PHL Pavilion at Venice Biennale Tackles West PHL Sea Issue

May 8, 2015

Shoal 2 (Copy)

“There is a specific focus on the particular situation in the West Philippine Sea that the pavilion is trying to respond to,” says Patrick D. Flores about the Philippine Pavilion at the 56th International Art Exhibition – la Biennale di Venezia.


“But we do not want to reduce the message of the pavilion to that situation. So while it is sharply engaged with, it doesn’t totally determine the outcome of the pavilion,” he adds. The Philippine Pavilion with the  exhibit Tie A String Around the World, is one of the 88 National Pavilions officially participating in the 2015 Venice Biennale.


The concept for the Philippine Pavilion curated by Flores brilliantly links the artworks of four Filipino artists—Manuel Conde and Carlos Francisco for Genghis Khan, Manny Montelibano for A Dashed State, and Jose Tence Ruiz for Shoal—to raise the issue of the disputed West Philippine Sea/South China Sea, although Flores clarifies that the exhibit is not limited to this explosive political issue but instead aims to encourage conversation on “what makes a common sea and where lie frontier and edge, melancholy and migration.”


Montelibano says his work, A Dashed State, automatically links to China’s Nine Dash Line, while Ruiz’ Shoal references the BRP Sierra Madre at the Ayungin Shoal in the West Philippine Sea.


The Controversial Dash

Montelibano’s work, a 20-minute, three-channel video with sound installation, ponders on “the creation of new boundaries and territories, like the Nine Dash Line. It is a reflection of the state of our people, the state of our country, and the state of the world.”


The Bacolod-based filmmaker expounds, “A Dashed Statetackles the different levels of bodies, the physical body which is the source of history, the body of land, air and sea, a body of people. But also considering that there are other bodies that exist—bodies that have different needs, culture and tradition and how they affect each other. The incursion of Chinese radio signals into the local radio exposes this effect. It affects us, our family, beliefs and tradition, culture, and our world in the making.”


“My work focuses on how Filipinos behave in a certain situation wherein they don’t know what’s really happening in the world in a specific area like Southern Palawan. I think, what is important is that we are telling the truth and the state that I am going to present with my work is the state that I have experienced in that area,” said Montelibano.


In a way, the exhibit hopes to elicit awareness to China’s aggressive infiltration and reclamation activities in the West Philippine Sea/South China Sea. The most recent surveillance photo of Burgos Reef, as reported by Philippine defense officials, revealed China has built a complex as large as the Mall of Asia in Pasay City.


Senator Loren Legarda, the visionary and main proponent of the Philippine participation said, “I am confident that the exhibit Dr. Flores and the artists have created will resonate well with different audiences. The Philippine Pavilion touches on a relevant political issue yet raises interesting questions on a philosophical level. It tries to get everyone to see the issue against a larger frame where history and the present have come together.”


Legarda added, “If a country can arbitrarily decide to take over sea territory what would stop other countries from staking their own claims in the vast ocean? The exhibit also provokes opinion about China’s reclamation activities which is a deep concern because of the damage the activity has made to marine biodiversity.”


Tie A String Around the World

In its comeback in 2015, the Philippine Pavilion moves around Manuel Conde’s Genghis Khan, a film made in 1950 in Manila and Angono. It was co-written and designed by Carlos Francisco. The title of the Pavilion comes from the line spoken by Genghis Khan at the end of the film as he promises his beloved to lay the empire that he will found at her feet.


Ruiz’ Shoal is an interpretation of BRP Sierra Madre. The New York Times describes it as the vessel of Vietnam War vintage that “the Philippine government ran aground on the reef in 1999 and has since maintained as a kind of post-apocalyptic military garrison, the small detachment of Filipino troops stationed there struggling to survive extreme mental and physical desolation.”


Ruiz says, “One of the things in the back of my head every time is, first and foremost, this is art, this is about the unfolding of human experience and history. The particular vessel that I’m interested in has gone through at least several epochs starting from the Second World War to the present, and therefore, it embodies an entire statement about history of nations. I would also not like to just pin it down to just a specific moment because we have here an opportunity to be able to deal with the broader idea of human experience.”


The Philippine participation in the 2015 Venice Biennale was made possible by the support of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), and the Office of Senator Loren Legarda.