Entry to Venice Biennale takes on South China Sea crisis

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At the end of a talk by Patrick Flores at Art Fair Philippines, a guest from among the packed room of around 100 raised his hands and directed a question to the curator of “Tie A String Around The World,” the exhibition to be mounted by the Philippines at the 56th Venice Biennale from May 9 to Nov 22.

Where can we see the 15 other entries to the National Commission for Culture and the Arts’ call for curatorial proposals in July 2014, he asked.

The University of the Philippines arts history professor redirected the question to Senator Loren Legarda, who was seated at the back of a conference hall sponsored by Christie’s auction house.

Legarda, whose cultural initiaves have included the takeover of the old Department of Tourism building by the Museum of the Filpino People and National Art Gallery, had emphasized minutes earlier that the selection of the official Philippine representative went through a rigid and transparent process.

The jury, which included three art experts from abroad, were not given the names of the curators submitting their proposals, but were informed of the identity of the participating artists. 

Of the 16 entries, said Legarda, Flores’ had impressed them the most because of its “intellectual rigor.”

To answer the unexpected question, Legarda explained that while they have thought of publishing the other proposals, in the spirit of transparency, resources are being focused on the Biennale, which is three months away.

“In fact that’s one of the projects that Patrick and I want to embark on. We’ll probably publish a catalogue to feature the 15 other entries.” she explained. They are also thinking of having a space where the 15 curators could talk about their work.

In other words, no. It is not possible for the public to see the other proposals and judge for themselves why “Tie A String Around The World” became our official entry.

Flores’ proposal is both scholarly and relevant — certainly less abstract than “Hetero(tropic),” the exhibition originally earmarked for the Biennale before the NCCA stepped in. It was to be curated by US-based art historian Pearlie Rose Baluyut, as announced by the Department of Foreign Affairs in a press release. 

Hetero(tropic) was to be about “the Philippines as a tropical heterotopia, a real space of crises where utopia…is simultaneously represented, negotiated and/or subverted,” the press release noted. (No, we don’t get it either).

In contrast, Flores’ proposal is an answer to the current crisis involving the contested waters of the South China Sea. “Tie A String Around The World” will be mounted in the Philippine Pavilion, a 150 square meter space at the 18th century Palazzo Mora. “It’s small but it’s every expensive and this is all we can afford,” Flores tells Coconuts Manila

It will have three rooms. One of them will screen a remastered copy of Ang Buhay Ni Genghis Khan (1950) which was shot in the hills of Angono, Rizal, by Manuel Conde on a shoestring budget and made its world debut at the 1952 Venice Film Festival.

The other two will house works by Jose Tence Ruiz (an installation referencing BRP Sierra Madre, the tank landing ship that the Philippine government deliberate ran aground in the Spratlys Island to serve as a symbol of the country’s ownership claim of the disputed property) and Manny Montelibano (a three-channel video entitled “A Dashed State”). Both artists are almost done with their works.

UK-based artist David Medalla will also participate. The exhibit, says Flores, is meant to make the Philippines part of the global conversation — with the country setting the terms of the conversation.

The last time the Philippines joined the Biennale was in 1964. Abstract artist Jose Joya and sculptor Napoleon Abueva were the featured artists. One of Abueva’s abstract sculptures, “Allegorical Harpoon,” belongs to the collection of the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

The Philippines also intends to participate in the 2016 Venice Biennale for Architecture (it also joined in 2014) and the 2017 Venice Biennale International Art Exhibition, according to Legarda.

Photo: ABS-CBNnews.com


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