Legarda: Filipino Voices Amplified with Each Participation at the Venice Biennale

May 5, 2017

Filipino artists, thinkers, and cultural workers are now preparing for the opening of the Philippine Pavilion at the 2017 Venice Art Biennale. Led by curator Joselina Cruz, the exhibit titled The Spectre of Comparison features Filipino artists Lani Maestro and Manuel Ocampo to represent the nation in the prestigious global art exhibition.


The Spectre of Comparison will hold its vernissage onMay 11 at the Artiglierie of the Arsenale in Venice, and will open to the public from May 13 to November 26, 2017.


“I am proud that the Philippines will be part of the Venice Biennale for the third year in a row,” Senator Loren Legarda stated.


Legarda, the visionary and principal advocate of the Philippine participation in the Venice Biennale explained, “Our realities and moments as a nation unfold with each exhibit. The world gets to hear what the country and our people have to say. We also have the privilege to listen to other nations, their discourse and their concerns. Now that we are in the Arsenale, the Filipino voice is further amplified.”


The Spectre of Comparison


The Spectre of Comparison was chosen among 12 curatorial proposals submitted to the Philippine Arts in Venice Biennale (PAVB) Coordinating Committee by a panel of jurors during deliberations held last August 2016. The jury was composed of Dr. Eugene Tan, Director of the National Gallery Singapore; Florentina P. Colayco, President of Metropolitan Museum of Manila; Luis “Junyee” E. Yee, Jr., a pioneer of installation art in the Philippines; then National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) Chairperson Prof. Felipe de Leon, Jr.; and Legarda, principal advocate of the project.


Drawn from Jose Rizal‘s Noli Me Tangere is the phrase el demonio de las comparaciones (also translated to ‗the spectre of comparisons‘)—the impulse for the exhibition and the framework for the practices of Maestro and Ocampo.


“The phrase encapsulates the experience of Rizal‘s protagonist, Crisostomo Ibarra, when he gazes out at the botanical gardens of Manila and simultaneously sees the gardens of Europe. This point of realization suggests the loss of Ibarra‘s (and Rizal‘s) political innocence, this double vision of experiencing events up close and from afar: no longer able to see the Philippines without seeing Europe nor gaze at Europe without seeing the Philippines,” explained Cruz, the curator.


With this as spectral pivot, Maestro‘s and Ocampo‘s practices, aesthetically worlds apart from each other and produced through a multiplicity of contexts, are brought together in Venice.


Both artists have lived and practiced outside of the Philippines, but have maintained active engagement with the country throughout their careers. Their practice and their subject matters are deeply involved with their experiences as immigrants or citizens of a new diaspora that also reflect the complexity of a contemporary Philippine identity.


“The exhibition looks at their practices as emblematic of the experience of Rizal‘s spectre of comparisons, the juxtaposition of their works, the manifestation of political and social commentary from afar, as they saw the events of the Philippines and their adopted countries ‘through an inverted telescope’,” said Cruz.


Other Participating Filipino Artists in 2017 Art Biennale


Other Filipinos were also selected by Christine Macel, curator of the 57th Venice Art Biennale, to participate in the main exhibition “VIVA ARTE VIVA”. Macel has invited seminal Filipino avant-garde artist David Medalla, and new generation contemporary artists Katherine Nuñez and Issay Rodriguez to be part of the main exhibit.


Macel said the 2017 theme is “an exclamation, a passionate outcry for art and the state of the artist. The role, the voice and the responsibility of the artist are more crucial than ever before within the framework of contemporary debates.”



The Philippine Presence in the Venice Biennale


In the 2015 Venice Art Biennale, the Philippine re-entered the art exposition after a 51-year hiatus with the exhibit Tie A String Around The Worldcurated by Dr. Patrick Flores. The exhibit garnered critical acclaim. It featured the film Genghis Khanby the late national artists Manuel Conde and Carlos Francisco, multi-channel video A Dashed State by Manny Montelibano, and the installationShoal by Jose Tence Ruiz.


In 2016, the Philippine Pavilion presented Muhon: Traces of an Adolescent City in its inaugural participation in the Venice Architecture Biennale. It was curated by Leandro Locsin, Jr., Sudarshan Khadka, Jr., and Juan Paolo dela Cruz of the Leandro V. Locsin Partners (LVLP).


Both the 2015 and 2016 pavilions were mounted in the 18th-century building, the Palazzo Mora.


As art is continuously evolving and to further promote Philippine art, the country aimed to have a place among the other national pavilions. This year, the Philippine Pavilion is in the Arsenale, the historic exhibition space of the Venice Biennale art platform.