Tie a String around the World, The Philippines at the 2015 Venice Biennale

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Installation view of the exhibition, showing a film projection of Genghis Khan, 1950, Manuel Conde and Carlos Francisco- Philippine Pavilion- 2015 Venice Biennale

The Philippines last and only participation in the Venice Biennale was 51 years ago during its the 32nd edition in 1964. Among the few nations coming from the Asia Pacific to participate, the Philippines showed abstract paintings by Jose Joya (1931-1995) and sculptures by Napoleón Abueva (1930). Lack of official funding notably under the Marcos administration, which took over in 1969, have stalled further participation. Through a joint effort of the National Commission on Culture and the Arts and the Office of Senator Loren Legarda, the Philippines was able to afford a national pavilion. A six-member international jury selected from sixteen submissions, among which an entry from the curator Patrick Flores was selected. Flores works for the Vargas Museum and as Professor of Art Studies at the University of the Philippines.

The film ‘Genghis Khan’ served as his conceptual springboard. Manuel Conde, who was the producer, actor, and director (1915-1985, Philippines) shot the film in 1950 in Manila and nearby provinces. This was screened at the 1952 Venice film festival. One remarkable detail about his project is the fact that it is the first film adaptation of the conqueror whose empire reached from the Pacific to Europe and has an entirely Filipino cast acting as Mongolians. At the end of Khan promises his wife “to tie a string around the world and lay it at your feet”. Flores derives his title from this piece of dialogue.

The restored film can now be seen in full length in Palazzo Mora in Venice along with studies of Carlos Francisco (1912-1969), who worked with Manuel Conde on the set and costume design of “Genghis Khan”. Both Conde and Francisco were eventually named National Artists of the Philippines, the highest accolade given by the Republic of the Philippines for artistic excellence.  The Philippines has been reintroduced to Venice through this movie which offers a point of reference and discussion about aspects of a modified “configuration of the world”, about the importance of territories, borders and freedom.

The second room is closed to the contributions of Jose Tence Ruiz (1958, Philippines) and Mariano Montelibano III (1971, Philippines). Filmmaker Montelibano shows the multi-channel video “A Dashed State” over the West Philippine Sea, claimed by China. Ruiz’ room-filling sculpture “Shoal” explores the discarded warship BRP Sierra Madre, which the US used during the Second World War and the Vietnam War. In 1999, the Philippine Government intentionally run the ship aground as a defensive move in the dispute with China in the West Philippine Sea. The ship is inhabited by a platoon of Marines who regularly face harassment from the Chinese Coast Guard who have been reclaiming islands just a few nautical miles from their location. Ruiz rebuilt the ship’s structure, which appears to be covered with red velvet and stranded in the room. The ghostly object dominates cavernous section of the pavilion. It seeks to raise questions about territory and borders- issues which remain a hot topic in the Philippines and have become the subject of an international arbitration case at the United Nations.

David Medalla, known in the Philippines and all over the world as an enfant terrible who hobnobbed with some of the art world greats performed as part of the Philippine participation on the 20th of August 2015. Tie a string around the World will be on view at the European Cultural Centre, Palazzo Mora, Venice, Italy.

For more information visit http://www.philartvenicebiennale.com/

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