Exploring the past, present and future at MCAD

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Along Pablo Ocampo Street in Manila, a large white building towers over the dirty city. Outside, pedestrians play patintero in the traffic, dodging pedicabs and vendors with their karitons overflowing with ripe fruit and dusty vegetables. The street is littered with discarded barbecue sticks, and the air smells like fried food. A wide ramp leads to the De La Salle-College of Saint Benilde School of Design and Arts Campus, which houses the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design on the ground floor.
 
Step inside the museum and everything changes. It's as if the world were put on mute, all the colors erased. About two weeks ago, the vast space was empty except for a large frame of what would become a roof installation. Apart from that, the white walls and gray floor were all there was to see.
 
"We want you to see the process," explained MCAD's director and curator Joselina Cruz during a lunch with the press on May 17.
 
On May 26, the museum opened "There Can Be No Better World," its first exhibition for the year. The show features three major installations from artists around the region, and although the number might seem small, there's plenty to see in "There Can Be No Better World."
 
"The future is always a creative enterprise, for we can only but imagine what it will bring and what it will look like. The exhibition ‘There Can Be No Better World’ is a response to the worlds of past, present and future, as it insists that each period be the space-time to satisfy us and our longings for contentment," the exhibit notes read.
 
The works
 
On the ground floor is Tiffany Chung's roof and glass turtles installation "twigs, bones, rocks and the Giant Tortoise." Next to the installation, two videos play simultaneously on different screens: "the great simplicity" and "thousands of years before and after."
 
The massive piece imagines the end of the world—the artist answers the question, "What happens after the collapse of modern society?" 
 
Here, the roof is all that is left of a house. The viewer can fill in the blanks and try to picture the people who might have found shelter there before. On top of the roof, hundreds of tiny glass turtles. From afar, they look like melting snow.
 
Hundreds of tiny glass turtles on Tiffany Chung's roof installation.
 
In "thousands of years before and after," the last group of humans wanders in search of a dwelling place and means of surviving. In "the great simplicity," a mutated, simple dialect derived from English becomes the common language. In one video, we see blue skies, blades of grass swaying with the wind. In the other, we see stones, cement and glass. 
 
"When great human achievements of art, science and technology have resulted in ruins, simplicity is the key for survival. The end of humankind is similar to its beginning," Chung explains in the exhibit notes.
 
"Derived from my research on the decline of towns and cities due to deindustrialization and demographic changes, this project explores issues in urban progress and the complex relationship between human and nature and examines the aftermath of colonization and modernization. Using semiotics, biblical references as well as references from Kurt Vonnegut’s Galápagos and the actual Galápagos Archipelago, the work encompasses human destruction and transformation not only in just spatial terms," says Chung, who was born in Vietnam and lived in the US for several years.
 
Tiffany Chung's roof and glass turtles installation "twigs, bones, rocks and the Giant Tortoise."
 
On the walls are a series of linework pieces, Michael Lee's "Dwelling." The minimalist floor plans hang with no explanation next to them, and it is not immediately clear what they are. Lee shares that they are sometimes mistaken for circuit boards, which he likes. 
 
Lee explains that one of the reasons he compiled the titles instead of placing them next to each canvas is so that he doesn't make it too easy for the audience. "It frustrates me when the audience looks at the work, and then they feel happy because they have understood everything. I like something a bit more nuanced in a way, rather than something that is very certain of itself," he says.
 
Lee adds there are at least 10 ways for architects to represent and explore spaces, but in "Dwellings," he commemorates old buildings with their floor plans. 
 
"Not many people other than the architect would have memory or access to the floor plans," he says, adding that the floor plan has an association with nature, as it offers a bird's eye view. "I wanted to play with this relationship between horizontal and vertical, because when this thing which exists in reality horizontally becomes hung on the wall, it means that people are flying," he says.
 
In "Dwellings," Lee presents an archive of architectures loosely connected to the 80s, a decade of major social, economic, political and cultural changes. The centerpiece of the installation refers to the demolished Benguet Center in Mandaluyong, Metro Manila. 
 
"I have a feeling that Benguet Center is a little bit similar to the case of the National Theater in Singapore which was built in the 60s and demolished in the 80s. Both of them have very strong modernist design. As with anything, there is an expiry date," says Lee.
 
Michael Lee commemorates the Benguet Center in "Dwellings."
 
Also included in the global survey are New York's destroyed 3WTC, Taipei's abandoned Sanzhi Pod City, and the yet-to-be-built Singapore Cloud Forest Center. The artist uses a 1:50 scale for all the floor plans, so that the sizes of his pieces depend on the sizes of the buildings.
 
"By fixing the scale I end up creating this system where I cannot use my whims and fancy to say, 'Oh I have no more canvases so maybe I'll make a smaller one,’" he says.
 
By reducing the buildings to pure linework, Lee allows the viewer to imagine what was, what no longer is, and what could have been. "I'm not interested so much in perpetuating nostalgia, but trying to facilitate imaginative memory," he says.
 
At the mezzanine is Felix Bacolor's stripped down installation "Waiting." Inspired by Samuel Beckett's "Waiting for Godot," the virtual stage design simulates a waiting room, where nothing will arrive. In the space occupied by rows of cold lounge chairs, time is the only thing that moves. 
 
Felix Bacolor's stripped down installation "Waiting."
 
"Bacolor has transposed Beckett's theater into a site made precisely so people can lose themselves in the act of waiting. Clocks count to the second and the waiting creates a sense of urgency, literally making us count to the second. For Bacolor, the future is always here, or something we're always expecting but never arrives," the exhibit notes end. –KG, GMA News
 
"There Can Be No Better World" runs at the Museum of Contemporary Art and Design from May 26 to August 18. Museum hours are Tuesdays-Fridays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. For more information, call (02) 5366752 loc. 105.