NCCA Announces PHL Representative to Historic 1st Participation at the 15th Venice Architecture Biennale

December 2, 2015

The National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), in partnership with the Office of Senator Loren Legarda, are pleased to announce the selection of the curatorial proposal titled Muhon: Place Markers In The Search For Emerging Identity by Architect Edgardo Ledesma, Jr. of the Leandro V. Locsin Partners firm as the country’s representative to the prestigious 15th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia.


Muhon: Place Markers In The Search For Emerging Identity was chosen by the panel from among thirteen submissions and the selection process was held last November 28, 2015 at the Senate of the Philippines. The curatorial proposal was submitted by Architect Edgardo Ledesma Jr., together with partners Ar. Leandro Locsin Jr. and Ar. Raul Locsin.


The selected proposal seeks to start a discussion on built environment and its relation to cultural identity, using the dense capital Metro Manila as its subject. It aims to explore the architect’s role in building or demolishing built heritage and its implications to “an adolescent city in flux.”


In the process of research and documentation of the city’s epochal structures, the exhibit will trace iconic buildings, uncovering their history and relevance or irrelevance in the formation of the nation’s collective identity, resulting in a proposition for their preservation, conservation or adaptive reuse.


The Curatorial Proposal

Muhon is a Tagalog term for boundary stone or landmark. In the submitted curatorial concept, Ledesma envisioned the exhibit to “grapple with the meta-modern search for identity through built heritage within the context of an aggressively emerging mega city. Using Metro Manila as a test case, it will explore the hypothesis that the rapid creation and destruction of a city’s built heritage precludes the formation of cultural identity.”


“The goal of the exhibition is to incite the discourse about the emergence and formation of a city’s pubescent identity more than to prescribe a fixed way of thinking about it.” The exhibit aims to “extract conjectures that reconcile the diametrically opposed vectors of progress and of permanence while confronting the dearth of signifiers for built heritage and the lack of social consciousness about this issue.”


In the proposal, Ledesma and his team will survey 40 to 50-year-old buildings in Metro Manila in order to form a shortlist of buildings, which have architectural and cultural merit. From this shortlist, nine buildings will be selected as case studies to further discern their potential as architectural heritage.


Artists and architects will be asked to collaborate with Ledesma’s team in analyzing the shortlist. There will be three sets of abstracted models built for each of the buildings corresponding to their original state, their current condition, and their projected future. “The intent will be to abstract and distil the essence of these buildings in order to discover their value or lack thereof,” stated in the concept proposal.


The selected proposal will be mounted at the Palazzo Mora in Venice, Italy, which is the same venue as the recently concluded Philippine Pavilion at the 56th Venice Art Biennale.


For Ledesma’s Muhon, the three rooms of the pavilion will be categorized as History, Modernity, and Conjecture, respectively, and the three abstractions of each building will be distributed as such. The artists and architects that will collaborate with Ledesma will be responsible for creating each building and they will be free to interpret and model each building as they see fit. “What is important is the critique that it generates about the significance of the building,” Ledesma wrote.


All the models will be organized on a 3×3 grid corresponding to their relative locations in the city. In order to contextualize all three aspects of the entire exhibit, a video projection screen in each room will be provided. There will be a documentary about the process and rationale of creating each model and supporting information about the building’s history, which will be shown using an application to be run on a tablet or projected interactively on screen.


Deliberation of Jurors

The jurors who deliberated on the submitted proposals are renowned in their field and were chosen for their insight, knowledge and experience. The jury is composed of Architect Dominic Galicia (Philippines), Architect Minsuk Cho (South Korea), curator Shabbir Hussain Mustafa (Singapore), Jang Un Kim (South Korea), NCCA Chairman and Philippine Pavilion Commissioner Felipe de Leon, Jr. and Senator Loren Legarda, principal advocate of the project.


Architect Dominic Galicia is the current president of The International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) Philippines. Architect Minsuk Cho was the Commissioner and Curator of the Korean Pavilion Crow’s Eye View, which won the Golden Lion for Best National Pavilion at the 14th Venice Biennale International Architecture Exhibition. Shabbir Hussain Mustafa is Senior Curator at the National Gallery Singapore, where he researches art from Singapore and Southeast Asia. Jang Un Kim is a senior curator at the National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in South Korea.


Each of the jurors was given copies of the thirteen proposals for review. The Coordinating Committee made sure that the documents did not reveal the name of the proponents to ensure neutrality and that the strength of the concept is the highlight of the deliberations.


By afternoon of November 28, the six jurors revealed their top two proposals. Ledesma’s Muhon: Place Markers In The Search For Emerging Identity emerged as the selected exhibit for its contemporary approach.


“The idea of three rooms that are appropriated in the same way three by three grid, I found it very poetic,” stated Architect Galicia.


Galicia also stated that the concept uses the Venice Biennale as a venue to propose solutions of reuse and adaptive reuse of Metro Manila’s old buildings.


Shabbir, curator of the Singapore Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale, said, “It gets interesting where the section of the intervention, it talks about architects complicit in the destruction as well. Someone has to build new buildings, another architect. It’s not just about preserving the old but it’s also about the sense of complicity.”


He stated, “I like that, there’s no good guy, there’s no bad guy. It’s just the way things are and we need to find solutions for it.”


“The proposal is enigmatic. It is thought-provoking. It is a strong concept, a proposal that is contemporary,” Senator Legarda, the visionary of the project stated.


Architect Cho said that, as an architect, it would be an insightful discovery for people who have no background about the modern heritage of the Philippines. “The selection will draw interest and dialogue,” added Cho.


“I congratulate the proponents who have submitted their proposals. There were several proposals here that are strong and have ensued an interesting debate among the panel. In the end, everyone is satisfied because it went through a democratic process. We are ready for our historic first participation at the 15th International Architecture Exhibition in Venice,” said NCCA Chairman de Leon.


The 15th Venice Architecture Biennale will run from May 28, 2016 to November 27, 2016.