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This year marks the Philippines' return to the Venice Biennale International Art Exhibition with Dr. Patrick Flores' curatorial project, "Tie A String Around the World." It tackles a leader's quest for world domination and the disputed waters of the West Philippine Sea.
The Philippine Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, which will be housed in Palazzo Mora, will feature the works of National Artists Manuel Conde and Carlos Francisco as well as intermedia artist Jose Tence Ruiz and filmmaker Manny Montelibano.
The three-room Pavilion will open with the newly-restored version of the 1950 film "Genghis Khan," directed by Conde and co-written and designed by Francisco.
"Genghis Khan" will be in conversation with Ruiz' installation, "Shoal," a reinterpretation of the BRP Sierra Madre, the Philippines' rusty and dilapidated outpost on the Ayungin Shoal.
For the Pavilion's last room, Flores tapped Montelibano to create a multi-channel video called "A Dashed State," which was shot in the southern part of Palawan, a place relatively shut out from the rest of the world except for the constant intrusion of Chinese channels on the radio. In the words of Senator Loren Legarda—the principal advocate of the country's comeback—Montelibano's work was "nakakakilabot."
'Tie A String Around the World'
"How worlds are made through certain claims."
This was how Flores explained his curatorial proposal "Tie A String Around the World," which was Genghis Khan's expression of love and promise to his lover to conquer the world, tie a string around it, and lay it at her feet.
"You possess a place and call it your own... Ways of making worlds. Paano ba nashi-shape ang mundo? Paano ba ito na-o-organize ng mga puwersa?" he explained to GMA News Online during a press conference on Wednesday.
"Tulad nitong West Philippine Sea, kanino ba iyon? Bakit kini-claim? Hindi ba pwedeng i-share?" Flores added.
The curator, who is a mainstay at the University of the Philippines' Vargas Museum, stressed that his idea for the proposal started with the film "Genghis Khan," which he eventually connected to the West Philippine Sea.
Road to Venice
Before Joya and Abueva braved the Venice Biennale, Philippine-born modern artist Fernando Zobel exhibited at the Venice Biennale as part of the Spanish Pavilion in 1962.
But these appearances would be the country's only participation at the Biennale, until Legarda—after visiting the 2013 Biennale—ignited the idea of a comeback and coordinated with the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Both Flores and Legarda noted various reasons why it took the Philippines more than 50 years to return to the international art exhibition.
"Walang nag-advocate. Walang sumubok, o baka sumubok pero hindi nagtagumpay. Walang sumuporta. Pero definitely ang hindi dahilan dahil sa walang talent. Sobra ang talent, pero wala lang nagpunong abala," the senator told GMA News Online.
But she insisted that these should not be the reasons why the Philippines should delay its return.
"It's high time that the Philippines participate after 50 years of absence. And second, I saw countries [like the] Maldives, Tuvalu participating and having their own pavilions. Even Hong Kong has its own room there. How can a country with a hundred million people with talented people of curators, artists, etc. in the cultural/art world would not be present at the Biennale?" she added.
The open call for curatorial proposals began in July 2014 and lasted until September that year, when Flores' "Tie A String Around the World" bested 15 others.
Legarda stressed that the selection process for the Philippines' entry to the Biennale was "open, transparent, and democratic."
The open call, for instance, encouraged everyone in the art world to participate and send his or her entry.
"I feared no one would participate... The decision to do open call for curatorial proposals—not artists' open call, not curators' open call, but proposals—so that it would't be personality-oriented. So the focus would be on intellectual rigor, the depth [of the proposal]," Legarda said.
2015 Venice Biennale at a glance
Now on its 56th year, Venice Biennale is considered the world's oldest and most prestigious international contemporary art exhibition. It has featured some of the most celebrated artists since it started in 1895, including Pablo Picasso, Van Gogh, and Henry Matisse.
This year's theme is "All the World's Futures," which is curated by Okwui Enwezor. The Venice Biennale will kick off on May 9 and will run until November 22. — BM, GMA News