In collaboration with Gian Cruz
The cartography of the “elsewhere” unsettles as it resettles.
It gestures toward another space, an alternative site, a future
beyond the bend. But it is reckoned from a presence rooted in
a ground through which the customs of “a place in the world”
are unburdened terrains across a possible horizon are gathered.
- Patrick Flores, “There”
Reframing Maritime Southeast Asia (c. 1400 – 1800) in light of this imperative ecological reframing of systems and ideologies in the present, is also rethinking Eurocentric views that have long undermined or relegated indigenous know-how and narratives as either under-recognised or if not concealed. And such was the effect of trade relations, which turned into their own rightful epochs of colonialism in the region and specifically in the Philippines. It also becomes a crucial spectrality in these multiplicities of rewilding of retracing these inherent diverse assemblages of social ecologies beyond the tropes of the overbearing assumptions of universal art history as that of a Euramerican persuasion in conscious and willful favour of finding organic parallels from within Asian contexts and finding shared commonalities and elswheres alongside reframing the unique Philippine decolonial positionality within the imaginary of the 40-year history of nature art that took shape in Korea.
This presents an aesthetic and architectural proposition retracing an often-underrepresented aspect of Philippine culture that operates from the recesses of its interior pre-colonial cultures and a timely gesture to revisit in a time where climate perturbations are making more and more vulnerable the Philippines at large. It becomes an empowering gesture to revisit the savoir-faire of our ancestors who worked with the land and spirits that governed the land instead of go against its nature.
Here, the idea of an interminable creeping structures resembling circumscribing creeping figures resembling serpents dancing to resemble infinity. Their closeness to the earth becomes symbolic as they transform themselves into this skeletal and circular pavilion of sorts. Creatures with a profound connection to the earth aligning together to form “ladder-like” motifs gesturing of the nature reasserting her hierarchy or in the Philippine experience, the pre-colonial surpassing the exploitation of her lands by a string of colonisers. And the spirit of elders connected to these lands assuming form in these serpents positing creeping, long and fluid-looking structures while metaphorically re-affirming the importance of vernacular architectural forms as a potent gesture towards dealing with devastating effects brought about by climate change and look further within and unearthing the answers hidden within oral traditions and unwritten parts of our history as they didn’t fit into the Euramerican narrative of modernism and civilisation. And in the middle the circular bench like-structure situates the spectator in a position that nature and the land and her spirits or guardians encompasses individual egos. And in this interminable structure, there lies no distinction between the interior and the exterior and the reconsideration of a vernacular and pre-colonial architecture suggests potent ways of co-existing and thriving in the future.
The motif behind the structure references the Isneg house. These houses have the appearance of an inverted boat and a design uniquely theirs as they are also known as boatbuilders.1 Their settlements are mostly along the river and “the Spaniards referred to them as los Apayaos (the river on which they live) and los Mandayas (derived from the Isneg term which means “upstream”).2 Furthermore, this also plays around a radical reimagining of the notion of architecture from a unique and often under-explored Philippine perspective rooted in the indigenous.
This one reframes a kind of architecture not celebrating the author/architect or a rightful creative ego affixed to a peculiar edifice but rather one that is about the communal and shared. The “I” is no longer coherent in retracing an authentic Philippine experience, as it is an ethnolinguistically diverse archipelago with the natural and the preternatural are in a symbiosis that defies dualistic definitions. The term retracing conveniently pertains to its undoing of its colonial past to return to its roots where nature prevailed amongst its peoples. There is no author or architect here but rather a collective informed by their reverence for the terrain upon which they live in and generations-long know-how of the cycles of nature and the limits they can do with the land. The gesture of an “indigenous encroachment” is symbolic of positing an alternate worldview not commonly or readily perceptible in Europe for instance. It also is a call for peculiar attention to sustainable practices in building structures and to think beyond the dichotomies of fine art and craft, interior design and architecture, the inner and interior worlds circumscribing too with the tropes of the masculine (affixed to architecture, the exterior) and the feminine (affixed to the interior or the field of interior design) and reimagine this “elsewhere” as one that fluidly culminates these matters as one. And here, worlds interact between the sacred, the supernatural, the rational, the natural and all the many things in between keeping a continuity that is not bound by time but one that’s seamlessly endless.
1. Isneg house refers to the peculiar architectural style adapted by Isneg people who live at the northwesterly end of northern Luzon (one of the three major islands in the Philippines) and these houses are known to have been built on small hills that lie along the large rivers of the province.