Manila Biennale 2018: What Do Artists Do When Everything Sucks?

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Where is the outrage?

In a time when fake news gains “credibility” by sheer online traffic and violence acquires a kind of legitimacy by blind acceptance, your rational mind has no other thought but to repeatedly wonder: where’s the outrage?

As someone who belongs to a generation that questions virtually everything and finds resistance practically on autopilot, I find myself having such a thought—in frustration. Because so much is happening to this country, and if you’re not aware what those are, then you need to get up to speed.

What does this have to do with art? Everything.

Welcome to Your History

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Out of chaos, brutality, and tragedy can raise the human spirit. In the hands of artists, the human spirit transforms into introspective pieces that you can touch and experience. And this is what we found at the recently opened “Manila Biennale 2018.”

The theme for the first #manilabiennale2018 is “open city,” which is a reference to two aspects of our history: the origin of Intramuros as part of the Galleon Trade and a period in World War II when the military left the city. So, it’s like a before-and-after image of the walled city as the center for arts and culture.

You’ll find photography, sculptures, and all sorts of installations that revolve around this theme, which means there will be some pretty heavy pieces that may make you well up but also some lighthearted ones that may make you laugh out loud.

Although Kolown’s cheeky installations, with their crude stand and tarp printout, had a good concept of our “alternative history,” the execution could’ve taken it further. It’s unfortunate not to have seen a lifesized Ultraman hovering over a church. That would’ve made for a spectacular image.

Experiential Art

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Some of the more memorable installations my sister and I caught were at the Fort Santiago and the Baluerte de San Diego. One of which was the sound installation of Gail Vicente, Marija Vicente, and Tanya Villanueva. The “Masamang Loob” installation featured secrets whispered into the void; considering the current female-driven movements happening across the globe, this is an installation in the art exposition you cannot miss.

Another potent work comes from filmmaker and visual artist Kiri Dalena, which features a kind of hopeful Bertolt Brecht poem right across her “Untitled” installation.

Then there’s Mideo Cruz’s “Golgotha,” which features found objects, metal, wood, and resin. It’s a sight to behold and not for the faint of heart as you look down on all those hands reaching out from the ground.

Other unforgettable pieces include the photography of MM Yu, whose striking images of “makeshift homes” played on a loop on a mounted screen at the Mission House; “Hindi Kevlar” by Pete Jimenez, and the moving images of Pinoy vets in the US by Rick Rocamora. Incidentally, Rocamora helped RodallieMosende, the homeless girl from Quiapo, finish her college education.

The works are spread out in Intramuros, some indoors and most will be outdoors. The entire event will run until March 5, and exhibits typically open from 8am to 9pm at Fort Santiago, 8am to 5pm at Baluarte de San Diego, and 10am to 5pm at the Mission House.

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In the absence of a collective outrage toward the senselessness of fake news and violence is the perspective and relief that you can take from art. Maybe decades from now, a future #MNLBNL will showcase artwork that reflects the city as it is today. Here’s hoping there will be more pieces that will make you laugh out loud.

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