Tensions and Intersections: The Philippine pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2018
Fresh from the vernissage: BluPrint's first look at “The City Who Had Two Navels”
May 28, 2018
Written by Angel Yulo
Photographed by Lawrence Carlos
In the months leading to this day, you have seen snippets of the Philippine pavilion for the Venice Architecture Biennale 2018 being put together. What began as an open call for proposals in June 2017 is now on view at the world’s foremost stage for architecture.
Twelve curatorial proposals were deliberated by a jury composed of NCCA Chairman Virgilio S. Almario, Leandro Y. Locsin, Jr., Fernando Zobel de Ayala, Carol Yinghua Lu, Lani Maestro, and Senator Loren Legarda. And in September 2017, the Philippine Arts at Venice Biennale (PAVB) announced the selection of “The City Who Had Two Navels” by Edson Cabalfin as the country’s representative to the 16th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia.
We enter the arched doorway of the Arsenale and see a concept we heard of months ago materialized. It is surreal, like walking through a city you’ve only encountered through descriptions. In this city, there are no pearly gates or gold walls. Instead, drenched in indigo light, there is a tension of human life thriving on streets wide and narrow, in commercial establishments packaged as the “greater good,” and in the shadows of intermittent spaces.
There is also history, which I feel is more of a web we have spun (and continue to spin) rather than a weight that reins us. However, we have made it an anchor and, in effect, most feel like “true Filipino architecture” is at the docks of our vernacular prototypes; the exhibit questions that. And in a chamber of the Arsenale, Venice’s former shipyard, Philippine architecture becomes unmoored bit by bit.
The Pavilion’s main feature is the impressive 14-meter-long wedge screen that slithers its way and cuts across the vast space, with its highest point at 4 meters tapering down to 1.8 meters.
Output from the different collaborators are displayed on the outside walls of the screen. One side entitled (Post)Colonial Imaginations contains the projects of De la Salle – College of Saint Benilde; TAO-Pilipinas; and University of the Philippines – Mindanao. The other side called Neoliberal Urbanism showcases the works of University of San Carlos; University of the Philippines – Diliman; and photographers Marvin Maning and Jinggo Montenejo.
If seen from above, the screens form the perimeter of a Venn diagram intersection with one circle representing each key idea of the exhibit. The structure is meant to symbolize the navel, which is a significant symbol and concept in architecture.
In his treatises, Vitruvius, the Roman architect from the First Century BCE, specifically attributed the centrality of the navel in the human body and its subsequent manifestation of divine perfection. For the Tausug of Sulu in Mindanao, their stilt-raised house bay sinug (literally meaning “house of the sea”) is composed of nine posts, each corresponding to various parts of the human body. The center post is considered the navel of the house.
The central section, inside these two walls, features Philippine contemporary artist Yason Banal’s multi-channel video installation Untitled Formation, Concrete Supernatural, Pixel Unbound. The work investigates the tenuous overlap between colonialism and neoliberalism, particularly through their contemporary links and manifestations. With the installation placed in the middle, acting as the intersection of the two “navels”, Banal reads architecture not only as a built and visual environment but also as a conceptual design and coded translation of power, identity, market and affect.
Shot using 4K, Full HD and drones, low-resolution through 360-degree, CCTV and phone cameras, as well as phantom docu-fictions, a cyborg-like voiceover and a dreamy soundtrack, the video installation explores power structures and subjectivities in critical and poetic ways, evoking history and transformative potentials of the social as architecture.
The May 24th vernissage opened with a tour of the Philippine pavilion led by curator Edson Cabalfin, which was succeeded with a Q&A with the curator and collaborators. Welcoming speeches were given by NCCA Chairman Almario, Philippine ambassador to Italy Domingo Nolasco, and Senator Loren Legarda, after which the pavilion was declared officially open.
This is the fourth consecutive participation of the country in the important contemporary art exposition beginning in 2015. The Philippine Pavilion at the Venice Biennale is under the auspices of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Office of Senator Loren Legarda, with the support of the Department of Tourism.