Packing up and Processing the Memories of the Manila Biennale 2018


The journey to the first ever biennale for our capital and country was insane, that is no secret. Some say the best part of the whole project is that it was actually done at all. Conceptualized only in March 2017, it was perceived as an impossible effort – a plan destined to fail in a notoriously chaotic place like the Philippines.

People called me crazy for taking this on – they really did – myself included. After all, “BIENNALE” can be such a wieldy word. It’s loaded with more than a century of cultural baggage, comparisons, and expectations. From the original Venetian exposition in 1895, the biennale has been reincarnated in many forms by the cities of Jakarta, Istanbul, Sydney, Berlin – or any other country seeking validation by the international arts and culturati machine. “Biennale” has become a term so intimidating that even if there’s been plans of producing one since the 1970’s, no one in the Philippines has ever dared to do so until now.

But trust me, this biennale wasn’t a miracle nor an accident. It wasn’t achieved through the resources of the powerful and the political. This biennale was acheived though a system that we all learned in elementary school science classes: the process of trial and error. It’s a difficult way to learn a lesson that is true, but it really is the most effective one for an artist like me who can only learn the hard way. Instead of studying templates done by biennales past, I decided to barrel forward using intuition and pure elbow grease. I used my gut feelings regarding Intramuros and my fellow Filipino artists as my basis and used practicum and application from day one. I also kept all comparisons to foreign biennales to a minimum. Truth be told, I’ve only been to two art biennales in my life and only within the past year. I’m not a wealthy man nor a connected one in the art world. I visited the Venice Biennale just last August 2017 to experience it’s context and I visited the Jakarta Biennale in November to understand how a biennale can be managed within a southeast Asian milieu. I’m a total biennale social climber.

Through this method, I learned a lot about local and international art systems, it’s intricacies and pretentions but I also learned a lot about myself. Forget grad school, produce a biennale on your own. It’s cheaper and you will learn all you need to know about artist management, human resource management, financial management, time management, and anger management. Along the way I met some great people and some terrible people. I lost the love and friendships of a few but found new souls that I would trust with my life and my dogs. There were heroes, there were kontrabidas, there were jesters and sages. Through this system, I was able to identify my mistakesn and recognise my surprise successes. I know now who to work with, I know now where to find support, and most importantly, I know now where I went wrong and how to never ever do the same mistake again.

Seriously, who would be insane enough to buy the word biennale and think it could be pulled off in 8 months? An artist like me and all the others who worked with the Manila Biennale in both curatorship and production. Don’t forget that it’s the artists who are the dreamers. It’s the artist who takes the risk of even being an artist for those who cannot. We record the times as much as we set the tone. The Manila Biennale was an artist run affair, a communal experiment in site-specific performance art/interventions where we all worked with what we had, with who was sitting right in front of us, and using whatever resources were made available at an arm’s reach. The creativity and focus of the Filipino artist is our nation at its best. Don’t forget that and don’t try to ever doubt it.

And that is all I guess. It’s time to put the logo away and reclaim my life again.

Stay posted for more information on Intramuros tours, art residencies, our performance art festival OPENCITY in 2019, and plans for the Manila Biennale 2020.

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