angela were two ladies who ran a travel agency, Atlantis Mara, and they had just taken a group to Myanmar for several days. So I was quite lucky as they spoke english and suggested places to visit and so on. I chatted with one of their clients about football, and learned that tickets to watch a match in Barcelona Camp Nou costs at least €50, but that there are clubs you can join which gets you a discount.
In the arrival area, there are information centres, banks, money changers, and a surprisingly large number of dogs. I suggest that unless you’re changing large amounts, you can get better rates elsewhere.
As usual, I immediately got lost (even back in the Philippines, I have a horrible sense of direction). Despite having consulted at the tourist information booth, I missed my stop and had to take another bus back. Fortunately, there was a tourist information booth here because I couldn’t find the bus stop. Then, after receiving directions, I decided to sightsee for a bit, then proceeded to wait at the wrong bus stop for a bus that never came. I tried asking a few people for directions (all the Spanish phrases one has learned become so much harder to remember when you really need to use them), and was eventually pointed in the right direction by a waiter.
TIP: As they tend to stand outside, waiters and shopkeepers are good people to ask for directions. Senior citizens are also happy to help, but one I spoke to completely ignored me after several “Buenos tardeses.” She either had really bad hearing or simply did not want to have anything to do with a FOB like myself. Also, take a cab if it’s not that expensive.
By the time I got to my flat past 3, my shoulders were screaming (my pack weighed around 20kg). I rang the bell, introduced myself to the voice over the intercom, and was let in by a young Spaniard named Jose, who turned out to be the property manager and the son of the owners of the flat.
We rode up on an antique elevator to the fourth floor, and I walked into what would be my home–and to meet the people who were to be my flatmates for the next ten months–for the very first time.
TIP: When looking for long-staying flat rentals in Barcelona, search out sites like JustLandedBCN, AirBNB, or Loquo. Also, don’t ignore ads simply because they don’t have photos. I plan to write a more detailed post about flat hunting in Barcelona in the future.