Speech: Vernissage of the Philippine Pavilion – 16th International Architecture Exhibition, Venice Biennale

May 24, 2018

Vernissage of the Philippine Pavilion
International Architecture Exhibition, Venice Biennale
24 May 2018 | Arsenale, Venice, Italy

Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, the directors of the 16th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, present Freespace as the theme for the central exhibition and have urged countries to bring their own Freespace in Venice through the national pavilions.

Today, we are gathered in what Dr. Edson Cabalfin views as the Philippines’ Freespace or “Pookginhawa.”

We are amidst The City Who Had Two Navels—our colonial past and our neoliberal present.

Whether or not we agree with Dr. Cabalfin’s view of our Freespace is not the point. It presents us a view, which we can freely discuss.

Farrell and McNamara look at architecture as “the translation of need in its widest sense into meaningful space.”

But in the context of our country, what is meaningful space?

The Philippine Pavilion poses two questions. First, can we truly escape the colonial?

Looking back at our Philippine Pavilions since 2015—Tie A String Around The World, Muhon: Traces of An Adolescent City, and The Spectre of Comparison—we still see references to our colonial past.

The second question that Dr. Cabalfin poses in our Pavilion: Is neoliberalization a new form of colonialism?

In that context, I wish to pose further questions: Do we really have the power to create our cities based on what we perceive as good for all, or are we trapped in the mindset that we must undertake development based on the so-called demands of the present?

Architecture has the power to create an urban space of seemingly robotic people ready to accept a monotonous life with the belief that development is all about economic progress. But it also has the strength to inspire people to create livable communities that respect history and is in communion with nature.

Which path are we taking right now?

As we view the realization of Dr. Cabalfin’s curatorial concept in this beautiful space, the Artiglierie of the Arsenale, let us allow ourselves to question what we see. Let us converse with our fellow spectators, with the exhibition itself, and with ourselves. Let us challenge the beliefs of the curator. After all, this is the beauty of the Venice Biennale and this has been our goal in our participation—to let our country showcase our creative talents and at the same time challenge the truths of the world by opening up conversations through our national pavilion.

On this note, I offer my congratulations to everyone who has made our participation this year happen—the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) headed by our National Artist, Virgilio S. Almario; the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA); and the Philippine Arts in Venice Biennale (PAVB) Secretariat. Thank you as well to Department of Tourism (DOT) for its continued support.

Most importantly, congratulations to Dr. Edson Cabalfin and to all who participated in completing the Philippine Pavilion—Yason Banal; Technical Assistance Organization (TAO) Pilipinas, Inc.; De La Salle – College of Saint Benilde; University of San Carlos – School of Architecture, Fine Arts and Design; University of the Philippines Diliman, College of Architecture; and University of the Philippines Mindanao, Department of Architecture.

Thank you.