‘Bayanihan’ is how we won our first award from the Venice Biennale

Published September 3, 2021, 7:00 PM

by AA Patawaran

The Philippine Pavilion is one of only two national participations bestowed with a special award at the ongoing international exposition

ART FEST BIENNIALLY Architects Sudarshan V. Khadka Jr. and Alexander Eriksson Furunes receiving the National Participation Award from Kazuyo Sejima (Japan), president of the international jury

“An exemplary community project that creates a rich archive and experience of collaborative construction practices,” as it was described by the arts organization behind the Venice Biennale, the Philippine Pavilion this year has been bestowed with a special award.

Our 2021 exhibition called Structures of Mutual Support, curated by Framework Collaborative, composed of the GK Enchanted Farm community and architects Sudarshan V. Khadka Jr. and Alexander Eriksson Furunes, bags the Philippines’ first award in the global art platform since 1964.

This year, ours was only one of two countries out of 60 national pavilions to be given the award, formally called the Special Mention as National Participation at the 17th International Architecture Exhibition. The other national exhibition, “Open!,” curated by Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli, belonged to Russia.

It’s such a historic win for the Philippines, as it also marks the very first time a national pavilion from Southeast Asia receives an award in the architecture biennale.

BAYANIHAN MATERIALIZED Philippines Pavilion at the Venice Biennale 2021 (Andrea D Altoe)

Our return to the Venice Biennale in 2015 was a breakthrough after a 51-year hiatus. Before then, the last time we were represented at the prestigious gathering of the world’s foremost movers and shakers in art was in 1964 with no less than national artists Jose Joya and Napoleon Abueva in the spotlight.

Not only does our yearly presence at the biennale secure our place in the international art scene, in which, judging from the attendance of key figures in the world of art who would show up at our opening ceremonies at the Arsenale every May since 2015, we are recognized as a creative force, but it also helps us Filipinos remind ourselves of the particular way we stand out in the global community by the way we confront the same issues that confront other nations, such as, in this case, living in the midst of a pandemic, climate change, and other environmental challenges.  

Deciding on this year’s awards, of which the Golden Lion was given to the United Arab Emirates Pavilion, was an international jury chaired by Kazuyo Sejima. The members of the jury were Peruvian Sandra Barclay, Lebanese Lamia Joreige, Ghanaian-Scottish Lesley Lokko, and Italian Luca Molinari. The awards were presented to the lead curators Khadka and Furunes on Aug. 30 at Ca’ Giustinian, the headquarters of La Biennale di Venezia.

HOW WE LIVE TOGETHER Curators Khadka and Furunes right after receiving the award (La Biennale di Venezia)

To the question “How Will We Live Together,” which is the overall theme of this year’s architectural exposition, the Philippine Pavilion, housed in a 320-square-meter space at the Artiglieri, an ancient warehouse at the Arsenale, a 45-hectare complex of shipyards and armories in the east of Venice, has a one-word answer—bayanihan.

The answer, curated by members of the Gawad Kalinga Enchanted Farm and architects Khadka and Furunes, finds expression in the large-scale installation Structures of Mutual Support, of which the centerpiece is a building that houses a community library and a conflict-resolution space, as well as an open and lively tambayan for the youth.

It’s such a historic win for the Philippines, as it also marks the very first time a national pavilion from Southeast Asia receives an award in the architecture biennale.

During the awards ceremony in Venice, Furunes thanked the organization for “recognizing that bayanihan and dugnad (communal work) can be real alternatives to how we can live together. The way we build is really the way we live. So this is really important to us.” 

He and Khadka, along with the rest of the curatorial team, arrived at this architectural form after a 22-day workshop in Barangay Encanto in Angat, Bulacan with members of the Philippine Pavilion Coordinating Committee and 32 farmers, carpenters and other laborers, housewives, and students from the GK Enchanted Farm community. True to bayanihan, which has evolved from the practice of neighbors helping one another move houses from one village to the next, the building was community-built in Bulacan, dismantled once the primary structure was up, and then shipped across the world to Venice, where it has been reconstructed as the piece-de-resistance of the Philippine Pavilion for the duration of the architecture biennale this year.

After November, when the 2021 architecture biennale has run its course, the building will be shipped back to the Philippines and reassembled in its permanent location in Barangay Encanto in Angat, Bulacan, where with hope it will serve its purpose of fostering not only community spirit but also camaraderie and the sharing of values, knowledge, goals, and vision.

“The Philippines has only been participating at the Venice Architecture Biennale since 2016. This was only our third official participation as National Pavilion in Architecture. To receive this award is humbling and encouraging that we must continue sending our talents to the Venice Biennale so they can represent our realities as a nation and contribute to meaningful changes to the world,” said Nick Lizaso, the Philippine Pavilion commissioner and chairman of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA).

“It is with utmost pride that we received the news, given the circumstance of the pandemic and the many hurdles we had to overcome. What is important is that we can tell the world that existing practices of our nation, such as bayanihan and our strong sense of community, can be solutions to the world’s most pressing issues. It is with anticipation we wait for the exhibition to return to the Philippines, back to the GK Enchanted Farm community, where it will no longer be a piece for the exhibition but a built object, if not an evolving organism, its value to be defined by the community and enjoyed by its members,” said Congresswoman Loren Legarda, the main proponent and visionary of the Philippine participation in the Venice Biennale, who along with the NCCA and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), has worked to ensure that our presence at the prestigious art or architecture event is meaningful every year.

Watch the awarding ceremony here https://fb.watch/7IH4j3jwOG/.

 
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