by TERENCE REPELENTE
Portraits by PINGGOT ZULUETA
Mitch Empleo-Ventura is an artist who loves to explore various forms, experiment with materials, and play with artistic perception. A Manila-based Fine Arts graduate, he is a painter, a designer of many things, and a creative manager of two small companies that mainly deal with digital printing—Digitallworx Graphics and Imprintela Digital Garment Designs and Décor.
In 2007, when she established her company Imprintela, she got involved with a form that would define her artistic style today—fashion. “Imprintela then was apparently one of the pioneers of digital textile printing service here in the Philippines,” she says. “But creating works related to fashion really started when I got the chance to stage fashion shows with the intention of merely promoting said printing service.”
As a creative manager, Mitch came up with an idea of showing a collection that vibrantly applies her vast knowledge in arts and design, which she intended to do to set Imprintela apart from other commercial T-shirt printing companies. “The first show was a collection of digitally printed shirts, reworked and reconstructed into fashionable dresses,” she says. “The next ones were collections of digitally printed garments interpreting characters and elements from my paintings, others are ensembles of 3D handdrawn sculptural clothes, brazed brass rods cage dress, wooden skirt, and of course digitally printed fabrics.” Her most recent collection, “Visual Perception,” which became a part of the Manhattan Fashion Week 2019 in New York, includes optical illusion imprinted on garments.
Since her first fashion show, or as she likes to call it “runway exhibition,” Mitch has treated these kinds of projects as artistic breathing spaces. “I have the freedom to express concepts I have in mind. It serves as a platform for me to apply my creativity, knowledge, and design skills,” she says. “It serves as a chance for me to explore and discover more things, experiment, and follow my curiosity.” The feeling of fulfillment she gets off runway exhibitions is the same feeling of fulfillment she gets whenever she finishes other artworks.
As she gets involved in more runway shows and exhibitions, Mitch is always tagged or pegged as a fashion designer. “Which I know I am not. I don’t consider myself as one,” she says. “I don’t consider myself as a fashion designer who produces a collection of clothes every fashion season. I just want to explore and experiment with the possibilities of expressing and applying art into fashion.” With this, however, comes the question that has always bugged her: When does fashion become art?
“People have been debating since the beginning of time and everyone has a different perception and understanding,” says Mitch. Most of her works, however, are called art-to-wear, coined from the term ready-to-wear. This kind of art, or fashion in general, is applied arts. She looks up to artists and institutions such as Issey Miyake, Iris Van Herpen, and Viktor and Rolf. “If clothing is made to convey something, if it made people realize, think, and feel, or if it’s done with an artistic expression, or with a creative process, and if it somehow reflects cultural values, beliefs, and identity, I think it may be considered an artwork,” she says.
By extension, Mitch believes that the purpose of art should go beyond producing a “product.” Instead, it must produce thinking, “suggest a solution to a specific problem, or an expression of belief. It can also mark a point of time in history, to discover what isn’t yet, or to create something new from what already exists.” Art is not the end product, art is the process of making it.
While she often ponders about these things, it isn’t really a big deal to Mitch if her works aren’t considered “art,” which is especially a problem for a woman artist mainly working on clothes in a macho (or male-centric), painting-and-sculpture-dominated art industry. “At some point, people may consider them as whatever they like,” she says. “Everything will still depend on how people perceive things. Their judgment will depend on their visual perception, prior knowledge about it, beliefs, and preferences.”
Unbothered, Mitch, a single parent, goes about her life, wearing different kinds of hats every day, working, printing, creating, experimenting with visual perception.