IN PHOTOS: Manila Biennale turns the urban experience into a work of art
MANILA, Philippines - In a perfect world, Intramuros wouldn’t need a biennale. The famed walled city is beautiful enough, storied enough, that it can get by without any sort of accoutrement, thank you very much. But with the passing of the years, perhaps it’s time to look at the city with fresh eyes and rekindle a love for it.
Manila Biennale: OPENCITY 2018, under the leadership of Carlos Celdran, attempts to do just that. It features a month-long calendar of cultural events and artist talks, with an exhibit of site-specific installations forming its core. The exhibits are located at the Baluarte de San Diego, Jesuit Mission House, and Fort Santiago, and feature unique voices from local contemporary art (plus two artists from Japan and one from the Netherlands). Unlike most local art fairs, Manila Biennale is non-profit and serves solely as a platform for the artists.
The theme “Open City” implies easy access, and that’s true for the biennale (pricier guided tours are also available). But another interpretation of the theme is how site-specific art opens our senses and punctuates the urban experience.
Take, for example, Lady Liberty, Kawayan de Guia’s brilliant commentary on Western imperialism, which is located in the far edge of Fort Santiago. While viewing the towering sculpture, a man approached me and asked whether the ambient sound – a discordant, industrial racket that complemented the artwork’s galvanized iron base – was part of the piece. It wasn’t. The sound was coming from the nearby port area. But it made for a perfect moment, this meeting between the brutality of industry and the brutality of imperialism.
And then there is Roberto Chabet’s Onethingafteranother, which is the first thing you see when you enter the Mission House. The sprawling piece is made up of GI sheets laid on the floor and is illuminated by a phalanx of halogen lamps. With its mundane materials, it exists in defiance of the building’s lofty, vaulted ceiling. (The hot halogen light bouncing off the iron sheets also leaves a searing impression on the viewer – something Chabet would have probably gotten a kick out of.)
Mideo Cruz’s Golgotha, found in the lower vaults of Baluarte de San Diego, is a sort of passion play told with dismembered resin and found objects. Sections of the work are viewable from the upper levels, and I spent a good amount of time trying to find a way down into those caverns. I already knew the piece was unreachable by the public, but somehow it didn’t matter; it was a white rabbit coaxing me to explore the different corridors and passageways of the bastion.
Lena Cobangbang’s Turf Wars, also located in Fort Santiago, is an installation made from grass and weeds. The plants are arranged in a camouflage pattern, which is a direct reference to the country’s current territorial disputes. But the piece already looks like a fixture of Fort Santiago, an oddity that has literally taken root in and taken over its surroundings.
At the end of our tour of Fort Santiago, the Memorial Cross caught my eye. I was familiar with the marker, but I had since spent the afternoon finding art in unexpected places, and the boundaries between exhibit and location. Was this cross part of the Manila Biennale? In a way, it was.
The Manila Biennale: OPENCITY 2018 exhibition is curated by Ringo Bunoan, Alice Sarmiento, Cocoy Lumbao, and Con Cabrera.
The exhibit features site-specific works by Agnes Arellano; Felix Bacolor; Vic Balanon; Renz Baluyot; Zeus Bascon; Aigars Bikse; Roberto Chabet; Lena Cobangbang; Maria Cruz; Mideo Cruz; Patrick Cruz; Kiri Dalena; Kawayan de Guia; Jayson Dy, SJ; Elnora Ebillo; Tad Ermitaño; Carina Evangelista; Pete Jimenez; Hikaru Fujii; Kitty Kaburo; Boni Juan; Jet Melencio; Kolown; Arvin Nogueras; Wawi Navarroza and Nicolas Combarro; Teodulo Protomartir; Gary-Ross Pastrana; Alwin Reamillo; Juni Salvador; Mark Salvatus; Angel Shaw; Jose Luise Singson; Gerardo Tan; John Torres; Henri Van Noordenburg; Gail Vicente, Marija Vicente, and Tanya Villanueva; Oca Villamiel; MM Yu; and Cathy Young.
For complete info on the exhibit, tours, artist talks, and other events, visit www.manilabiennale.ph.