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From Melbourne to Manila: Exhibition ‘Archival Aesthetics’ is an interweaving of cultures

By Writer Andrea Simpson

A group exhibition ‘Archival Aesthetics’ by Saluhan Collective, curated by Catherine Ortega-Sandow and MJ Flamiano, at Seventh Gallery allows for a complex celebration of the Filipinx identity melded in with the diaspora’s Aussie roots.

Exhibition Archival Aesthetics Pagbasa open at Seventh Gallery. Photo by Mischa Wang.

As part of 2023 The Polyphony Festival, Saluhan Collective’s Archival Aesthetics Pagbasa (Saluhan in Tagalog means “share” and Pagbasa means “to become wet” – Tagalog is one of over 120 languages spoken in the Philippines) is a labyrinthine group exhibition showcasing the joyful trichotomy of the identity of Filipinx diaspora in Australia.

Adorning the gallery space of Seventh Gallery located in Richmond, Naarm (Melbourne) from 20 September – 13 October, are visual artworks, video works, and installation pieces by the collective of Filipinx artists: Aida Azin, Catherine Ortega-Sandow, Cinema Bahala Na, Jenn Ferguson, June Miskell, Kenneth Suico, MJ Flamiano, Skye Newton, Theresa Angela and BIPOC community living in the area.

A view of art works in Gallery 1, Seventh Gallery. Photo by Mischa Wang. 

Reflections in the three gallery spaces of Seventh Gallery are as complex and fun as the artists themselves. With tongue firmly placed in cheek, Archival Aesthetics pushes back on the diaspora’s dual colonisation with video work and visual art works in Gallery 1 reflecting upon each other’s complex intersections. Featured artists in this space are Jenn Furguson, Theresa Angela, and MJ Flamiano. 

The inevitable Americanisation of the culture, is also coloured by a long Spanish colonial past, (mixed in with Australian sensibilities of course) the exhibition walks the visitor through a complex eclectic trichotomy of identity with visual works from artists June Miskell, Skye Newton, and Santo Mino. An incredible group tapestry belies the importance of making and remaking this diaspora’s self-identity.

A view of art works in Gallery 2, Seventh Gallery. Photo by Mischa Wang.

Archival Aesthetics pays strong homage to all things Filipino such as the favoured Philippine fast food take-away restaurant Jollibee’s in contrast with Australia’s ‘Maccas’ and throwing in a slice of SPAM.

By having a good laugh at oneself, sexuality and class are juxtaposed, provoking the visitor with video artworks showcased in Gallery 2. Works by artists Jenn Ferguson, Aida Azin, Ranima Montes, Cinema Bahala Na, and RJ Dela Rosa are featured.

Nostalgia twists and turns with the notions of social evolvement. Mixed with a sprinkle of spirituality reflecting in soft themes of love: for family, friendship and community. All this belies the omnipotent eye that is the Catholic Church throughout the exhibition.

A view of art works in Gallery 2, Seventh Gallery. Photo by Mischa Wang.

Playfulness shines as homages to nature and consumerism reflected in a large installation piece by Kenneth Suico. The take-away giant Jollibee disposable cup at centre point in Gallery 3 is a must see. Artists featured in this space are Kenneth Suico, Jenn Furgeson, Kenny Waite and Aida Azin.

Curators Catherine Ortega-Sandow and MJ Flamiano have formulated a Where’s Wally (not Waldo for those playing at home) map of the exhibition and allows the visitor merry making interactions.

Walking through the space can be light-hearted whilst acknowledging that the Filipinx diaspora grapples with global and local concerns such as consumerist waste and consumption; many topics this diaspora worry about.

The map allows for the visitor an interpretation of the artists and showcases the value of meaning making that encompasses a true artist collective. Being part of the collective also allows artists to stand out in their own self-identifying ways. Each artist brings to the table their own uniqueness thus encapsulating the Filipinx abundance.

Exhibition Archival Aesthetics Pagbasa open at Seventh Gallery. Photo by Mischa Wang.

Visual works can speak far more than words can convey, and the placement of art works spoke in volumes. Allowing for a multitude of answers to the question of: ‘how does one communicate identity?’ These observations can be found through multi-synchronistic vantage points. 

Through this mirroring the Curators Ortega-Sandow and Flamiano have filled all spaces in Seventh Gallery with the message of triumph and delight for their culture that is a flawless blend of elusiveness and a loud joy. 

Visit the Collective Polyphony Festival’s website to learn more, or better yet head over to Seventh Gallery and view Saluhan Collective’s Archival Aesthetics (Running from 20 September – 13 October 2023). 

Cover image photos by Mischa Wang

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