Patrick Flores: A portrait of the critic as a FilipinoMay 2, 2015
The Philippines is coming back to the Venice Biennale after an absence of 51 years. Meet the visionaire behind our provocative exhibit.
MANILA, Philippines – From May 9 to Nov. 22, the art world shall descend on the Venice Biennale. It’s the oldest contemporary art event on the globe, and in its 56 editions — one held every other year since 1895 — it has arguably become the most prestigious. The world’s superpowers always participate, having built permanent pavilions in the beautiful Italian city to welcome top artists, curators, critics, collectors, and gallerists. This has all been out of reach for the Philippines, but next Saturday, that shall change.
On a rented space of barely 150 square meters at the Palazzo Mora, the Philippine national pavilion will stand. It will be our first presence at the Biennale since 1964. Behind the exhibit is the vision of a singular man -— curator Patrick Flores, an art historian, critic and professor at the University of the Philippines. He received the job after his proposal bested 16 others in an open call by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA). And his proposal is radical.
Our country’s exhibition features new works by intermedia artist Jose Tence Ruiz and filmmaker Mariano Montelibano III — but according to Flores, what visitors shall see isn’t a showcase of Philippine art as much as it is a statement. “(My) proposal is a provocation, and we have an important issue to thresh out,” he tells me.
Flores’ act of defiance is entitled “Tie a String Around the World” — a phrase lifted from the Manuel Conde film Genghis Khan, which was shown in Venice in 1952, and now forms the centerpiece of Flores’ exhibit. He used it as the starting point of his proposal for two reasons: “I was thinking, maybe if we return to Venice, we might as well return with something that had already gone there; something that speaks of a broader world and dissolves the dichotomies between local and global,” he explains. But the bigger objective, he says, is to use it as a way to start a discussion on world making.
“We have experienced successive colonialisms, from Spain to America and Japan, and there is a current issue about the South China Sea,” he says. “So I was thinking the pavilion might be able to initiate a conversation on this current problem of world making. What makes a country? Where does the limit lie? How does one really take possession of something quite common like the sea? Art is an invitation for engagement.”