17 September - 30 October 2016
4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, Sydney
14 May to 9 July 2016
Not A Shield, but a Weapon is an installation of 100 newly reproduced bespoke handbags, which traces the effects of trade liberalisation on the city of Marikina in the Philippines, where the bags were produced. Once a thriving site of leather manufacturing, Marikina suffered from the easing of trade restrictions in the early 90s and has been in decline since. Abad’s installation proposes a direct link between Margaret Thatcher’s problematic legacy and the history of the city. The handbags are modelled around Thatcher’s black leather Asprey, which was auctioned in 2011 and sold for £25,000 in a charity sale held by the disgraced Tory peer Jeffrey Archer. The installation examines the seemingly arbitrary way that objects are valued and considers the various forces that create the counterfeit object – from economic policies that become destructive in its attempts at cohesion, to misguided lifestyle aspirations that are shaped by colonial legacies and capitalist diktats.
Asia Art Archive, Hong Kong
14 December 2015 - 13 February 2016
Notes on Decomposition attempts to map our current state of cultural disenchantment through a collection of objects bought, sold and sequestered from 1991 to the present – objects that embody specific moments of political and economic decay over the past twenty years, to become an inventory of neoliberal fantasy through decorative things. Composed of 12 large scale drawings and a wall text, the installation follows the path of particularly important global auctions, bringing together a concentrated site to understand the mythologies, domestic lives, laundering practices, and representations, behind these auctioned-off objects. From selling off the confiscated silverware of the Marcoses in 1991 and Lehman Brothers’ Chinese porcelain in 2010, to the first Christie’s auction in Mainland China in 2013 and the sale of Margaret Thatcher’s personal effects in 2015, these all show a global undertaking and interconnectedness of ambition through objects, their beneficiaries and their buyers.
In 1973, Former first lady Imelda Marcos had invited the Italian film star turned photographer Gina Lollobrigida to produce a coffee book on the Philippines. Lollobrigida ended up photographing the Tasadays, a tribe of allegedly primitive forest dwellers, “discovered” in the early 1970s as living in complete isolation from society. The Tasadays were later found to have been entirely manufactured by the Marcoses, who pressured a Mindanao tribe to put on the appearance of living a Stone Age lifestyle.
In this series, My Dear, There Are Always People Who Are Just A Little Faster, More Brilliant and More Aggressive, Abad uses the confluence of characters in this bizarre episode to reflect on the attempts of Imelda to create an image of civility during the onset of Martial law - Tasaday and Lollobrigida fully encapsulating the absurd spectrum of characters made complicit in the weaving of this narrative. By transposing this narrative onto a silk scarf, Abad reconfigures this grand vision into a domestic one as he attempts to create what he calls ‘ergonomic representations’ of the complex network of political and artistic alliances, fraudulent ideologies and intimate, often petty, histories that have shaped our notion of Philippine modernity.
In 2010, after a successful bid to gain a seat in the Philippine House of Representatives, Imelda Marcos gave out a number of seashell decorated clocks with her face imprinted on them as a Christmas present to her fellow congressmen and women, including the artist’s father. Although his father immediately rejected the gift, for Pio Abad the gesture became symbolic of an insidious kind of soft power and the seashells a bizarre shorthand for ornament as corruption. In Decoys, a series of dummy CCTV cameras encrusted with tropical seashells, Abad applies this process of ‘decoration as corruption’ onto what he considers metonyms of state control and, in the process, creates failed objects – discrete and authoritative observers transformed into elaborate and decadent dummies.
Royal Academy Schools, London
EVA International Biennial
16 April - 17 July 2016
105 Degrees and Rising takes its title from the secret radio code used by the United States Army to signal the evacuation of Saigon on the 29th of April 1975. In this custom designed wallpaper, Pio Abad conscripts two found visual sources: the ERDL camouflage developed by the US military for the jungles of Vietnam, and the well-known 1976 pinup poster of the American actress Farah Fawcett in a red swimsuit. While the original radio call signalled America’s final dramatic retreat from its ignominious war in Indochina, Abad’s wallpaper infiltrates the space with a more unrelenting depiction of imperialism, one that colonises collective fantasies as it occupies geopolitical space – soft and hard power colluding to create something at once seductive and abject.
Transcript of government report on Imelda Marcos' trip to the Soviet Union for Konstantin Chernenko's state funeral and photographic reproductions of Yugoslav naïf paintings sequestered by the Philippine Commission on Good Government shortly after the Marcoses' ouster in February 1986.
Vinyl cut lettering and Digital C-prints on Endura Premier Paper
12 September - 16 November 2014
The Collection of Jane Ryan and William Saunders is an ongoing research project that spans a number of solo and group exhibitions from 2014. The project draws attention to the roles that certain artefacts have played in the recent history of the Philippines, specifically in shaping the cultural legacy of former Philippine dictators Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos and the absurd postcolonial ideology they enforced under the auspices of capitalist democracies during the Cold War. Using inexpensive reproduction techniques, Abad recreates items from their lavish collection of Regency-era silverware, old master paintings of uneven quality and dubious provenance and, curiously, Yugoslav naïf paintings on glass.
In reconstructing this inventory, Abad identifies how the Marcoses’ brand of civility was carefully choreographed and performed in ways that overshadowed many less triumphant histories and facts, from amusing anecdotes to far graver social ills. As a glaring example of the incongruous nationalist ideology that they sought to establish during their plunderous regime, Jane Ryan and William Saunders were the false identities used by the couple to register their account with Credit Suisse Zurich in 1968, the first of many accounts that enabled them to transform $10 billion from the Philippine treasury into private wealth.
Every Tool Is A Weapon If You Hold It Right is a series of unique digital prints on silk. The title is taken from an Ani diFranco song; a rephrasing of Walter Benjamin’s ‘there is no document of civilisation which is not, at the same time, a document of barbarism’ as a pop song lyric. The lyric also reappears as an epigraph in Empire, Hardt and Negri’s book that proposes the next chapter to global politics.
The work offers similar acts of translations and reoccurrences. Intricate ink drawings become transferred onto a silk square, each object selected precisely to create a constellation of images; within each scarf is an ever-expanding narrative that cuts across different histories. While reading the Sunday Times the artist came across Ziyah Gafic’s photographs of objects, which form part of the International Missing Persons Archive, excavated from unidentified bodies and laid out in forensic formats. At the conservation laboratory at the National Museum of the Philippines, he found the modes of classification disintegrate as Imelda Marcos’ shoes lay side by side ivory tusks retrieved from a sunken Spanish galleon found in the South China Sea. From his home province of Batanes, a seashell collection and flotsam gathered along the shores of the beach.
For the artist, these works serve as contemporary interpretations of the vanitas still life. In this case, objects bearing specific histories of loss and degradation are transferred onto a luxurious surface to tell a more universal narrative. Each silk scarf serves as a reminder that ultimately every image, personal or ethnographic, traumatic or heraldic, ends up being co-opted and mistranslated by capital and the human desires that drive it.
Postcard reproductions of Old Master paintings sequestered from Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos and sold by Christie’s on behalf of the Philippine Commission on Good Government.
97 sets, unlimited copies.
Market Forces: The Friction of Opposites
Osage Gallery, Hong Kong
17 May - 17 July 2013
Zabludowicz Collection, London
11 April - 19 May 2013
The installation, consisting of a mannequin, wallpaper, a pair of Republican Party underwear and a poster, considers the historical permutations of the word Dazzler. First, as the Dazzle camouflage pattern developed by female students at the Royal Academy in London to disguise naval vessels at sea during the First World War. Then, as The Disco Dazzler, a 1980’s comic book super-heroine modelled after the Hollywood starlet Bo Derek and created when disco culture, through Casablanca Records, was beginning to be embraced by corporate interests. The Disco Dazzler disposes of her enemies by transforming sonic vibrations into blinding flashes of light – a disorientating function similar to that of the Glare Mout Dazzler, a non-lethal visual disruption laser first used in the Falklands War and subsequently employed by the U.S. Army in Iraq and Afghanistan from the early 2000s to serve as an ‘irrefutable, multi-lingual, cross-cultural warning that they mean business.’