Splendour is the first public exhibition in Canada of the work of London, UK-based artist, Pio Abad. The exhibition features objects and images that draw connections between specific moments of political and economic upheaval, from the fall of Cold War era dictatorships that erroneously heralded ‘the end of history’ to the economic crises of 2008 that brought us to our current age of political disenchantment.
Taking its title from a play by Abi Morgan, which takes place in a drawing room where four women contemplate the imminent collapse of an unnamed autocracy, the exhibition imagines Gairloch Gardens as the domestic setting of another scene of political devolution and decay. Among other things, a seashell clock once belonging to Imelda Marcos, photographs of Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu’s chintzy interiors, replicas of Margaret Thatcher’s black leather handbag, and drawings of the Lehman Brothers’ collection of Chinese porcelain occupy the rooms of the former lake house to comprise an inventory of neoliberal fantasy through decorative things.
Splendour continues Abad’s on-going interest in the role that domestic objects play in these narratives. Deployed strategically by those in power, they are often the only things left to remain after the inevitable fall from grace – artefacts and auguries of cyclical histories. Drawing on Gairloch Gardens’ status as an architectural copy of HG Wells’ Surrey home, Splendour reflects on the roles of repetition and mistranslation in our understanding of history and asks how we might meaningfully go forward at this moment of worldwide political unease.
A collaboration with Frances Wadsworth Jones
Twenty-four reconstructions of pieces from the Hawaii Collection, modelled from photographs taken by Christie’s.
3D printed plastic, brass and dry-transfer text
On the 27th of February 1986, Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos arrived in Hawaii after being granted safe haven by Ronald Reagan’s government. The deposed dictator and his wife stepped off a U.S. Air Force plane onto a 150 foot red carpet rolled onto the tarmac of Hickam Air Force Base.
In the two C-141 transport planes that carried them, they had packed 23 wooden crates, 12 suitcases and bags, and various boxes, whose contents included 413 pieces of jewellery, packed amongst disposable diapers.
The jewellery, which would be referred to in court documents as the Hawaii Collection, was immediately confiscated by United States Customs upon their arrival. Seized items included an extremely rare 25 carat pink diamond worth $5 million and a pearl and diamond tiara taken from the Russian tsar’s family in1918.
Shortly after their seizure, the Hawaii Collection was repatriated to the Philippines and turned over to the Presidential Commission on Good Government (PCGG), the agency tasked with the sequester and liquidation of the Marcos ill-gotten assets. For over three decades, they languished in the vaults of the Philippine Central Bank, hidden from public view amidst legal challenges from the Marcos family.
In February 2016, the PCGG announced that all legal impediments had been cleared for the pieces to go to auction with a planned public exhibition to precede the sale. Jewellery experts from Christie’s arrived in Manila to examine and evaluate the pieces.
Unfortunately, the election of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte put an end to these plans. Shortly after assuming office in May 2016, he ordered the reinternment of Ferdinand Marcos’ corpse in the National Heroes Cemetery and announced moves to begin dismantling the PCGG – its responsibilities being transferred to the Office of the Solicitor General, a position currently held by an avowed Marcos loyalist.
The jewellery has not been seen since.
Twenty-four Chinese porcelain from the Lehmann Brothers collection, arranged in descending order according to auction value.
Ultramarine blue India ink on Heritage woodfree paper, dry transfer text
exhibited as part of Soil and Stones, Souls and Songs
Dear Yeyey, Cosmin, Inti and Marie
I hope this finds you all well. Since the Supreme Court ruling last week and the horrific burial yesterday, I have been trying to work out what to do with my contribution to the exhibition. My initial proposal for the works seemed too mannered and still confined to a particular historical conversation that not everyone is familiar with. Withdrawing the works entirely seems to be an impotent way of dealing with the situation.
I just know that this isn't the time to be talking about the whimsical fantasies of a dictatorship. It is the time to confront the painful realities the Marcoses have continued to inflict on the Filipino people and what that means for the country and for the region. I would like to somehow implicate these works in an act of indignation.
I have decided that the best thing to do is tocover both works entirely in black paint (including the frames) while retaining the titles of the work, Ferdinand as Malakas, Imelda as Maganda. I then request that the paintings tour in this state, with a small photograph of the paintings in their original form installed alongside.
I would like to know your thoughts and it would be great if we can work on this as soon as possible.
4A Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, Sydney
14 May to 9 July 2016
Art Basel Hong Kong
21 March - 25 March 2017
Consisting of 180 counterfeit replicas of this same handbag, Not a Shield, but a Weapon examines Margaret Thatcher’s problematic legacy in the unlikeliest of places, tracing the effects of trade liberalisation on the city of Marikina in the Philippines, where the bags were produced. Once a thriving site of leather production with over 2,000 manufacturers, Marikina suffered from the easing of trade restrictions in the early 90s when the Philippines joined the World Trade Organisation and has been in decline ever since. The influx of imported goods effectively drowned the local market and production was unable to compete with the cheap labour provided by an awakening China. Marikina became collateral damage in the neoliberal world order that was envisioned in part by Margaret Thatcher.
Presented in Hong Kong on the 20th anniversary of the Handover and at a particular moment of crisis in British politics, the work accrues another layer of context, simultaneously embodying Filipino labour as capital and the shards of an Empire unable to come to terms with its own demise.
Edwina Currie, one of Thatcher’s former ministers, once that said that her handbag was ‘not a shield, but a weapon.’ A designation that seems all too appropriate given historical hindsight.
24 February - 16 April 2017
There is an expression in French which refers to observing something via its absence, through hollow spots (en creux). This describes achieving indirect insight of a situation, a way of reading between the lines. Hollowness can relate to the field of archeology, a discipline that speculates from existing objects and studies their manufacture, by man, to retrace the story of their use within their social context.
The notion of the 'biography' of objects, as developed by anthropologists Igor Kopytoff and Arjun Appardurai , has brought attention to the artifacts themselves, their physical and legal trajectories; traveling from one owner and context to the next, each chapter adding a layer to the object’s history and value. The immutability of objects is confronted to the mutation of their interpretation.
"…today’s gift is tomorrow’s commodity. Yesterday’s commodity is tomorrow’s found art object. Today’s art object is tomorrow’s junk. And yesterday’s junk is tomorrow’s heirloom." (A. Appadurai, The Thing Itself)
The exhibition Conceal, cover with sand, replicate, translate, restore presents artistic projects dealing with objects in situations of conflict, and their role as vehicle or witness. The works are shown at different stages of their existence to underline the artists’ methods, an articulation of historical references combined with a response to current political issues. Pio Abad inventories the art collection of Filipino conjugal dictators Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos (1965-1986), and the propaganda artworks they commissioned, while the current regime tries to revive their memory. Chrysanthi Koumianaki compiles political slogans from the streets of Athens and translates them into a cryptic, timeless alphabet.
These works also take part in the broader discussion around the conservation and restitution of artifacts, in the framework of the decolonial process and literature of these past decades. By reproducing Mimbres plates, Mariana Castillo Deball enquires about their function and underlines mistaken restorations that led to different interpretations. Alexandra Pirici’s ongoing action will put at stake the restitution of the Parthenon marbles by the British Museum to the Acropolis Museum. Baris Dogrusöz’ video presents a study of the archaeological site of Europos Dura in Syria, where burying the citadel became a resistance strategy. While we face international crises that perpetuate conflicts of interests and underline the relationship between art and power, governance can be read through the question of cultural heritage.
The installation Studies from a Forgotten Monument occupies the gallery floor with 327 plaster casts of Anastacio Caedo’s portrait study of Ninoy Aquino. In 1986, the renowned monument builder was commissioned to create a bronze statue of the national hero on the corner of Ayala Avenue and Paseo de Roxas in Makati. Caedo chose to immortalize Aquino at the precise moment of his assassination, shot in the head as he descended the steps of the China Airlines flight that brought him back to the Philippines after three years in exile. Caedo’s portrayal was deemed too depressing, not in keeping with the triumphal spirit that Ninoy’s death brought to the political landscape, and it was subsequently replaced with a more conventional statue. Abad’s installation revisits Caedo’s version – its insistent portrayal of terror and sacrifice a more appropriate symbol for the less triumphant times of now.
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.
17 September - 30 October 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.
The Cultural Center of the Philippines opened to great fanfare on the 10th September 1969. Sitting on 77 hectares of reclaimed land along Manila Bay, the CCP was designed by the architect Leandro Locsin as the nucleus of Imelda Marcos’ vision for a ‘New Society’. It forms part of a complex of Modernist buildings that played host to various cultural and economic spectacles in the 1970’s and 1980’s, designed to distract the public from less savoury manifestations of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos’ conjugal dictatorship.
A tessellated slice of this history provides the basis for Oh! Oh! Oh! (A Universal History of Iniquity). Here, a repeated image of a chandelier from Leandro Locsin’s Philippine Plaza Hotel - built to host the delegates of the 1976 International Monetary Fund Meeting in Manila - forms a wallpaper pattern that serves as the backdrop for a seemingly unrelated history to play out. A series of ersatz gold plastic bottles, drenched as much in architectural bathos as the sweet scent of cheap perfume, are arranged into an impoverished tableau of Middle Eastern progress, specifically, Dubai. These supposedly aspirational objects, in reality purchased from street markets frequented by the immigrant community of East London, present another narrative of progress as performance. An intoxicating vision that, after the global financial crisis of 2008, has proven as fictional as Imelda’s New Society – one more civilisation built on sand.
By diminishing these architectural representations, modernity as wallpaper, monumentality as cheap perfume, the installation considers these histories in ergonomic terms and explores the shared domestic dreams behind these representations. The IMF meeting in Manila in 1976 was intended to announce the arrival of the Philippines on the global capitalist stage, serving as the catalyst for the large-scale export of Philippine labour to the Middle East. In this way not only did Filipino workers learn to share the dream of Dubai, they were fundamental to its construction.
28 March - 29 April 2017
In COUNTERNARRATIVES, Pio Abad continues his engagement with Philippine political history, specifically looking at the problematic cultural legacy of the Marcos dictatorship in light of recent attempts to rehabilitate this dark chapter in the nation's history. This new body of work reconfigures familiar narratives and excavates dismantled idonographies in an attempt to understand the seemingly breathtaking pace at which this history has unravelled.
The title of the exhibition is taken from a collection of short stories and novellas by the American author John Keene that draws upon multiple accounts - memoirs, newspaper articles and speculative fiction - to offer new perspectives on the past and present. Abad uses the same approach throughout the exhibition, translating stories from historical residue into images and objects that reflect on acts of mythmaking, monumentalising and forgetting.
Accessing and reimaginging these artefacts from our collective political imagination, Pio Abad raises questions about how they might play into our current lives, when images that were once ridiculous now seem lethal and objects that used to be fragments of the past now appear to be glimpses into an increasingly perilous future.
12 September - 16 November 2014
Asia Art Archive, Hong Kong
14 December 2015 - 13 February 2016
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.
For the second edition of the Night Tube pocket map Art on the Underground have commissioned London-based Filipino artist Pio Abad to create a new work for the cover. Abad has taken inspiration from an unusual item he found in Transport for London’s Lost Property Office.
The stuffed gorilla, complete with his Hawaiian shirt, is one of the most unusual objects to be found on the London Underground and invites questions as to how he was forgotten. Abad has drawn a portrait of the stuffed toy in a detailed linear style, using many of the recognisable colours of the Tube lines. Eddie, as the gorilla is fondly called by the staff at the Lost Property Office, becomes a mascot of the unexpected encounters of nocturnal London.
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
Since 2012 Pio Abad has been using the silk scarf as a surface for depicting alternative or repressed histories of power.
In his ongoing series, Every Tool Is A Weapon If You Hold It Right, we witness contemporary interpretations of the vanitas still life. The portrayed objects, from tools in the artist's studio to artefacts bearing specific histories of loss and degradation, are transferred onto a luxurious surface to tell a more universal narrative. These scarves serve as a reminder that ultimately every image ends up being co-opted and mistranslated by capital and the human desires that drive it. The title is taken from an Ani diFranco song; a rephrasing of Walter Benjamin’s ‘there is no document of civilization which is not, at the same time, a document of barbarism’ as a pop song lyric.
In the new works from the series, Abad introduces another historical layer as a backdrop to these compositions. In 1975, Philippine First Lady Imelda Marcos commissioned the Italian actress turned photographer Gina Lollobrigida to create a coffee table book on the Philippines. Lollobrigida travelled around the country documenting artists at work, farmers toiling in the fields, provincial festivals and even a counterfeit Stone Age tribe. Her highly saturated and orientalised images of local culture portrayed a modern country embracing indigenous tradition – a representation in stark contrast to the violent reality of a country under martial rule. The repeated tableau on these scarves shows the Filipino Modernist painter Hernando R. Ocampo, known for his abstract paintings based on military camouflage, sketching a female nude in his studio.
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
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.
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.’