Following a series of art curation workshops around the South East Asia region, the Japan Foundation recently unveiled its latest Philippine exhibit at the Vargas Musuem in the University of the Philippines, Diliman Campus. The exhibit, entitled Almost There features works by foreign and local artists dabbling in different mediums. The highlight was on the act of curation as well, as a Japanese curator paired up with a local curator in each Southeast Asian country for the region-wide series of exhibits.
Vargas museum head curator Patrick D. Flores shares that the theme "Almost There [implies that] there is a gap, constantly worked on in different ways –colonialism, inequality, some kind of difference produce the gap”. The event also showcases a series of lectures supporting the exhibit.
Flores expounds on the nuances of the theme: the feelings and experiences evoked by separation. Here we can cite the sense of arrival or being close to the end of a journey, both of which evoke a seemingly opposed but nonetheless simultaneous emotion of dread and excitement.
The exhibit’s pieces utilise a number of motifs to express the feelings mentioned above: multsiple screen video walls featuring seascapes around Asia, reconfigured artifacts of war, stories of refugees from the Vietnam War told through film or newspaper-like mass prints, a feature-length film, and booklets documenting the flora, native and imported, of Balara.
All these stories revolve around the motif of locality. Che Kyongfa, a Tokyo-based curator working with the Japan Foundation and the Vargas museum muses on “how that idea of locality can extend to another context; how far it can travel through contexts. To be more specific, we wanted to look at this environment: where the Vargas museum is, for example, UP, or Manila as a city. We were quite interested in Balara [which was developed] by the Americans in the 20s [as] it has interesting histories”
Kyongfa shares some tips for aspiring connoisseurs: curating isn’t simply adherence to a general theme as much as it is an act of mediating between the artists and the audience. The choice of work-spacing, lighting, and placement in the different wings of the museum all factor into this communication. And yet it’s also a balancing act where curators don’t speak on behalf of the artists, instead helping them speak to the greater public.
It all starts with the simple appreciation of art and the places it can take us to. “You have to have a desire to communicate through an artwork, to be able to enjoy different readings of artworks [with] an artist’s curiosity into different narratives, histories, and political subjectivities,” Kyongfa concludes.
Almost There opened at the evening of March 2 and its lectures and exhibits continue until May 2017. For a complete list of schedules and events, one may check the Vargas Museum Facebook page: Vargas Museum