After a successful return at the biennale for art in 2015 with Tie A String Around the World, and for architecture in 2016 with Muhon, Philippines will take part at the 57th Venice Art Biennale with a pavilion at Arsenale, one of the main exhibition spaces of the prestigious international art event.
Entitled, The Spectre of Comparison, the Philippine Pavilion curated by Joselina Cruz, will have its vernissage on May 11; and will be on view until November 26 of this year.
The concept of the exhibition was drawn from the phrase ‘el demonio de las comparaciones‘ (translated as the ‘spectre of comparisons’) from chapter 8 of Jose Rizal’s novel, Noli Me Tangere.
According to Cruz, who is the director and curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design (MCAD) of De La Salle College of Saint Benilde, Manila, said at a press conference last February 23 at the National Commission for the Culture and Arts’ (NCCA) office, ”The phrase encapsulates the experience of Rizal’s protagonist when he gazed at the gardens of Manila and simultaneously sees the gardens of Europe.
“This point of realization suggests the loss of Ibarra’s and Rizal’s political innocence, this double vision of experiencing events up close and from afar: no longer able to see the Philippines without seeing Europe nor gaze at Europe without seeing the Philippines.”
Rizal’s experience of the spectre of comparison is not the sole inspiration for the exhibition. Cruz explained that she also drew a concept from scholar Benedict Anderson’s own experience of the spectre, who appropriated Rizal’s phrase ’el demonio de las comparaciones,’ and translated it to “the spectre of comparisons” to describe what he felt after hearing a speech by Indonesian president Sukarno about Hitler.
“I felt a kind of vertigo. For the first time in my young life I was invited to see Europe as if through an inverted telescope…. It was going to be difficult for me from now on to think of my “Hitler” in the old way,” Cruz said, reading a portion of what Anderson wrote in the introduction of his book, The Spectre of Comparisons.
Working around this idea, the exhibition will feature the works of Lani Maestro and Manuel Ocampo, whom Cruz describes in her curatorial brief as artists who are aesthetically worlds apart from each other and who produce through a multiplicity of contexts.
“Both artists have lived and practiced outside of the Philippines, but have maintained active engagement with the country throughout the years..Their practice and their subject matters are deeply involved with their experiences as immigrants or citizens of a new diaspora that also reflect the complexity of a contemporary Philippine identity,” Cruz said in a statement.
“The exhibition looks at their practice as emblematic of the experience of Rizal’s spectre of comparisons, the juxtaposition of their works, the manifestation of political and social commentary from afar, as they saw the events of the Philippines and their adopted countries ‘through an inverted telescope’,” she added.
France-based Maestro, who has received critical acclaim and the respect of international art community, is notable for her various forms of artistic engagements and installations incorporating a variety of media such as sound,film, text, and photographs.
On the other hand, Ocampo who recently settled back in Manila from Spain, was described by Cruz as a painter widely known for his “brashness, and also for being critical of systems.”
No Pain Like This Body, (2010/2017) an installation with ruby-red neon by Maestro; and a painting by Ocampo entitled, “Immigrant’s Daughter,” (1997) are some of the works to be shown at the biennale.
Maestro told InterAksyon, ”It’s just a detail of a larger piece.”
No Pain Like This Body is a title of a book by Caribbean writer Harrold Sonny Ladoo. Maestro noted, “He’s a wonderful writer and also an immigrant. He’s interested in immigrant stories, and so I was taken aback by his writing when I first came back from Canada and it just stayed in my head. One day, I was invited to make an exhibition in Canada, Vancouver, and it was a poor neighborhood with prostitution and drugs. The phrase that came into my head was, ‘no pain like this body,” so that’s what I did for the show. So it was a reflection of the site, of the place.”
According to Cruz, Ocampo’s painting was chosen because of the current state of Europe regarding immigrants.
Philippines is one of the 85 countries participating at the 2017 Venice Art Biennale, whose exhibitions will be showcased at the historic Pavilions at the Giardini, the Arsenale, and in the historic city center of Venice.
This year’s theme is “Viva Arte Viva” and will be curated by French curator Christine Macel. In a statement, Macel underscored the relevance of art in contemporary times.
“At a time of global disorder, art embraces life, even if doubt ensues inevitably. The role, the voice and the responsibility of the artist are more crucial than ever before within the framework of contemporary debates. It is in and through these individual initiatives that the world of tomorrow takes shape, which though surely uncertain, is often best intuited by artists than others,” she said.
Senator Loren Legarda, who ensured the country’s participation to the biennale together with the NCCA, noted, “our greater vision is for our government to continuously support the development of Philippine arts and culture.”
“We must no longer put arts and culture, as well as heritage preservation, on the hindquarters of our nation building, because in truth, we ar she added in her speech.