PAVB Announces PHL Representative to Venice Architecture Biennale 2018

September 30, 2017

The Philippine Arts in Venice Biennale (PAVB)—composed of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), and the Office of Senator Loren Legarda—is pleased to announce the selection of the curatorial proposal titled 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.


Cabalfin’s curatorial concept was selected among 12 proposals that were submitted to the Coordinating Committee in response to the open call for curatorial proposals for the Philippine participation at the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale.


The Curatorial Proposal


Inspired by National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin’s novel “The Woman Who Had Two Navels”, Cabalfin’s proposal “confronts the tension between the vicissitudes of the past and the challenges of constructing contemporary identity.”


It will highlight two navels in constant dialogue—the forces of colonialism and neoliberalism.


The intersection of these two “navels” represents an emergent wave of postcolonial anxieties born out of the process of exiting the colonial condition. Through a transnational and transhistorical investigation, the pavilion argues that the Philippines does not exist in a vacuum, is implicated within power relations, and is inextricably intertwined with other nations and people.


To address this emerging postcolonial anxiety, the Philippine Pavilion invites future architects, planners and designers to respond to the two “navels” in the exhibition.


As part of the exhibit, a think-tank consortium will be created comprising of students and faculty from select architecture, design, and planning programs in the Philippines. This consortium will be commissioned to conduct research on the current state of Philippine cities in terms of transnational flows.


Subsequently, the students will be tasked to respond to the identified issues and present proposals about the future. The diagrams, documentation, models, and ideas generated from the research will be exhibited in Venice. Through the speculations about the two “navels” and the concomitant architectural and urban issues, Philippine “Freespace” anticipates possibilities for renewed life and hope.


The Curator


Edson G. Cabalfin is Associate Professor and currently Coordinator of the undergraduate and graduate Interior Design program in the School of Architecture and Interior Design at the University of Cincinnati.  He received his Ph.D. in Architecture (Major in History of Architecture, Minors in Historic Preservation and Southeast Asian Studies) in 2012 from Cornell University. Prior to coming to the United States, he had received his professional B.S. Architecture (cum laude) and Master of Architecture degrees from the University of the Philippines in 1996 and 2001 respectively.


He has published articles in various journals, book anthologies, and conference proceedings on queer spaces in the city, Art Deco architecture in the Philippines, colonialism and post-colonialism in modern architecture, informal settlements and the capital city, alternative modernities and national identity in Philippine vernacular architecture, architectural photography and American colonialism, architectural historiography, architectural education, and Philippine pavilions in international expositions.


Deliberation of Jurors


A panel of jurors deliberated on the submitted curatorial proposals last September 22, 2017 at the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) Building in Intramuros, Manila.


The jury was composed of NCCA Chairman Virgilio S. Almario; Leandro Y. Locsin, Jr.; Fernando Zobel de Ayala; Carol Yinghua Lu; Lani Maestro and Senator Loren Legarda.


“The first time I read the proposal, I was immediately attracted to it. The curator borrowed the point of view of Nick Joaquin—a critical point of view about who the Filipino is. Then he was able to use it to also present a critical point of view regarding architecture. That’s what made it different from the other proposals,” said Almario, National Artist for Literature and the Commissioner for the Philippine Pavilion.


Legarda, the visionary and principal advocate of the Philippine participation in the Venice Biennale, thanked all the other curators who joined the open call and said that all curatorial proposals were well-written and well-thought-out.


“When you read the curatorial proposals, you really just appreciate the Filipino even much more. But the chosen curatorial concept, which is based on academic research, excites me. It does not look at city as built heritage, built structure or architecture, but it looks deeper into the people who live in the city, the souls, the whole ecosystem,” said Legarda.


Locsin, administrator of the Leandro V. Locsin Partners (LVLP) architecture firm and part of the curatorial team that represented the Philippines in its first participation in the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2016, said that the winning curatorial proposal presents a dichotomy: “On the one hand, the way we present ourselves architecturally towards the world, and on the other hand, how we treat our built environment, architecture, urban situation, and social issues that are happening on the ground.”


Zobel, Chairman of Ayala Land Inc. and member of TATE Asia Pacific Acquisitions Committee, said that he was “extremely impressed with the amount of work that had gone into each proposal” and that the deliberation was a very interesting process where judges were free to discuss and speak about their own views about each proposal.


“The selected proposal talks about that constant struggle of trying to keep a certain part of your identity but moving on into the modern era. I thought the curator captured it very well in his words and I think it would be something that is Filipino, but at the same time, something that the global audience can relate to,” said Zobel.


Lu, a curator, art critic and who was part of the jury for the Golden Lion Award in the 2011 Venice Art Biennale, said that she was very impressed in terms of how the curator made references to the past, at the same time, trying to link it to the present context. “This proposal has that quality of an exhibition that can put forward certain conceptual issues and address these issues through architectural practices.”


Meanwhile, Maestro, one of the participating artists in this year’s Philippine Pavilion, “The Spectre of Comparison”, at the 2017 Venice Art Biennale, explained the importance of being in the Venice Biennale and other art biennales. “It’s not about prestige, but more about participating in a community of other artists from other nations and how they’re developing a language to speak about similar concerns and subjectivities.”


The City Who Had Two Navels by Edson Cabalfin will be mounted as the Philippine Pavilion in the Arsenale for the 16th Venice Architecture Biennale, which will run from May 26, 2018 to November 25, 2018.


This is only the second time that the country will participate officially at the Venice Architecture Biennale and the first time that the Architecture Philippine Pavilion will be in the Arsenale, one of the main exhibition spaces of the Venice Biennale.