Words by Sam Domingo. Images courtesy of Sam Domingo, Humprey Corpuz, and the Philippine Arts in Venice Biennale (PAVB).
For our fifth participation in the Venice Biennale, the Philippines calls for a pleasant ceremony in “Andi taku e sana, Amung taku di sana / All of us present, This is our gathering,” a collaborative multimedia project curated by Yael Buencamino Borromeo and Arvin Flores. This national pavilion sited with an interweaving of video, audio, visual and textile works from Filipino artists Gerardo Tan, Felicidad Prudente, and Sammy Buhle runs from April 23rd to November 27th in Arsenale di Venezia, Venice, Italy.
The exhibit commences with an invitation – as in most Filipino rituals. It welcomes its audiences with a wooden tunnel that entwines the traditional and the contemporary after a few steps onward. Viewers are called by the enthralling Cordillera sogna from the two juxtaposing and synching videos on the tunnel’s right wall. The left video, “Speaking in Tongue,” presents the ethnic chant of celebration as musical notations transcribed by Prudente and translated by Tan. The latter carefully paints these inscriptions with his tongue and squid ink. The right, being more straightforward, is its vocal performance. Distinct from each other, these two mouths work in a simultaneous oral mechanism to translate the same chant on a loop. A declaration, so it seems, that these self-generated codes of the sounds pose to withstand posterity.
Walking further inside unveils “Renderings,” the exhibit’s primary assemblage of multimedia installations. Here are seven monumental ethnic textiles hanging from the room’s ceiling and surrounding the floor adorned with video monitors and other native fabrics characterized by linear patterns. Again, the traditional and the contemporary become entangled in this ceremony-like arrangement. This time, the imagination of this raveling demonstrates itself with the crisscrossing of these laid-out fabrics as in our regional warp and weft weaving process.
Seemingly arbitrary at first, the pavilion reveals that the textile patterns are, in fact, carefully crafted by contemporary weaver Buhle. This uncovering is in the translation and transcription sketches disclosed on a glass-covered table placed on one side. From the repetitive noise of the weaving motion in local collectives shown on the screens, Tan and Prudente developed their musical notations. Buhle then weaved these symbols into eye-catching patterns. As though a tying up of this total transmutation, musicians in Metro Manila performed the assorted songs that the weavings unraveled. Their melody, witnessed on the same monitors, grants an immersive aural experience. There is harmony in the cacophony.
Filled with these particular soundscapes, the spaciousness of the site becomes less prominent. Staying in its vastness offered not a sense of hollowness but a warm air of belongingness (from the Filipino aesthetic) and community (from the enormous hanging textiles that mimic human statures). What emerges is an apparition of the Filipino. Overall, unity in the absence of the Philippines transforms into its very presence.
In many ways, the curatorial flourish of this conceptual exhibition is in the surprisingly intimate weaving of conventionally severed categories: the traditional and the contemporary; the harmonious and the tedious; and the absent and the present. It is as if it does not only invite diverse audiences to converge but also the very notions that divide us. In this exhibit, our differing totalities are asked to participate in a solemn synthesis – only if we allow ourselves to first unfurl.
This project is made possible by the Philippines’ National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) in partnership with the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Office of Deputy Speaker and Congresswoman Loren Legarda.
To know more about our national entry to the 59th Venice Biennale, visit its official website.