By AA Patawaran
VENICE, ITALY – At Wednesday’s preview of this year’s Philippine Pavilion at the 58th Venice Art Biennale, opening to the public on May 11 at Arsenale in Venice, you are invited to look closely at truths in a way you almost never do.
Set in three modules – on three island installations at the 320-square-meter Philippine Pavilion at the main exhibition hall Artiglierie at Arsenale – is the exhibition “Island Weather,” curated by Tessa Marie Guazon, which features multi-discipline artist Mark Justiniani’s work titled “Arkipelago,” in tune with this year’s overall theme, “May You Live in Interesting Times,” by Ralph Rugoff, the American director of the London Hayward Gallery and curator of the 2019Venice Art Biennale.
At the Philippine Pavilion, on its fifth exhibition after its historic return to the Venice Biennale in 2015 after a 51-year hiatus, the viewer is invited not to look around or up at his surroundings but down, as he rarely does, beneath his feet, through clear glass, at what appears to be excavation sites in which, in details both fantastic and familiar, are found snippets of daily life or stories of a past long buried, ignored, denied, misunderstood, discarded, replaced, or overwritten.
“‘Island Weather’ takes from our islands in the Philippine archipelago,” said Guanzon.
“We refer to the weather as both the atmospheric weather and the weather as a metaphor, as a metaphor for the state of the world and all the predicaments we currently face and these predicaments are conditions not only faced by us Filipinos but by all peoples across the world.”
Instead of talking about his art installations, Justiniani in his opening day speech chose to honor the laborers in both Manila and Venice, over 100 of them, “the steel welders, the glassmakers, the carpenters, the painters, the artisans, the construction workers…” whom he commissioned to help bring his vision to form.
He called his installations “a grand celebration of the simple life,” explaining that these workers would work diligently with glass, stone, wood, heavy metals, and other materials and, at the end of a hard day’s work, would go back to their simple, difficult life.
“It is humbling to see them work to make this piece work for the ‘Island Weather’ project of the Philippine Pavilion,” Justiniani said.
National Commission on Culture and the Arts chair and National Artist for Literature Virgilio S. Almario Jr. is proud to have heard during the preview many positive appraisals of this year’s Philippine participation in the art biennale, the oldest and the most prestigious in the world.
“Island Weather is an exploration of our identity shaped by our islands and their vernacular cultures. Each viewer will look at the depths of (Justiniani’s) magical installations and will have different interpretations and varied experiences of them,” he said.
“This exhibition brings us once more to our historic colonial past, which has inevitably shaped our nation,” said Senator Loren Legarda, in a speech read to the guests of the Philippine Pavilion opening cocktails by Philippine ambassador to Rome Domingo Nolasco.
“We may have achieved liberty more than a century ago, but our colonial history is a vital aspect of our nationhood that every Filipino needs to live and struggle with. While our past does not necessarily colonize our future, our complex knowledge of it helps in fortifying the values we will carry as we decisively chart an unforeseeable fate.”
The Philippine Pavilion’s “Island Weather,” as fully expressed by Justiniani’s “Arkipelago,” is as simple as it is profound.
While it breaks through surfaces, burrowing deep into strange yet familiar objects from a buried past, it does not require its viewers to dig as deep in order to fully immerse in the experience.
Thus, the exhibition is a study of art as both a medium of pleasure and a means of deep contemplation, an exhibition immersive and thought-provoking yet playful and easily enjoyable and, depending on the viewer, either threatening and disorienting or meditative and simply wonderful or, in many cases, both.
The 2019 Philippine Pavilion is a collaboration between the National Commission on Culture and the Arts and the Department of Foreign Affairs in partnership with the Office of Senator Loren Legarda.
Officially opening to the public on May 11, the Venice Art Biennale runs until Nov. 24.