Capiz hosts the biggest edition of VIVA ExCon to date.
Text and photos by Marz Aglipay
Roxas City won its bid to host the 2018 Visayas Islands Visual Arts Exhibition and Conference (VIVA ExCon) by a landslide. Amidst the enthusiasm of hosting VIVA ExCon in Capiz for the first time, there were concerns about whether they could facilitate the convention, considering the logistics required to organize a biennale. During that time, one of VIVA ExCon’s founding members, Norberto Roldan, a Capiz native himself, took on the role of being the Biennale’s artistic director. He was certain they would be able to pull it off.
The overall curatorial theme was a line taken from the Visayan folk ballad “Dandansoy”–Bisan tubig di magbalon (Don’t even bring water). The conference was structured around the idea of “returning to one’s roots.” In line with this direction, the organizers made an effort to trace the Biennale’s origins. VIVA ExCon relived its history through archiving and documentation, enlisting their community to help tell its story through public submissions of photos, posters, memorabilia, and published articles that were included in their main exhibition.
Citywide public art and exhibitions
The opening salvo was nothing short of festive. Throughout the four-day conference, public installations were unveiled at different locations in the city, including the Civic Center, a basketball court converted into one large exhibition hall; the Water Tank Museum and its grounds where the Balay Sugilanon (Story House) was erected; and the City Hall façade. The Baybay (seaside) and Gerry Roxas Traning Centers also had its own exhibitions and installations, aside from the nine public “X” mark installations scattered across the city.
The Panubli-on or Water Tank Museum exhibited works by senior Capiznon artists Ricardo Lauz, Lino Villarruz, Mike Cartujano, Arcadio Apolinario, Nelson Sorillo and Terry Gavino. Also located in the museum was Liby Limoso’s installation, “Conjunction of Meaning and Place.” Projected onto fishnets, Limoso’s video work is centered on his research and documentation on the mythologies that emerged from Panay island. This project is a reiteration of his previous work in VIVA ExCon Iloilo.
In the Civic Center were artworks of varied mediums, as well as large-scale installations such as Kuh del Rosario’s “Kinahang-ean bunyagan (needs watering).” Four large-scale works bordered four sides of the covered court: Cristina Taniguchi’s five-panel painting titled “Eastern Horizon,” a reconstruction of Santiago Bose’s “Altar of Pyre” done by Santiago Alvarez, and “Dagat Kag Dagway (Seascapes and Horizons),” a multi-paneled landscape painting that spanned two sides of the court. This installation highlights the work of 110 artists through 18×18 inches canvases that were placed side by side, to make a horizontal image of two seascapes: one by day and another by night.
In the middle of the Civic Center were the installations “Habal-habal” by Skylab (Santiago Alvarez, Jonard Villarde, Shane Martinez and Mercy Audencia), which consisted of three motorbikes and found objects; as well as “D Stryker: After Yolanda,” which utilized a recovered 30-foot bangka dubbed “Stryker.” The boat was heavily damaged during Typhoon Yolanda and was recovered from a grassy field, where it had sat for the past five years. Artist Diokno Pasilan, in collaboration with Santiago Alvarez, took pains to give D Stryker new life as an art installation.
The conference opened with Island Reports, an essential activity that provides context as to where each region stands. Eleven presenters reported on their projects, working conditions, and challenges in their regional art scenes. There was great interest in finding ways to fund art projects, a topic that was brought up several times during the conference. They also expressed the goal of having the NCCA eventually institutionalize VIVA ExCon. Most of the talks tackled experiences and learnings from organizing festivals or biennales. A case in point was the presentation of Ismal Muntaha of The Jatiwangi Art Factory. Muntaha’s project took on the dying industry of clay roof tiles and turned it into an art festival that involved the entire community. Speaking from the Capiznon perspective, Cheryl Anne del Rosario, an active member of the youth group which initiated the now defunct Aswang Festival in Capiz, shed light on the challenges of starting the Aswang Festival, which was rooted in folklore and attempted to fix the negative image of Capiz as an Aswang-riddled province. The festival was met with resistance from the Catholic Church.
Three speakers shared their own biennale models for discussion. Ratna Mufida’s presentation on the Jogja Biennale/Equator Symposium outlined a long-term planned projection for their biennale. Equator Symposium has mapped out a ten-year plan, which would dictate its curatorial focus and direction. This provided a stark contrast to Unchalee Anantawat’s presentation of the Bangkok Biennale, which was a project pursued despite lack of funding. Last but not least, Carlos Celdran’s talk on Manila Biennale focused on the history of Manila.
The socio-political tones of VIVA ExCon’s early editions during the post-Martial Law era is echoed in this year’s edition. Closing the conference was VIVA ExCon’s plenary session where Roldan, along with VIVA ExCon Iloilo’s chairperson Rock Drillon, read their position statement on the Sagay Massacre, the murder of nine sugarcane workers in Sagay City, Negros Occidental in late October 2018. They said: “As artists and cultural workers who engage with the complexity of our contexts, we reiterate our commitment to engaging with platforms such as VIVA ExCon to collectively affirm our solidarity with issues affecting our farmers and the rural sector.” This is a firm reminder of VIVA ExCon’s civic responsibility to encourage artists to use their art to convey a message, if not react to the current political climate.
A concerted effort among the local art community, local government units, business sectors, foundations, institutions, and foreign funders made VIVA ExCon Capiz possible. An estimated 10 million, in kind and in monetary support, was required to put up VIVA ExCon Capiz—a huge sum, considering this is an artist-run affair. The Biennale received support from private sponsors and the NCCA. This is by far the biggest edition of VIVA ExCon in its history, with 400 guests and participants in attendance. The small town of Capiz proved more than capable of hosting the Biennale. The latest VIVA ExCon ended on a high note, setting the wheels in motion for its significant return to Bacolod in 2020.