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.