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Contemporary art-rhythmic, pulsing-has the texture of textile |

Arts and Culture

Contemporary art-rhythmic, pulsing-has the texture of textile

ARTMAGEDDON - Igan D’Bayan - The Philippine Star
Contemporary art-rhythmic, pulsing-has the texture of textile
The Philippines opened its National Pavilion at the 59th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia on April 21, 2022. It will be open for public viewing until Nov. 27.
Photo by Andrea D’Altoe

The 2022 Philippine Pavilion @ the 59th Venice art biennale

(First of 3 parts)

VENICE, Italy — Many artworks or exhibitions can be appreciated by viewers who are not onsite no power is lost, the message not left un-relayed. That’s the umbilical magic of art as shared widely in publications or, nowadays, social media. If trees fell down in forests of friezes in an empty room, they would still create a sound: loud, even thunderous, the thrum of vibrating air. But some pieces of conceptual art demand the presence of a ponderer at the heart of darkness or at the tongue of illumination. Secondhand accounts do not do them justice. You just have to be there. How do we reduce in words the way in which James Turrell apprehends light and manipulates space, or the manner in which voids behave as postulated by Anish Kapoor with his blackest black?

Well, some would argue that the retelling enriches the tale. The pandemic has screwed up this presence-absence conundrum, though. We want to be there but we can’t; we can be there but only virtually; each of us can be there but has to stay six feet apart. Art, even if consumed by all of us to retain our frayed sanity during the two-plus years in lockdown and travel restrictions, was rendered by those in power as non-essential. But the plague is seemingly, hopingly, on the wane. More and more countries in Europe are easing restrictions — prudently, of course. A sight we thought we’d never see again: people are walking around during lovely April days in Venice to head for the Arsenale or the Giardini to see the latest art incarnation of La Biennale di Venezia. Some are masked, some are not, all of them out for a bit of revenge-art-appreciation, indeed a long time coming.

National Commission of Culture and the Arts (NCCA) chairman and Philippine Pavilion Commissioner Arsenio “Nick” Lizaso (second to the left) with Fe Prudente, Gerry Tan and Yael Buen-camino-Borromeo. According to the chairman: “Through the works of Filipino artists, curators and thinkers, we hope to inspire ways of doing and being so as to try to address the globe’s most pressing problems and to be once again be able to see the value of community and to work with others.”.
Photo by Federico Vespignani

Venice has again become the floating world for contemporary artists.

The American, the British Pavilions focused on black heritage and reclaiming cultures reduced to invisibility (Simone Leigh for the US, Sonia Boyce for Great Britain). Skuja Braden presented ceramic oddities (penis chandeliers, platefuls of vaginas, crosses, etc.) for the Latvian Pavilion. There are accounts of how curator Maria Lanko and members of her team “packed 72 copper funnels into boxes and then loaded them into her small car,” which drove the hell out of Kyiv on the second day of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Centaurs, sci-fi vampires, faces on glass windows of abandoned buildings… these are the otherworldly “The Milk of Dreams” images at the 59th Venice Art Biennale curated by Cecilia Alemani. No casual must-visit-pavilion essays can effectively describe the transformative, prismatic visions of the featured artists. Challenging conceptual works need to be mulled over, pondered upon, digested with languid sips of birra and Spritz.

Our very own Philippine Pavilion itself is better appreciated when experienced either firsthand or via a digital tour. It demands presence, participation, contemplation, and response. The viewer allows the work to unfurl, complete itself, and create something else entirely. That was what we found out when we attended the biennale vernissage in Venice on April 21.

“Andi taku e sana, Amung taku di sana/All of us present, This is our gathering” is curated by Yael Buencamino-Borromeo and Arvin Flores, and it features the collaborative works of artist Gerardo Tan, ethnomusicologist Felicidad Prudente, and master weaver Sammy Buhle. We shall dissect the intricacies of this interdisciplinary undertaking featuring Tan, Prudente and Buhle — all with diverse practices coming together for a multimedia conceptual piece about collective consciousness, what constitutes a community, as well as the transmutation of art and artistic encounters — in a future article for STAR.

The exhibit title is lifted from the opening lines of a sogna, a chant performed by the Madukayans of Kalinga. Once you enter the tunnel that leads to the pavilion, the chant by Jose Pangsiw blooms forth like an invocation from the mountains in a two-channel video titled “Speaking in Tongue.” The chant, transcribed by Fe Prudente, is interpreted by Gerry Tan doing a performative painting using his tongue and some squid ink.

Yael says the sogna is traditional, since it has been passed down from generations, and yet remains vibrant, alive and relevant to the community, because it is composed for each occasion. The tongue painting is a translation from the oral to the visual.

Tan wanted visitors to enter the narrow tunnel and find themselves into the expansive vista of the main exhibition hall. The initial inspiration was Japanese architect Tadao Ando and how he would set up spatial surprises — from being constricted to becoming bathed in light. But while walking around Venice, Tan noticed how the narrowest of passageways and alleyways would lead to spacious courtyards and piazzas. It was serendipitous, the artist would say. And that anticipatory journey into the pavilion approximates his own experience while visiting weaving collectives all over the Philippines — Antique, Ilocos, Abra, Maguindanao, and Miag-ao in Iloilo, etc. — at the “Renderings” component of the exhibition where the viewers can see the “conversations”: the iterations and elaborations from the very first piece to the more layered ones.

Deputy Speaker and Congresswoman Loren Legarda mentored the Ifugao weaver, providing for him and his family for 10 years. Imagine her delight and pride upon learning that Buhle is one of the participating artists in the winning proposal for the 59th Venice Art Biennale. Legarda says, “Sammy’s artistry and craftsmanship have made the journey from the mountains of Ifugao to the canals of Venice.”

Philippine Ambassador to Italy Domingo Nolasco.

What the Fates weave, indeed. There is also the seductive sound of looms.

The original sound heard by Gerry Tan was propulsive, primal, rhythmic, mantric, and not dissimilar to the Drumming composition by minimalist composer Steve Reich. Tan recorded these bits of “found sound,” contacted Prudente to transcribe them using non-standard musical notation, which was afterwards woven into elaborate textiles by Buhle, and then its chart to be performed by an ensemble. Sound transforms into something visual and tactile, and then becomes sound again. A metaphor for how art or life or the world itself is changing at a dizzying pace, and one way of dealing with it is being open and participatory.

The Philippine Pavilion is not about being a boatload of visual assault and an arsenal of shock. Far from it. Ours has a more subliminal pull. You will probably get a rush by standing in the middle of our pavilion and see music undulate as well as hear the touch of textile.

* * *

The Philippine participation at the 59th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia is a collaborative undertaking of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), and the Office of Deputy Speaker and Congresswoman Loren Legarda. The commissioner of the Philippine Pavilion is Arsenio “Nick” J. Lizaso, chairman of the NCCA. The Philippine Pavilion will also be made accessible through its digital programs and virtual tours. For information, visit See updates on Facebook and Instagram via @philartsvenice.

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