Bookings, Karl Castro, Kanto.com.ph

Creation Story

Artist and renowned book designer Karl Castro turns a new page with video project Bookings, tackling national identity and the act of creation in off-beat 25-minute episodes

Interview Patrick Kasingsing
Images Karl Castro

Hello Karl! Exciting times ahead yes? Hope you got some sleep after wrapping up the first episode of Bookings!

Sleep, yes, rest and peace, nope! Wahaha! 

Okay, so tell us a little more about the Bookings video project; what pushed you to finally do it? Is there a perceived question or issue it seeks to answer?

Generally, what spurred me is my observation that so much valuable knowledge and discourse remains in academic or professional circles when they should be informing broader public discourse. Part of this is due to the rigor of the discipline; the language of scholarship, for example, demands textuality and vocabularies that render them intimidating, even impenetrable to a pedestrian. Working as a book designer for many years (and more recently, exhibition designer), I found that a large part of my role was mobilizing visual language and structuring information to create more entry points into a text or work. As a reader myself, I love books but I know this is not always the case, and my experience designing them made me realize that sometimes, a book is not the right format or platform for an intended effect. This is where my urge for ‘unbooking’ emerged. Bookings with Karl Castro is my tentative attempt to apply the insights I’ve learned from film and art schools as well as my creative experience in academic, industrial, and advocacy spheres in a form that is, primarily, audiovisual and freely accessible.

Did you know from the get-go that it was going to be a video project? Did you consider other mediums?

I knew that its backbone was definitely video, and YouTube video in particular. I’m conceiving YouTube as a kind of museum/archival space unencumbered by admission fees and spatial limitations. That said, I’m also aware that the project can’t live exclusively in one format. There has to be offline conversations, perhaps even a book or an exhibit, or walking tour. Cultural awareness is necessarily cultivated in a myriad of ways to make an impact, so the possibilities are endless.

You’ve dabbled in all manners of artistic expression; what would you say are your takeaways from your experience with video? As a film graduate, would you say that it feels like coming home especially after finding renown for your print work?

In a way, yes. This first season is definitely a re-/un-learning curve. There is a performativity and pulse to the video medium that I have, I suppose, avoided by going into print. I’ve always been a behind-the-scenes kinda guy so having to speak and record voice-overs is frightening, moreso appearing on cam. Awkward introvert problems. Hehe! But I am also excited at the possibilities of animation, film editing, video essays, interviews, and the ways in which they can become pretexts or seeds for important discussions. 

You have not completely escaped your book background, however; it’s all over the video project from the title down to some of the elements and framing devices. Would you say that your experiences with print and book design have been instrumental in how you branded and plan to structure episodes of your vlog?

Yes. It’s weird because when I speak about my book design approach, I always recognize that it is largely informed by film concepts like montage, mise en scene, non-linear storytelling, etc. Now I find myself saying the opposite: that the video is informed by bookmaking, like having an introduction, chapters, footnotes, and references, etc. It is really a funny and difficult process that stretches and tests my knowledge constantly! Haha!

You pulled no punches with the wonderfully put together (but also very accessible) first episode of Bookings on “Paglikha” (Creating). What expectations did you set yourself with regards to audience reaction and takeaway? What is one thing you’d like for them to get?

Thanks for the kind words! Hehe. I guess in this episode, my challenge was to be able to explain key artistic concepts in Filipino. Not because I am a purist; actually the opposite is truer. I just feel that much of the time, we borrow words mindlessly, because it is easier or it comes from a more dominant language, which leaves OUR language underutilized and underdeveloped. Especially now in a time when Filipino is teetering from school curricula, I felt that I had to at least demonstrate in this video that it is not only possible, but desirable, as language gives nuance, specificity, and new insights to the concepts it signifies. My hope is that young people learn to borrow and adapt more consciously (and not simply reproduce hegemonies uncritically) while at the same time learn to familiarize and root themselves in indigenous ways of knowing and making (a task which may require recovery, replenishing, and surely, innovation).

My hope is that young people learn to borrow and adapt more consciously while at the same time learn to familiarize and root themselves in indigenous ways of knowing and making.

Stills from Bookings with Karl Castro S1, Episode 1 “Paglikha” (Creating)

What aspects of the production did you find the most challenging? Why so? Any fun anecdotes or crazy executions you want to share concerning video production?

Two things were the most difficult. First is the performative aspect. I am uncomfortable with speaking and performing, I suck at enunciation and constructing elegant, cohesive rhetoric on the fly. I am right now hopeless at being in front of the camera. As a designer/artist I’ve kind of evaded this weakness, but as a teacher, I’ve had to confront it.

Second is sustainability. As much as I enjoyed producing stop motion segments, I realized that it would be unsustainable to render whole episodes in stop motion (unless I have a team and funding). So I’ve had to figure out ways in which I can achieve a healthy balance between craftiness and feasibility. After all, I’m here for the long haul, so I want to cultivate sustainable production workflows.

I guess the crazy behind-the-scenes anecdote I can share is that I’ve completed one full episode in stop motion, and have shot interviews for a few other episodes before the pandemic. Most of it will not see the light of day anytime soon, hehe. I hope to revisit this ‘lost season’ right after I finish this first one. 

Was this a solitary effort? Who did you work alongside on the project and how was the experience like putting it together, especially during the pandemic where face-to-face interactions are put to a minimum?

At the start of the project, I had a partial grant and a small team consisting of a producer, an editor, and a cinematographer. Since the pandemic though, I’ve had to rethink ways in which I can do it all on my own. Interviews were conducted virtually. Research relied heavily on digital archives or materials that I already have.

What/who were your influences for the project?

I am inspired by so many different things! The work of Michel Gondry; the early vitality of MTV and Batibot; John Berger’s Ways of Seeing; the work of Rei Kawakubo, Yohji Yamamoto, and Martin Margiela; both vernacular and indigenous artistry; culinary traditions, various contemporary YouTube channels dealing with culture, like The Art Assignment, Every Frame a Painting, even the channels of luxury houses like Dior, Prada, and Hermès. Haha, I suppose it’s all a crazy cornucopia of things I love that bleed into the work.

Bookings behind the scenes

What informs your choices of subject matter to talk about in your videos? What other topics can we look forward to? Do you have a comprehensive master plan or lineup of content prepared?

My plan right now is to work in seasons. Not really seasons in terms of a definite number of episodes and consistent duration. For me, the season is the investigation of a particular concept, so it’s my way of structuring the content so I can produce a cohesive body of videos. 

The first season tackles paglikha (creating) and the basic elements with which we create. In this season, one of my goals is for it to be useful as a supplement in both classroom, virtual, and self-motivated learning. So you can expect down the pipeline videos dedicated to the concepts of line, space, color, etc.

Too often, we are taught art using the examples and paragons of the West, so in this season I want to focus on Filipino creators and as much as possible, let their voices be heard, either from existing recordings or through new conversations. Another goal was to keep the discussion transdisciplinary. Coming from a “visual arts” background, I felt that the notion of disciplines in Art was something seemingly insurmountable. How do you distinguish installation from architecture, object from sculpture, performance art from dance or theater? I try to present disciplines as necessarily permeable and intersecting, so that hopefully young people would feel less constricted by the paths available to them. 

In this day and age of likes, follows, and views, what do you actively do to avoid having the metric mentality distract and affect you from pursuing what you intend for a project?

Well, I am definitely not expecting millions of followers as I am not necessarily a celebrity, an entertainer, or a comic. And I am also aware that the possible impact of the videos I plan to do may not be seen immediately. (In general, how do you measure cultural impact anyway?) I hope to make videos that are rooted in the moment, but can hopefully remain relevant even years into the future. For me, if I just get to sustain the making and I can tackle the topics I feel are important, then I’d be happy. The likes and follows are secondary. I’m not after personal fame; in fact, I’d actually prefer to stay below the radar, if possible. I just want to do meaningful work.

Okay, sure, but let’s say you’ve just received your YouTube golden play button; what would you like to say to your fans?

Hahaha, that’s a veritable mirage at this point! But in that hypothetical situation, I would say to the fans: Maraming salamat sa suporta. Let’s keep learning and connecting in virtual spaces like YouTube, but make sure to forge solidarities and meaningful experiences offline, too. My goal, after all, is not to capture your attention for my channel, but to activate, mobilize, and rechannel it for change. Marami pa tayong kailangan gawin, at mabibigat ang nakaambang trabaho para sa atin. Aja, fighting! •

Bookings behind the scenes

Watch the first episode of Karl Castro’s Bookings below. Don’t forget to click subscribe at youtube.com/karlcastro

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