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The Philippines receives recognition from Venice Biennale

The Philippines was given the Special Mention as National Participation at the 17th International Architecture Exhibition, its first-ever award since 1964, for the exhibition ‘Structures of Mutual Support’



The exhibit ‘Structures of Mutual Support.’ / PhotoGRAPH COURTESY OF Andrea D. Altoe

The Philippines received its first-ever award from the prestigious global platform Venice Biennale for the exhibition Structures of Mutual Support, curated by Framework Collaborative (Gawad Kalinga Enchanted Farm community and architects Sudarshan V. Khadka Jr. and Alexander Eriksson Furunes).

The country’s national participation at the Venice Biennale is a collaborative undertaking of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA), the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), and the Office of Deputy Speaker and Antique Rep. Loren Legarda.

Out of 60 National Participations, the Philippines was given the Special Mention as National Participation at the 17th International Architecture Exhibition bestowed by La Biennale di Venezia for its “exemplary community project that creates a rich archive and experience of collaborative construction practices.”

Only two countries were bestowed this important award. Aside from the Philippines, the Russian Pavilion, curated by Ippolito Pestellini Laparelli, with the exhibition “Open!” received the Special Mention. The Golden Lion was awarded to United Arab Emirates (UAE) Pavilion.

Constructing the ‘Structure.’ / PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF Don Patrick Claudio

The international jury was chaired by Kazuyo Sejima (Japan) and composed of Sandra Barclay (Peru), Lamia Joreige (Lebanon), Lesley Lokko (Ghana-Scotland) and Luca Molinari (Italy).

The awards were presented to architects Khadka and Furunes last 30 August at Ca’ Giustinian, the headquarters of La Biennale di Venezia.

During the awarding ceremony in Venice, Italy, curator Furunes thanked the organization for “recognizing that bayanihan and dugnad (mutual support in Norway) 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.”

Meanwhile, Khadka said, “We accept this award also on behalf of our collaborators, the GK Enchanted Farm community in Bulacan. We would like to thank our commissioner, the NCCA, DFA and Congresswoman Legarda as well as the PAVB for supporting and trusting the vision for an alternative way we can live together. Mula sa puso, para sa bayan. Salamat.”

Inside the exhibition. / PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF Federico Vespignani

Legarda, the main proponent and visionary of the Philippine participation in the Biennale, said, “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.

We eagerly await 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, its use to be defined by the community and enjoyed by its members,” she concluded.

Historic recognition
This is the first time since the country was recognized ever since it participated in the Venice Art Biennale in 1964. After more than a 50-year hiatus, then senator Legarda worked tirelessly for the country to be able to join the Venice Art Biennale once again in 2015 and in the Venice Architecture Biennale the following year. Through the NCCA, and its partner agencies, the country has continuously mounted the Philippines’ National Participation at the Arsenale.

Architects Khadka and Furunes delivering their acceptance speech during the awarding ceremony. / PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF Philippine Arts in Venice Biennale

“The Philippines has only started participating again in the Venice Architecture Biennale in 2016 and 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,” stated Arsenio “Nick” Lizaso, the Philippine Pavilion commissioner and chairman of the NCCA.

Coming back home
“Structures of Mutual Support” explores how the principles of mutual support would shape architecture by involving people directly in determining values embedded in it. Through a series of workshops based on bayanihan, the Filipino tradition of mutual support, the community and architects planned, designed and built a community library and conflict-resolution space. Much like bayanihan was used traditionally to move a house from one village to the other, the building has traveled to Venice for the duration of the exhibition before returning back home to the village.

The exhibition runs until 21 November, and the library, which was shipped to Venice before the lockdown last year, will be shipped after back to the GK Enchanted Farm community in Angat, Bulacan, where it will be built and used by the community permanently.