PH Pavilion Participants Address the Question- How Do Cities Shape Our Lives?

Press Release

May 23, 2018

PH Pavilion Participants Address the Question- How Do Cities Shape Our Lives?

The Philippine Pavilion at the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale, featuring the exhibition “The City Who Had Two Navels” curated by Edson Cabalfin, will formally open to the public on May 26, 2018 at the Artiglierie of the Arsenale in Venice, Italy.

The Philippine Pavilion asks many questions including — ‘Can architecture represent the nation’s identity? Can we truly escape the colonial? How does neoliberalism shape our built environment?’ These are the points of discussion that the pavilion explores as it toggles between the past, present and the future by focusing on the built environment as expression of self-determination and as setting for global and transnational revolution.

Following the call for examining an idea of “Freespace” by the Biennale curators, Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, the Philippine Pavilion seeks to interrogate architecture and urbanism’s ability to empower and transform people’s lives. “Freespace” or “Pookginhawa” in the Philippine context underscores the strategies by which Filipinos use the built environment as modes of resistance to and appropriation of an ever-changing world.

The Pavilion’s main feature is the impressive 14-meters long wedge-shape screen that slithers its way and fills out the vast space, with its highest point at 4 meters tapering down to 1.8 meters. The structure is meant to symbolize the navel, which is a significant symbol and concept in architecture. In his treatises, Vitruvius, the Roman architect from the First Century BCE, specifically attributed the centrality of the navel in the human body and its subsequent manifestation of divine perfection. For the Tausug of the Sulu archipelago in Mindanao, southern Philippines, their stilt-raised house, bay sinug (literally meaning “house of the sea”), is composed of nine posts, each corresponding to various parts of the human body. The center post is considered the navel of the house.

Specifically commissioned for the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale, the central section features noted Philippine contemporary artist Yason Banal’s multi-channel installation titled “Untitled Formation, Concrete Supernatural, Pixel Unbound” which investigates the tenuous overlap between colonialism and neoliberalism. With the installation placed in the middle part of the exhibition, acting as the intersection of the two “navels”, Banal interrogates disparate issues of surveillance and spectacle, governmentality and biopolitics, the tension between nature and humans, and the struggle between authenticity and artifice, as manifestations of contemporary urban subjectivities. Shot using 4K, Full HD, and low-resolution through drones, 360-degree and phone cameras, the video installation mediates between the lived experiences of the city dwellers and the incumbent realities of transnational mobilities and network.

Aside from Banal, the exhibitors of the Pavilion are: University of the Philippines – Mindanao from Davao City; the University of San Carlos from Cebu City;
the University of the Philippines – Diliman, and De la Salle – College of Saint Benilde from Metro Manila; and, TAO-Pilipinas, Inc., a non-governmental organization (NGO) of architects and planners based in Quezon City.

The Philippine Pavilion will hold its vernissage on May 24, 2018. This is the fourth consecutive participation of the country in the important contemporary art exposition beginning in 2015.

The Philippine Pavilion at the Venice Biennale is under the auspices of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, the Department of Foreign Affairs and the Office of Senator Loren Legarda, with the support of the Department of Tourism.

The Philippine Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale: The City Who Had Two Navels

PRESS RELEASE

26 April 2018

The Philippine Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale: The City Who Had Two Navels

Inspired by Filipino National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin’s novel “The Woman Who Had Two Navels,” published in 1961, the Philippine Pavilion at the 16th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia confronts the tension between the vicissitudes of the past and the challenges of constructing contemporary subjectivity.

Following the call for examining an idea of “Freespace” by the Biennale curators Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara, the Philippine Pavilion seeks to interrogate architecture and urbanism’s ability to empower and transform people’s lives. “Freespace” or “Pookginhawa” in the Philippine context underscores the strategies by which Filipinos use the built environment as modes of resistance and appropriation to an ever-changing world.

Titled “The City Who Had Two Navels” as a critical response to Joaquin’s important literary work and celebration of his birth centennial, the Philippine contribution to the Biennale highlights two “navels” that are in constant dialogue: first, how colonialism impacts the formation of the built environment; and second, how the process of neoliberalization alters the urban landscape.

First Navel

The first “navel”, “(Post)Colonial Imaginations”, presents major expositions and world’s fairs showcasing the Philippines, including the 1887 Exposicion General de las Islas Filipinas (Madrid, Spain), the 1904 St. Louis Fair (St. Louis, Missouri, USA), the 1998 Expo Pilipino (Clark Airbase, Pampanga), and other expositions during the colonial and post-colonial periods. Through images and artifacts, the first section looks at how Philippine displays in expositions reproduced colonial narratives of the exotic and the primitive. The first section of the pavilion presents the question: can we truly escape the colonial?

Second Navel

The second navel, “Neoliberal Urbanism” presents the development of Philippine cities as embedded within processes of neoliberalization. Under a neoliberal agenda, cities are placed in a hierarchy based on their ability to compete for capital following principles of privatization, deregulation, free market, and minimal state intervention. Examples include mixed-use developments and business process outsourcing (BPO) offices, enclave central business districts, peri-urban residential subdivisions, and informal settlements as part of urban growth. By exposing contemporary issues in Philippine cities, the pavilion poses the question: is neoliberalization a new form of colonialism?

Intersection

In the central part of the exhibition, a video installation explores the intersection of the two forces of colonialism and neoliberalism. The juncture of these two “navels” represents an emergent wave of postcolonial anxieties born out of the process of exiting the colonial condition.

This immersive experience asks visitors to contemplate on their own experiences with the colonial and the neoliberal. Through a transnational and transhistorical investigation, the pavilion argues that the Philippines does not exist in a vacuum, is implicated within power relations, and is inextricably intertwined with other nations and people.

Consortium

To address this emerging postcolonial anxiety, the Philippine Pavilion invited future architects, planners and designers to respond to the two “navels” in the exhibition. As part of the exhibit, a think-tank consortium was created comprising students and faculty from select architecture, design, and planning programs in the Philippines. They are: (1) Yason Banal, contemporary artist and filmmaker; (2) TAO (Technical Assistance Organization) Pilipinas, Inc. a women-led, non-stock, non-profit, non-government organization that assists urban and rural poor communities; (3) De La Salle – College of Saint Benilde; (4) University of San Carlos – School of Architecture, Fine Arts and Design; (5) University of the Philippines Diliman, College of Architecture; and (6) University of the Philippines Mindanao, Department of Architecture. The consortium was commissioned to conduct research on the current state of three Philippine cities of Metro Manila, Metro Cebu and Metro Davao and were tasked to respond to the identified issues and to present proposals about the future. Through the speculations about the two “navels” and the concomitant architectural and urban issues, Philippine “Freespace” or “Pookginhawa” anticipates possibilities for renewed life and hope.

The Curator

Edson G. Cabalfin is Associate Professor at the School of Architecture and Interior Design at the University of Cincinnati. He received his Ph.D. in Architecture (Major in History of Architecture, Minors in Historic Preservation and Southeast Asian Studies) in 2012 from Cornell University. Under a Fulbright Fellowship from 2001 to 2003, he received his M.S. Architecture degree from the University of Cincinnati. Prior to coming to the U.S., he received his B.S. Architecture (cum laude) and Master of Architecture degrees from the University of the Philippines – Diliman in 1996 and 2001 respectively.

National Participation

The Philippine participation at the 16th International Architecture Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia is a collaborative undertaking of National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), and the Office of Senator Loren Legarda.