Island Weather for the Philippine Pavilion, Venice Biennale 2019

I am very happy to share that artist Mark Justiniani and I will work together on an exhibition project for the Philippine Pavilion at the Venice Art Biennale 2019. Island Weather expands my research and curatorial work on place making and place histories. Mark will construct an immersive environment at the Arsenale, articulating further his  interests in the nature of perception through optics and technology that are vernacular in origin and form. More news and updates from the Philippine Arts in Venice Biennale social media page. 


Curatorial brief

Islands are at the core of this exhibition project as it crafts and proposes new imaginaries of place-histories.

Islands connote origins and leave-takings. Islands are simultaneously finite and endless because bound by land and open to sea. They intimate grounding yet their very nature is movement: the shifting of earth, the crawl of clouds, the crash of waves, the very weather itself.

Islands are malleable and allow ‘grand designs’.These designs shape the investigations the exhibition will take, as it lays out a trail marked by imposing and beguiling structures and forms. Image, sound and movement will be explored in a site-specific and site responsive installation project, an immersive environment to simulate a voyage – an island hop. The trail will consist of tableaus: expansive sceneries that combine history, fantasy and myth; signposts to our histories, an archipelago strung along a fraught past and uncertain future, burdened by the legacies of colonial history and the weight of protracted modernity.

Island Weather also references a vernacular quip for the fleeting nature of power. It deepens artist Mark Justiniani’s investigation of vision and its role in the construction of truth. It is aimed at deepening our conversations on ways of seeing and means of perception, the nature of space and the constructs of time. In a piece where stillness and movement are combined and contrasted, where journeys are simulated, the history of a nation is refracted to conjure an image of radical hope.

The journey the art project will take will be on islands drifting on bodies of water, in a manner similar to the way art buoys the spirit, its capacity to keep us afloat. Imagination’s terrain cannot be fully charted as do the edges and limits of the human will.

Art after all, remains the last frontier of an agency rooted in imagination and mobilised through hope.

Courtesy visit to the National Commission for Culture and the Arts, with Chair Virgilio Almario, past Chair Felipe de Leon and artists Mark Justiniani and Joy Mallari

Pagpamulak, Pleiades, and Pusod at the UP Diliman Grounds

We formally launched three art projects inside the Diliman campus yesterday.

Pagpamulak means ‘to blossom’. The work gathers white painted concrete body parts at the edge of the Sculpture Garden. The pieces make a playground, where we can climb a belly, see saw on a pussy, and rest on a penis. These pieces take from artist Lee Paje’s 2011 project where vagina shaped chocolates filled with rice wine were offered to audiences during an exhibition opening.



Mark Justinian’s Pusod (navel) is at the UP Lagoon, a reflective disk during the day and a marvel of coloured reflections at night.



Agnes Arellano’s goddesses Pleiades descend from the heavens, their ethereal forms render the grove otherworldly.







LAWAS launch event April 11

LAWAS comprises three public art projects for the 2018 UP Diliman Festival of Culture and the Arts. Pleiades, Pusod and Pagpamulak explore the intricate process of dwelling the body. All three are located at visible and accessible areas inside the sprawling Diliman campus.

LAWAS banner 02 April

The intimate registers of the senses, faith and the sacred feminine, and play through vision are expressed in art pieces by Agnes Arellano, Mark Justiniani, and Lee Paje. They probe the limits of the body, often imagined a vessel or a contained space. How can art whether installation, sculpture, or site specific forms become extensions of the human body through experience? Art that incorporates multi-dimensionality in its engagement of body and space becomes a technological cipher by which the human form is reworked and imagined, beyond containment and towards amplification.

Artist Agnes Arellano gathers her goddesses in a grove. Pleiades are cast stone goddesses, four of seven of the open star cluster most visible to the naked eye. The works follow the artist’s lifelong search for the sacred feminine. Through them, she hopes to rekindle the age old values of nurturing, generosity, and compassion.

Lee Paje constructs a playground of intimate forms in her Pagpamulak project. It means ‘to blossom’ in the vernacular. It takes from a 2011 series where vagina-shaped chocolates were filled with tapuy or rice wine and were eaten during the exhibition. Viewers will be invited to not only sit and lie on but also play with the stylised sculptures that mimic the body’s intimate parts.

Mark Justiniani installs Pusod at the UP Lagoon. The reflective disk rests on earth and reflects the skies above. It is likened to an orbit in a frozen moment, a well of clouds becomes close to eye and touch during the day, while a deep crater is revealed at sun down. The structure is a navel, an invisible umbilical cord between the heaven and earth.

LAWAS is curated by UP Department of Art Studies faculty Tessa Maria Guazon and Cecilia De la Paz. The works will be publicly launched11 April 2018 and will be on view until end August 2018. A series of events will be organized during June, July and August.

Art for Mondays: Mark Justiniani’s Reverb exhibition

Mark Justiniani installs several works from his Infinity series with a few additions, notably a piece that references the upcoming Philippine elections. These for Reverb, a recently opened exhibition.

Sharing the wall text I wrote for the exhibition. There is a catalogue to accompany the exhibition, with my essay ‘Threshold and Portals’ alongside details of art works. The works are on view until 6 May 2016 at the UP Vargas Museum and Filipiniana Research Center, UP Diliman campus. 


Mark Justiniani alters spaces by constructing environments within them. Splicing zones, doubling vision, fragmenting images, and refracting light are only few of the means through which he transports us to places. While familiar, they form the bulk of the artist’s imaginings of a world simultaneously wondrous and burdened. The scenes remind of sites we readily identify: tunnels and shafts, capsules and enclosures, tracks and lanes – all speak to a constellation of paths that mark our everyday lives. These are means by which we traverse points, reach destinations, mark goals or fittingly, they are devices to beguile, ensnare and entrap. Nestled like Russian dolls, the images contained within structures are in fact, shards of a whole multiplied by an intricate play on light and space. Reverb refers to both sound and the space that surrounds it, the manner they meld to allow us to perceive depths of tonality or texture, or interestingly, locate our position in space by way of depth. This mechanism is deftly deployed in this installation series which contains visions in vessel-like formations and yet, ferries fascination to various other trajectories.





Lathe of Light: Mark Justiniani’s Temple at Art Basel HK 2015

I have written mostly about artist Mark Justiniani’s Infinity series. While the works progress into each other, they are never the same as are my conversations with Mark and his partner, artist Joy Mallari. I have seen most these works at various stages, but this last piece was already shipped to Hong Kong when we all met to talk about the catalogue text. Mark aptly described it and the motivations that went into its making nonetheless. Our chat strayed to that fraught question of believing: in god or an omniscient power, or a spirit guide, ancestors for that matter, or fate even. It was a conversation steeped in thoughts about existence, death and the failure to reckon with life’s brevity or in rather mundane terms: chances not taken, moments never seized, truths never told, or lies allowed to fester. I guess conversations of this kind are by nature never resolved, spooling into ever more twisted skeins of reflection existing in moments, never future or past but now.

Detail Temple 2015 Mark Justiniani Courtesy the artist and The Drawing Room

Day and night
Beam, ray, shaft

Flaring orb
Stark flame
An inert world of unmoving time
Place without shadows

Gossamer sphere
Pale light
A velvet shrouded earth of languid rhythms
Objects without edges

Communion and solitude
A conjoined piece fuses structure and machine, a cathedral of windows, a collider to diffuse atom. Both entrap and emit light as they speak to existence. Sanguine twins, Janus, a clock’s ticking face, alternately grand and monstrous, these constructions attempt to decipher the complex structure of existence.

Mortal, earth bound, corporeal or rather ethereal, adrift on wings, thus transcendent. Myriad complexity or simple unity, coherent and confounding all the same. For indeed, how is one before these grandiose embodiments of human aspiration and ambition? A cathedral to cradle the soul, where spirits soar to sublime heights and the body is pierced with light: transformations in a theatre of faith. Moving at light’s speed, a machine to break particles down into basic mass, a field where particles collide: an arena of creation and destruction.

Two infinities imagined: the vast and the minutiae contain questions we can only begin to fathom.

Life and death
Beckoning, calling
Refracting, diffusing
Enlarging and diminishing

Life sprouting, shrivelling
Budding and decaying
An ending and beginning

Death and life
One awakens to life with flickering light and a cry, one leaves it by blinding light and a quivering breath.

Temple captures the myriad mysteries of existence, plagued as we are by the eternal question of being and purpose. Do we truly reside here or elsewhere? We may leave without knowing or perhaps it is beyond knowing. Or if we begin to believe we are close to understanding, our knowledge is aborted by sudden leavings. A paradox we attempt to untangle.

Art embodies this striving, in its bid to forge enigma in material form. The most voluble of them speak to great mystery through the calibration of the senses. We are by turns perplexed and amused, drawn into a miniscule version of the universe then thrown back into a vast world. Then we begin to grasp the mystery of creation that buttresses art, a form of solace that assuages our fears: of leaving without mark and trace.

Solitude and communion
Within and beyond

A galaxy of stars
In gut
Universes in fusion
In minds

Night and day
Chaos rule as we persist in the numbing grind of days folding and time falling in unrelenting haste. We fear the loss of tomorrow, we quaver at the passing of an hour or a precious minute. We invent solace, manufacture escapes to multiply our joys: little versions of transcendence where we become effervescent and fleetingly immortal.

Suddenly Becoming: Mark Justiniani’s Recurrence at Art Stage 2014

Excerpts from catalogue essay courtesy of The Drawing Room Contemporary Art

In what could yet be his grandest foray into the image, Mark Justiniani conjures a universe of flatness and depth, curious constellations of space and time, enfolded into each other like a swarm of galaxies, strongly felt because of engulfing proximity. These chimeric capsules are attempts to understand time’s deep structure, our singular experience of space, and how impossible it is for one to be understood without the other. They attest to the efficacy of the image in defining contemporary existence, the deployment of its powers as a sign that has become ultimately more potent than the object’s representational lure.

Mark Justiniani’s past exhibitions Phantom Limb, Mimefield, and Orbit were ventures along this vein. The artist mobilizes scale in Recurrence, shifting from the minute to the immersive through elaborate visual tableaux meant to facilitate our encounters of fracture, largely through visual fragments. He sets up scenes wherein the illusion of multiples is achieved through a skilful play on cavernous depth and shallow surface. In this series of works, he examines with genuine interest visuality, the manner we grasp existence, and how best one’s ruminations on matter and reality are played out through creative disposition.

Ark 2013, reflective media, light fixtures and objects encased in black painted iron casement
223 x 129 x 47 cm, 208 x 129 x 47 cm (x2)
Image courtesy the artist and The Drawing Room Contemporary Art

Parallel fall: “…every now and then, we skirted a universe (or else a universe skirted us), but it wasn’t clear whether these were a number of universes scattered through space or whether it was always the same universe we kept passing, revolving in a mysterious trajectory, or whether there was no universe at all and what we thought we saw was a mirage of a universe which perhaps had once existed and whose image continued to rebound from the walls of space like the rebounding of an echo” (Italo Calvino, 1965 “The Form of Space” in Cosmicomics trans. William Weaver: Harvest Books)

Eternal 2013, detail
Image courtesy the artist and The Drawing Room Contemporary Art

These works are simultaneous installation and environment, the artist leading the viewer to the notion that her presence makes the work as much as its artistry and vision. Justiniani admits to a deep interest in perception and the creation of realities, his queries lace the very act of making art itself. He asks of the nature of nothingness, or better put, the form of matter itself. The ‘karaoka’ meticulously reconstructed through studies for the works was ultimately broken down to barest parts, as if to suggest a remnant, a fragment of the past.

Echopraxia 2013, reflective media, light fixtures and objects encased in black painted iron casement, 208 x 144 x 44 cm
Image courtesy the artist and The Drawing Room Contemporary Art

Imprint:”…so that there is nothing now that does not leave its print, every possible print of every possible thing, and together every transformation of these prints, instant by instant…changes the general form of space in all its dimensions” (Calvino, 121)

Eternal 2013, reflective media, light fixtures and objects encased in black iron casement
208 x 164 x 44 cm

Image courtesy the artist and The Drawing Room Contemporary Art

And yet the void is never empty, filled as it is with matter, the nothingness the artist inquires of will never be a shrinking emptiness but a fecund view of how it is to exist at a juncture riven with anxieties and hopes. Indeed such concepts of temporality and spatiality as Jameson notes speak to our relations to a range of structures, with which we bind and extricate ourselves in equal measure. It is this impulse that renders the contemporariness of Mark Justiniani’s art – for while it entices and engulfs by way of optical illusion, its presentation of artifice is jarring. The use of reflective surface and mirrors, fragments of objects, snippets of sound, or movement enclosed reinforces the greater illusions upon us, so much so when we step from dim to bright, still taken by reflections and enchanting fragments of our persons, we bump unexpectedly into the hard and dank realities of our world. Indeed, we are and will always be out of time despite our struggles to make or keep it.

Random Collision

Mark Justiniani’s recently opened exhibition Orbit through 23rd May at the Finale Video Room.

Mark Justiniani extends his forays into depth and time in Orbit, through works that continuously tread the course of his expansive interest in the configurations of space, the nature of vision and their ever vacillating relationship with time. From cavern to chamber, Justiniani troubles our perceptual field through perplexing dismantling of pictorial space. Track leads into a tunnel on a slightly skewed trail, a ‘slice of an orbit’ as the artist calls it, signifying transit or destination. However, neither semblance nor echo of a stop is within our frame. As in Mimefield’s shaft, the terminal stop is elusive, even illusory. Indeed, if the sojourn is through an orbit we dare conjure terminus. Orbit strongly evokes the unknown, as chance prefigures enchanting discovery or morbid tragedy.

Traversals in both Entangled and Track remind one closely of a ‘fly by’, the path a spacecraft takes so closely hewn to that of a planet or celestial body. Meticulously engineered and arduously planned, the spacecraft avoids being derailed into the orbit of the body being observed and must make the most of the close encounter by recording information. These will be sent right away to base on Earth. A fly by also figures prominently in Lars von Trier’s Melancholia, wherein the anticipated encounter with the planet so named, spurs life changing decisions for two sisters. The planet defies the hard calculations of science and crashes into earth, fulfilling anxieties of the event ultimately becoming a ‘dance of death’.

Track 2013

Justiniani captures two facets of time in this exhibition – the suspended moment eloquently illustrated in the turn the track makes in the installation and cyclical time evident in the unending rotations of two circular plates as well as the coin rotating on their surface. Halted time is discerned in Arrest, a make-shift clock ticking to stalled rhythm.  Underlying the awry minute hand is resistance against the tide of time or insistence for time to unravel. These temporal frames, the moment and the cycle prompt providence and foreboding. Yet the pieces demand that we be ‘caught in the moment’, the same illusion harboured by the speedily rotating discs and the coin’s reverse rotation. To be suspended in time I must imagine, can be likened to inhabiting timelessness, the way colloids float in shafts of light, like the chance recordings of a fly by or encounters with catastrophe.

The disquiet and quandary evinced by Justiniani’s pieces somehow equal the blur as seen in Richter’s works. In Donald Kuspit’s terms, the blur is a temporal marker more than a spatial one “a trace of time rather than a measure of space”. In a world ordered by the exchange of abstract goods and shrunk more so by cybernetic frames, existence through time and within space can be understood through an ‘aesthetic of suddenness’, explained by Fredric Jameson as the “emergence of a new temporal form beyond history”. This existence relies on speed that can only be experienced through the body’s confinement. It is not surprising then that the works’ deft presentation in enclosed frames (the boxed enclosure, the filmic frame, the unflinching face of a malfunctioning hour piece) allude to inhabiting temporal movement in a present strongly implored by Jameson’s analysis.

These provocative evocations of time do not reside exclusively in the realm of theory or art. Consider the headlong plunge of the bullet train that plied the Harmony Express trail between Beijing and Fuzhou. Vertiginous obsession with speed and relentless change led to the December 2011 tragedy and eventually exposed an intricate web of scandal and corruption. Closer to home, the haphazard links of train lines and the throngs packed in the meagre space of our coaches illustrate irresolute modernity, eternally eliding fruition. These metropolitan contraptions whether in Beijing or Manila, heighten our awareness of how it is to reside time wherein space has become one of the numerous abstract goods traded in a world of threateningly and deceptively transparent borders. And if the limits of earthly space have been chartered enough, what to make of Virgin Atlantic’s preparations for its first commercial space flight, a triumph of engineering and science or folly that stems from  compulsion to relentlessly construct time and conquer cosmos.