Photo Banner By Kevin Sembrano
Photo Banner By Kevin Sembrano.

Graphika Manila 2023 challenges creatives to persevere despite pandemic challenges

This year's edition of Graphika Manila takes it to the next level by exploring the vulnerability and optimism within the community of creators amidst pandemic challenges and creative slowdowns.

By Jonas Roque | Friday, 17 February 2023

Now in its 18th year, Graphika Manila, regarded as Asia's most influential multimedia design conference, brought back its original two-day format with a diverse 14-speaker lineup from the creative industry. The largest and longest-running design conference fueled the imagination of participating students and professionals on Feb. 11 and 12 at the SMX Convention Center, Pasay City.


Digital artist Mike Winkelmann, more popularly known as Beeple, headlined the Conference of Creativity. His 5000-digital-image collage titled "Everydays: the First 5000 Days," worth $69.3 million, catapulted him to become the third most valuable living artist in 2021. Joining him are international creative studios: Cookie Studio (London), Super Bonfire (Beijing), and Territory Studio (San Francisco). 


Graphika Manila 2023 also tapped a diverse roster of local and international creators and educators with valuable multidisciplinary insights and massive online reach. Two ASUS featured artists, Jason Magbanua, with the moniker of Philippines' King of Same-Day Edit Video, and Kevin Eric Raymundo of "Tarantadong Kalbo" fame, completed the ensemble.


Besides the abundance of their audio-visual portfolios, the speakers filled the room with honest expositions of their emotions, which resident host Margaux Sue concluded as the most vulnerable edition of Graphika Manila yet. Despite the difference in their respective subject matters, the speakers shared recurring themes and intersecting narratives of progress and resiliency. They seemingly reference each other's plot resolutions. The convention serves the audience with interwoven journeys to one epic of "art-imitates-life-and-life-imitates-art" proportions.


Design your story

Conference opener and Cookie Studio's creative director and founder, Thiago Maia, emphasized that storytelling is the soul of any art project. He recounted how they explored the beach to gather stories and texture references as the groundwork for their character design. Similarly, the metaphoric “Kikomachine Komix” of Manix Abrera encouraged the audience to climb the highest point of one's current location to become an observant transmission receiver of stories nearby, whether these are Filipino myths or struggles in the corporate world.


Jason Kirby and Kaism Lim, co-founders of the multimedia production company Super Bonfire, made a grandstand demo reel on integrating the client’s message, ambitious light production, and synchronized drone shows. 

Likewise, world-renowned paper and wood sculpture artist Patrick Cabral attributed his success to his relatable stories. According to him, sharing your story through art is an implicit way of asking for help to survive. Visibly teary-eyed, Cabral recounted how his nurturing relationship with the global brand Starbucks came full circle. It started when he used to take shelter at Starbucks to find internet connection during his younger years. He has now exported large-scale and intricate wood sculptures to the brand's headquarters in Seattle. This fruitful partnership happened because Starbucks believed in him and related to his stories.


Marti Romances, a co-founder of Territory Studio responsible for the visual effects for films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, Ready Player One, and Pacific Rim, discloses the company's three-fold framework: Design-Story-Technology. Knowing the characters' stories surrounding their environment helps them integrate the designs effectively. They transform visual effects into more affectionate visuals, whether on how to boost Lebron James' jump in Space Jam or how to enclose Scarlet Johannson in a world of moving and flashy neon signs in The Ghost in the Shell. Even though filmgoers would witness their hard work in a fraction of a minute or on a smaller screen space, actors experiencing their design first-hand solidifies their performance to the delight of the viewers.


Drawing out the pain

In his talk titled "It's OK not to be OK!", Maia prescribed paying attention to feelings. As he identified himself as part of the therapy generation who used to hold back expressing their feelings, the sense of accomplishment comes if and only if the captured emotions were passed to generation after generation through art. Meanwhile, despite Cabrera's knack for fun and humor, ironically for him, the pain is the natural storyteller.

Treading along the same path of accepting imperfection, or the Wabi-Sabi concept that Maia previously shared, local illustrator Soleil Ignacio embraced flaws, literally stretchmarks even, with her self-portraits and illustrations celebrating positivity in women's bodies. Her career 
trajectory is also met with burnout and rejections, which is the central theme of her talk filled with Bondee app references—stepping back to acknowledge the pain that helped her to become a better artist.


One of the many heart-wrenching turned hopeful moments of Graphika Manila 2023 was when Burton Rast, UX Design Lead at Google and photographer of the Internet-viral mobile photography series of San Francisco architecture, proved that being creative is tough. He took the courage to reveal his substance dependence, impostor's syndrome, hedonic treadmill run, and the loss of his chosen family members. Rast believes in suffering as a utility in art. But only when one forgives himself can he fully contribute to others. Paying it forward lasts longer than artistic achievements.


In a different approach to dealing with pain, productivity content creator, director, and designer Matthew Encina shared his systematic weighing of options by scoring his pains and gains and the compromise to bridge the gap. He theorized that in navigating a creative journey, an artist always has more than one option, and they can always choose.

Pandemic pandemonium

The COVID-19 pandemic did not spare the high-profile client serving multimedia event management company Super Bonfire. The giant firm's technical expertise includes larger-than-life light projections, real-time synchronized drone shows, and augmented reality executions, which greatly suffered since their bread and butter live shows were taken away. However, Super Bonfire accepted the challenge to continue and saw the light at the end of the tunnel through virtual event launches and concert productions.


In the Philippines, the COVID-19 response of the government, or the lack thereof, and the piping hot political climate leading to the presidential elections all at once prompted the local cartoonist Kevin Eric Raymundo to shift from mundane shenanigans of life to more status quo disruptor comics. His viral artwork, "Tumindig," started an online movement by flipping the narrative of the fist bump gesture of former President Rodrigo Duterte to people shaped like fists taking a stand for truth and justice.


Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, the US-based Encina puts COVID-19 into perspective, “The pandemic is a gift of time to pause, explore, and reflect. Shift happens, and embracing change is the new normal.” 


Similarly, sought-after wedding videographer Jason Magbanua considers boredom his biggest enemy. Hence, instead of sulking in isolation, he took advantage of the situation to improve himself and learn new post-production techniques that secured his position in the wedding photography market for the next five years. The discipline to learn technology and its marriage with creativity allowed him to produce one-of-a-kind wedding videos. 


Lifelong learning

Proud and loud to not have wealthy parents, illustrator and apparel designer Dan Fajardo earned his spot in apparel design and illustration through the constant reinvention of his style. "Be obsessed with improving yourself," he quipped. According to him, the key is to become a student for life.


Following the same direction, local graphic and type designer Jo Malinis treasures the value of education. From a serial apprentice attending online typography master classes, she is now an educator and founder of the Type63 community dedicated to understanding the shared identity of Philippine types.

Cabral explored different media as he transitioned from paper to algorithm-heavy digital platforms. Not only did it unchain him from the creative block and self-imposed restrictions, but it also allowed him to accept the most complex artistic challenges to survive.


The inspirational talk of Encina is nothing short of gratitude to his mentor, Chris Do. But only after he uncovered how capable he is, he overcame his limiting beliefs. He let go of his scarred past and updated his "operating system." Hinting at Fajardo's earlier sentiments on self-improvement, Encina sees the same obsession as an opportunity magnet. Now, the world is ready to see his brainchild documentary Generation NoCode.


The speakers did not limit themselves to the boundaries of graphic design. While Ignacio unlocked her wall-climbing skills, Encina enjoyed woodworking and mechanical keyboard building—developing these variants of themselves even landed them brand-new collaborations.


Into the metaverse

As a prologue to the highlight of Graphika Manila, AR developer and multimedia designer Mitsuko Ono helped the audience understand the metaverse amidst the misconceptions. She attempts to fill in the lack of imagination and information on extended reality with what she believed were weird antics at first. Ono invited everyone to explore the extended reality without intimidated by the programming codes and head-mounted displays. She is optimistic that while metaverse development is still in its infancy, its fruition will pave more practical applications. She believes the art in the metaverse and physical reality will still co-exist because art inspires and does not destroy.


The leading man, Mike Winkelmann or Beeple, who shot to prominence in the metaverse with his daily project of posting digital artworks that started in 2007, acknowledged he might not end up with great artwork for the day throughout his routine. Still, what matters more is how he keeps the momentum rolling. With his unwavering focus, 20,000 "everydays" more is a reality on the horizon. 


Laughing at the thought of him being the hero the irrational exuberant metaverse deserves, he explained art has always been susceptible to the hype because art has no ceiling value. Alluding to the other speakers' history of client work, at the end of the day, or his "everyday" instead, NFT is simply a new payment method. Instead of building a larger audience for NFTs, his priority is honing the craft, especially with the imminent emergence of artificial intelligence art. Humans and machines will vie on how to make art super interesting.


Beeple closed the convention with his live demonstration of constructing an artwork for the day. With the help of the audience and his ingenuity in political satire, Mike Winkelmann lampooned former Philippine president Duterte seemingly in prison.

Continuity Challenge

ASUS, Graphika Manila 2023's presenting partner, sent attendees to choose-your-adventure-like challenges to complete their mission passports. Participants tried the brand's latest tech products for creators for a chance to win in a raffle. All ticket holders received a conference kit, including The Graphika Art Book 2023, and a free commemorative shirt in honor of the master and previous Graphika Manila speaker, Kim Jung Gi.


With another successful year added to its more than a decade-long existence, Graphika Manila further pushed its purpose in creating a space of shared experiences and inspiring new ideas among thinkers, collaborators, and creators. 


Despite the pandemic-caused setbacks, the uncertain yet exciting future of the metaverse, and valid feelings of burnout, the design conference challenges the artists to take control in pushing boundaries and changing the art forms. Life goes on and is meant to be continued.


Last updated: Saturday, 18 February 2023