Powers That Be is a group exhibition featuring Filipino artists Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan, Yason Banal, Gaston Damag, Roberto Feleo, Riel Hilario, Kat Medina, Lilibeth Cuenca Rasmussen, John Frank Sabado and Mark Salvatus. These works are gathered to develop an overview of conditions surrounding notions of the sovereign. The artists from the Philippines recognize the sovereign’s contemporary forms. In effect, they problematize how we navigate through neocolonialism, peculiar systems of particular cultures vis-à-vis consumerist realities, history’s debris in a cosmopolitan world and the shadows of power. Among other subjects, the artists in Powers That Be touch upon ecology and industrial waste from the perspective of the Mountain Regions, urban territories, (re)presentations of indigenous Filipino culture, the diaspora across the country’s colonial history.

The works are part of Alfredo and Isabel’s continuing Project: Another Country that further engages community-oriented collaborations and examines place and history in a framework of reconfiguring the gaze towards a home that one is now foreign to. It carries over the Aquilizans’ practice of using materials local to the context of the works’ production. In the case of the crown series they engage the Philippine’s colloquial metal craft and the Boat series, which carry resonances of migration, makes use of transport boxes. They move on to examine the metaphors of colonial forms to make sense of our itinerant contemporary identity. Project: Another Country was presented in the 6th Asia Pacific Triennale, and the 2010 Liverpool Biennal.

Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan are husband and wife. They operate as collaborators in their practice. In 2006 they moved to Brisbane, Australia to raise their family. Their work has always been about the liminality that characterizes their diasporic experience – home and mobility, belonging, re-rooting and assimilation in the contexts of places they produce work in.

Medina makes use of allegorical differences across cultures in her arrangement of brand logos created by Filipino society in the city and societies of the Philippines’ tribes. The embroidery pieces allow this particular syntax to manifest in the contours of commercial motifs that co-exist with icons from indigenous communities, the latter illegible according to a lack of general knowledge of them. In Medina’s abstraction of them through “small gestures”, they inhabit a space in equal terms – they are only patterns that hold value according to the particular society that uses them. This embroidery series, however, makes us think about this value system. These two groups of symbols are different not only in their signifying power, but the structures that form that power. Medina tells them apart in the context of commercial design being imposed onto lifestyles – this as an intrusive power – while the iconography of tribes reflects their lifestyle or is shaped by their lived environments (phenomenological, in this sense). Medina’s research-based practice not only delve into her reading and interpretation of anthropological disparities; it is also makes sense of the essential facet of craft, which is “making things.”

Kat Medina is a young painter whose interests like in color values and gestures of the painterly act. Her practice is experimental and that is shown in her use of materials to reveal her interests. However, issues craft in contemporary art has always governed the research she takes on in manifesting her practice.

Mark Salvatus responds to the features of the city, its habits and sequence of co-existing spaces to feed his projects. His works are products of a foray to view the world in equivalent terms through the language of contemporary urban culture.
Isolating graffiti tags into verses, Haiku is a work that alters the configuration of this urban phenomenon and continues Salvatus’ practice of providing new encounters in the motions of living in the city. The images that make up this duratrans series were first shown in his return exhibition “Territories” in the Ateneo Art Gallery last March 2012 as a video work where each tag spins and settle into a continuum as with the motion of a slot machine. Haiku continues to echo this poetic happenstance immanent in the streets. Projects relating to cultural operations also define the semantics behind his works.

The pinteng is a headless body of a Cordillera (North Philippines) warrior given over as a burning stake. The spirits believed to enfold the pinteng protect women and children but incite war among men.

Roberto Feleo is a senior sculptor who has established himself both as an academe to several generations of artists that succeeded him and an established voice for the region in re-inventing colonial iconography. He has sought to interlace folk/mythical and colonial strands into the devotion of image-making in the Philippines.

As a constituent of the Ifugao community, he is privy to creation and function of these wooden anthromorphic figures – the bulul¬ – as gods or guardians that protect rice cultivation and harvests; and they are objects of ritual and territorial indication. The boomerang-shaped knives, on the other hand, operate as tools for daily activities within the community but also for particular ones such as shamanic rites. These articles fulfill certain conditions in the motions of his community – a community surrounding a “culture of rice”.

Gaston Damag has been based in Paris for the last three decades. His practice pushes limits of material as it revolves around re-presenting ethnographic frames of interpretation through contemporary art. He does this by fusing modern, industrial materials to objects deemed as cultural or of heritage.

The two sculptures are part of the project “Possible Full Body Apparitions”. It is a collection of works that manifests the memories of the craft and rituals of wood carving in San Vicente, Ilocos Sur among which is the practice of rebulto making. In this exhibition, the woodworks are transcribed objects of the remembered subject in hopeful tonality of a practice nearing its own obsolescence.Riel Hilario recovers ties to a tradition of wood carving while, at the same time, looks to discover how to depart from that heritage.

Lilibeth Cuenca Rasmussen offers a microcosm of the social landscape in Afghanistan. As a project for the Danish Pavilion in the 2011 Venice Biennale, Rasmussen gives voices to four personalities that reflect the development of new gender constructions resulting from the inviolable oppositions that delineate spaces in Afghan society. This ongoing Afghan Hound project contains this photographic series with the images being focused on the symbolism of the named society’s apocryphal conditions through an extreme exaggeration of hair. From hair’s reference to hidden sexualities in contemporary Afghan culture, she consequently posits a new form of representing the whole social geography in general by challenging the western frame on the Arab world that is often reductive due to the exclusions imposed on by that community itself.

Born in Manila and raised in Stevns Denmark,Rasmussen explores the idea of detachment from the two places, a process she intends to go through in order to find a “third place”.

John Frank Sabado of Igorot descent takes from the lore and tradition of the Cordilleras in the assemblance of tiny, biro-points of tone, akin to filaments of fiber of a textile. As his childhoon scenes were that of pillage and patruition, he attempts to commune with the myriad ancestors of his race, calling them “vanguards of the earth.” He describes them as having “legs, arms, bodies, faces, tattoos and gas masks – a contemporary rendition of the bulols as ‘eco-warriors.’ The bulols, deities of multiple guises and roles, morph into allegorical figures of a crusade for a planetary restitution in which the ethical and the aesthetic and the ecological converge to demonstrate the procedure of truth: that the “cosmic world is in disequilibrium…the world of people is in a state of distress.”

The Ethnographic Style of Abstraction (Haute Tribe Meme) holds multiple references in design, history and internet culture, accompanied by a spectrum of notions that vary from artistic and political avant-gardism to transmutations in style, place and capital, triggering suppressed links between cool abstraction and tribal aesthetics, power and fashion, the designed image file and its digital transmission and translation, inciting is a rich conflict between fiscal and immaterial value and the awkward relation between distance and reality: the evocation of an island in a no-man’s land. The wine and champagne bottles from The Social Life of Minimalism (Bankers Banquette) were consumed by the attendees of the party. It is an annual bankers banquet private christmas event of the ceos and bankers in the Central Bank grounds in Manila. This even symbolizes the financial cultural affairs that govern the Phils. The work plays on the irony of this event, and talks about the general society’s receipt of waste from these people (ie the crushed bottles).

Both works resonate the artist’s interests in institutions, patronage and cultural heritage, as much as lifestyle, identity and notions of value, power and taste. Yason Banal is an academic in film studies and an artist whose practice moves around installation, photography, video, performance, text, curating and pedagogy.