It’s Veni, Vidi, Venice for Loren Legarda. And yes, she Cannes!May 31, 2015
It took 51 years for the Philippines to regain recognition at the Venice Biennale 2015. And it took a woman of powerful determination and a heart that beats for art to do it. Even if it took forever for Senator Loren Legarda to place the Philippines once again in the global art map, she would do it.
In government, there are only a few stalwarts of Philippine culture as persistent and hardworking as Loren. I have seen her work–even as a young reporter running after scoops and crossing mountains to have an in-depth interview with a legendary artist. She grew up loving art and giving Filipino artists the respect that they do not always receive. And now, as a lawmaker, she is out there to help legislate measures that will promote and protect our heritage, with the same passion with which she fights for other pressing issues affecting the environment, climate change, education, tourism, education and the welfare of senior citizens, women and children.
In Venice, Loren attended to every detail to make sure the Philippines would take its place of honor along with 88 other countries, with the support of the Department of Tourism (DOT) and the Tourism Promotions Board (TPB). Loren conquered Venice, clad in her her trusty black rubber shoes and signature black suit. From Venice, she proceeded to Cannes where she gave all-out support to director Brillante Mendoza and his team to show the world that yes, we Cannes.
PHILIPPINE STAR: What was the best impact that the Philippine Pavilion made at the Biennale 2015 in Venice?
LOREN LEGARDA: The way the works have been interwoven to connect the past with a very relevant issue today, particularly territorial disputes on the South China Sea, is what makes the Philippine Pavilion remarkable.
Renaud Proch, the executive director of Independent Curators International (ICI) who was part of the jury that deliberated on the curatorial proposals for the Philippine Pavilion, noticed how Patrick Flores’ curatorial proposal offered many points of entry to the pavilion—from the point of view of history, from the point of view of politics, and its relevance to today’s world. He appreciated the great succession of works that took a similar point of departure from Genghis Khan, and yet they had their own space to express themselves individually.
Mami Kataoka, the chief curator of Mori Art Museum in Japan and also part of the jury for the Philippine Pavilion, also noted how the pavilion looks at history and at the same time has a better context and connection with the contemporary world. She said that the story had been very well interwoven and we see its connection to Venice and how the story of half a century ago had been activated through the curatorial thread.
Even the curator of Singapore’s pavilion, Shabbir Hussain Mustafa, was immersed in the concept of the pavilion and he noticed how history was intertwined with the current issues on the sea and territory.
Moreover, Nicole Revel, Emeritus Professor of Linguistics at Paris Descartes University and who recorded the Palawan epic that Manny Montelibano used for his multi-channel video, said that she was pleased to see the Philippines’ comeback pavilion with such interesting ideas and implementation of concepts.
She particularly described her experience watching Montelibano’s A Dashed State, saying that the movie was very interesting and beautifully done. She added that she appreciated the many metaphors in the movie. The mirror-effect did not only help reconstruct landscapes, but also mirror means boundary, which is a metaphor.
How did you personally feel upon seeing our actual exhibit after reviewing the proposal on paper?
Even before I saw the actual pavilion I already felt it would make an impact at the Venice Biennale because I had already seen the intellectual rigor, depth and creativity of Patrick Flores’ curatorial proposal. The jurors saw the strength of the proposal and that it was the fitting choice for the country’s comeback pavilion. And so seeing it altogether, entering the pavilion and being immersed in the art of each artist, I felt proud because even if we were absent in the Venice Biennale for 51 years, our artists were not left behind. We can all be very proud of Philippine contemporary art and what our curators and artists are able to offer and contribute to the global contemporary art scene.
Are there other events for the Pavilion between now and Nov. 22 when it closes?
In August, David Medalla, a globally renowned artist, will conduct a lecture at the Philippine Pavilion. Medalla is a Filipino artist known as a pioneer of land art, kinetic art, participatory art and live art.
What were the most touching and heartwarming moments for you?
In the span of two years, I consulted a lot of people, many of whom were helpful and generous with their wisdom and experience. It was not easy though and there were hurdles, bumps, hit and miss, countless stresses, a few who were cynical, some who were just totally ignorant, but on the whole, there was just so much positive creative energy that overwhelmed the whole project.
Seeing the pavilion already done and ready for the world to see—that was a very touching moment for me because two years ago I was just wondering why we were not in the Biennale and so when I saw the actual pavilion, it’s really like a dream come true. As I was riding the vaporetto, I met a lady who is a Venice blogger and told me she was excited to see the Philippine pavilion, which was on her list as she went around the city. Seeing the guests appreciate the work of our artists and applaud the curatorial proposal—these are heartwarming moments as well. Receiving great reviews and being included in at least four lists of must-see national pavilions—first, it was the A-n The Artists Information Company, then came the review from art auction house Christie’s, followed by that of Art Radar and Artshub—it’s really very rewarding and made me even prouder of this project.
I actually had stomach flu on the day of the vernissage but this could not deter me from savoring the fruits of our hard work. I had a very good team who are passionate about the project and who invested time and energy into it. The almost flawless convergence of the agencies of government—the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA), the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), and my office led to its success. The Department of Tourism was supportive too and the keen interest of media helped us a lot in generating interest. This has unleashed a cultural energy where artists have found inspiration.
You have done so much for the promotion of Philippine art and culture here and abroad. We are hoping the Philippines will join future Biennales. What else is on your wish list?
This is just the beginning of more work to be done to mainstream art and culture in our society. We want art and culture to be regarded as an important part of nation building. We need to be immersed in our culture and our creative talents so that we have a more energized and inspired citizenry.
We have a lot more coming because we want the government to sustain and even further its support of the enrichment of art and culture. We will join the Architecture Biennale next year, then the Art Biennale in 2017. I want our country to have an active role not only in the Venice Biennale but also in the global contemporary art scene through other biennales and art events with the support of the government. We want to establish an institute of contemporary art as the way forward after our Venice Biennale participation.
Any new project as a result of the recent Biennale?
In October, a curatorial intensive will be conducted in Manila as suggested by Renaud Proch, who heads the Independent Curators International based in New York. According to Proch, a curatorial intensive addresses the need for alternative training models for emerging curators and gives them an outlet to expand their horizons and to develop a group of peers that they could continue to work with in the long term.
I also continue collaborative projects with our cultural agencies. I have collaborated with state universities and colleges (SUCs) in the Cordillera Region in documenting indigenous forest conservation systems. I continue to give support to our weavers and the schools of living traditions (SLTs), and the upkeep and rehabilitation of our Gabaldon-type and other heritage school buildings.
You have been mounting interesting exhibits on local fabrics at the National Museum.
In the National Museum, we have established the Hibla ng Lahing Filipino, the country’s first permanent textile gallery where we also conduct Lecture Series on Philippine Traditional Textiles and Indigenous Knowledge. Queen Sofia of Spain visited the National Museum and the Hibla gallery during her visit to the country in 2012, and I also helped make the National Museum the venue for French President Francois Hollande’s climate change forum during his state visit last February.
We also have the Baybayin gallery at the National Museum that showcases the ancient and traditional scripts of the Philippines and we continue to conduct the annual National Indigenous Peoples Cultural Summit.
What measures relevant to art and culture are you pushing for in the Senate?
In the Senate, I have filed bills on culture such as Senate Bill No. 2501, which aims to strengthen the conservation and protection of national cultural heritage through enhanced cultural heritage education programs and cultural mapping; Senate Bill No. 105 seeks to preserve the country’s traditional folk arts through the regional museums of the National Museum; and Senate Bill No. 669 seeks to safeguard the traditional property rights of IPs.
I have also proposed the creation of a Department of Culture and the Arts under Senate Bill No. 1391 to reorganize the existing NCCA and ensure its place in the priorities of the government.
You supported Taklub for the Cannes filmfest. And you gave all-out support by being there too. How did the Cannes film buffs react to Taklub?
Following the disaster brought by Supertyphoon Yolanda, I thought we needed to do a documentary drama that had subtle yet compelling messages about disaster risk reduction (DRR) and climate change adaptation (CCA). I collaborated once again with director Brillante Mendoza, who agreed to do a feature film about it. Taklub was produced by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), in cooperation with the Philippine Information Agency (PIA) with my full support. I never imagined it would go to Cannes because my real intention with the project was to further push my advocacy on DRR and CCA and we thought that this feature film was a different yet effective way of raising awareness on a very urgent matter.
The Debussy Theater was full during the premiere last May 19 and we continue to get many good reviews. Toute La Culture gave the film 4 out of 5 stars, Cinematografo rated it 4.5 out of 5 stars, while The Upcoming online magazine gave it a perfect 5 stars. Clarence Tsui for The Hollywood Reporter, Maggie Lee for Variety, and David Poland for Movie City News all commended the way the story unfolded and recognized the exceptional performance of Nora Aunor.
Meanwhile, Les Inrocks, one of France’s most important culture magazines, also had positive comments about the film, stressing that the strength of the film “lies, as it should, in its cinematic form.”
It’s really amazing how Direk Brillante was able to combine drama and advocacy flawlessly. Taklub will deeply touch one’s heart, at the same time it imparts a very relevant message about resilience and disaster preparedness.
What problems do our filmmakers face and what is the government doing to help them?
The usual challenge for filmmakers is funding. But we have many talented independent filmmakers who are able to do world-class films and manage to win accolades and awards despite modest resources.
I think our filmmakers are gradually gaining more support from the government. The annual Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival is an important program that supports the work of independent Filipino filmmakers and invigorates Philippine filmmaking. During the budget deliberations last year, I proposed, and it was approved, for funding worth P15 million for the 2015 Cinemalaya.