PHL Triumphs with a National Pavilion at the Venice Biennale

May 5, 2015

Will the Philippine Pavilion, the official national representative of the country at the Venice Biennale 2015, have a chance at winning the coveted Golden Lion award at the world’s oldest and most prestigious contemporary art exhibition? The Pavilion’s curator Patrick Flores said that “there are no expectations at all.” He added that the country has already won just with its comeback at the Biennale after 51 years of absence.


Flores stated, “I’m just aiming for sharp interest in the Pavilion. Global engagement with the Pavilion is key.”


The Philippine exhibition Tie A String Around the World alludes to the pressing issue of the South China Sea and aims to elicit  discussion on the history of world making and the history of the sea in the long duration, and in relation to the histories of empires, nation-states and regions. Flores was able to brilliantly and seamlessly connect the works of artists Manuel Conde, Carlos Francisco, Manny Montelibano and Jose Tence Ruiz as a starting point for philosophical discussions on the political and territorial issues as well as their implications.


Flores’ curatorial concept, which was selected through a democratic open call, also responds to the 2015 Venice Biennale theme, All The World’s Futures, set out by renowned curator Okwui Enwezor.


Enwezor explained, “The ruptures that surround and abound around every corner of the global landscape today recall the evanescent debris of previous catastrophes piled at the feet of the angel of history in Angelus Novus. How can the current disquiet of our time be properly grasped, made comprehensible, examined, and articulated?”


As the Philippine Pavilion joins the discussion set out by Enwezor’s overarching subject, Flores said that “This was purely a coincidence, but I follow the work of Okwui and so the anticipation of his concerns was somewhat a consequence of this interest in his pursuits and curatorial vision.”


The awarding for the Golden Lion will be announced on May 9. The distinguished jurors will be charged with awarding prizes to the national pavilions, including the Philippines headed by Flores. The jurors include Naomi Beckwith, curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; Sabine Breitwieser, director of the Museum der Moderne Salzburg; Mario Codognato, the chief curator of 21er Haus in Vienna; Ranjit Hoskote, a writer and curator; and Yongwoo Lee, a curator, former director of the Gwangju Biennale Foundation and the president of the International Biennial Association.


Flores said that winning will be “an honor, of course, and it will generate interest in Philippine art and the concerns it responds do.” He also clarifies that “The competition is not central. It’s just one of the ways to validate the effort.”


National Pavilion

In the official My Art Guide Venice 2015, the Philippines is one of the 88 National Pavilions officially participating in the Venice Biennale. The names of Flores and artists Conde, Francisco, Montelibano and Tence Ruiz appear on the pages and are the only Filipinos to officially represent the country in the category.


In an earlier report, La Biennale di Venezia president Paolo Baratta expounded on the importance of National Pavilions. He said in an interview done by the Australian Council for Art that through a national pavilion, a country is able to show to the world something that is unique to the nation and is a medium by which the nation concieves art and its sense of identity.


Baratta said  “By participating in the Venice Biennale, countries show that they wish to co-exist in a global world. You are contributing your capability and the vital energies of the country, expressed through the instrument of art and/or architecture.”


The Philippines, through the selected curator Flores, will be working with 87 other curators from the national pavilions.


Baratta said “Globalisation is a phenomenon of the world of tensions, and of economic and political geography. The Venice Biennale is the place where you see what happens in the world through a better pair of lenses. This is the forum where the global world can be better analysed. This is the melting pot of shared knowledge.”


It is an achievement for the Philippines to finally be able to join the conversation on this international stage, with contemporary art fully supported by the Philippine government through the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, the Department of Foreign Affairs, and the Office of Senator Loren Legarda.


“It’s important to be present in this global platform but always in recognition of the other platforms that are equally significant,” Flores concluded.