Constructed Identities and Entangled Histories in Monuments: Architectural Case Studies in the Philippines and Switzerland

The project Constructed Identities and Entangled Histories in Monuments is a cooperation between the Institute of Art History of the University of Zurich (UZH) and the Department of Art Studies of the University of the Philippines (UPD). It addresses the iconic aspects of monumental architecture and sculpture in public spaces, and their function in constructing history and identity. Based on site visits in the Philippines and Switzerland carried out by researchers from the respective other country, it will focus on specific case studies whilst engaging in a transnational discussion of broader methodological and historiographical issues posed to the field of art history. The project further aims to address the fundamental lack of art historical exchange between Switzerland and the Philippines so far.

Site Visit and Visiting Faculty in Switzerland

Prof. Dr. Patrick D. Flores (UPD) will investigate the work of the sculptor Richard Kissling (1848–1919), who realized, amongst others, the Alfred Escher monument in front of the Zurich main station and the William Tell monument in Altdorf, as well as the monument of Jose Rizal in the national park of Manila, erected where the Filipino national hero was executed. His research will focus on the discourse of heroic sculpture in both countries and the nature of transcultural artistic exchange between the Philippines and Switzerland by way of Kissling’s involvement in the competition for the design of the Rizal monument. It will explore the language of commemorative sculpture in the early part of the twentieth century in Europe and Southeast Asia and the circumstances surrounding the international competition and the access of Kissling to such an undertaking. Patrick D. Flores will further teach a seminar at UZH on the art history of Southeast Asia as an art-historical field and a locus of curatorial practice in global, contemporary time. In this seminar, he will introduce students to the various articulations and mediations of modernity that have shaped this art-historical and curatorial context.

Site Visits in the Philippines

Prof. Dr. Tristan Weddigen (UZH) will expand his research begun during a first site visit in January 2015, which focused on the relationship between the Philippines and Latin America, for instance the hitherto unexplored formal and constructional similarities between the churches of Oscar Niemeyer in Brazil, of Felix Candela in Mexico, and of Leandro V. Locsin in the Philippines. His visiting plan will deepen the focus on Manila and in addition include the Southern island groups with special attention given to sites such as Iloilo, Cebu City, and Bohol, in order to further study Spanish colonial architecture and its blending of Chinese craft. Tristan Weddigen will focus on the architecture of Leandro V. Locsin (1928–1994) and the latter’s use of concrete as modern ‹national› material in the Philippines, developing innovative solutions whilst studying local building traditions and colonial structures. Locsin’s characteristic quotation of the indigenous big-roofed hut in his monumental concrete buildings is part of national aesthetic myth, which can be traced back to the highly influential idea of the original hut, as theorized by the Swiss architect Gottfried Semper in the mid-nineteenth century. Tristan Weddigen will also taking into account the architect’s collection of Hispano-Filipino paintings and religious images, of Filipino modern art, and of Oriental ceramics from local burial sites dating from the extensive trade with China between the tenth and fifteenth century. About 300 photographs of colonial and modern buildings and works of art from the first site visit have been processed technically and scientifically by the UZH media team and made available to the national and international Digitale Diathek database partners. This corpus, which shall be expanded with the site visits during the present project, represents the first visual documentation of Filipino art and architecture available to teaching and research in German-speaking art history departments.

Charlotte Matter M.A. (UZH) will investigate Art Deco and the City Beautiful Movement in Manila, focusing on buildings for leisure and entertainment, more specifically theaters built in the 1930s during the American period. One key aspect will concern the analysis of organic motifs in these theaters – for instance the relationship between the Metropolitan Theater and the nearby botanical garden – in an aesthetic, symbolic and political sense, thereby speaking to concerns of landscape, tropicality, beauty, and progress. Many of these theaters having been eventually converted into movie theaters, the study of architecture will be intertwined with the study of film history in the Philippines, considering identity discourses informed by colonialism and transcultural exchange on a transdisciplinary level. With the derelict Manila Metropolitan Theater having just been sold to the National Commission for Culture and the Arts in June 2015 for restoration, and many buildings being decaying today, this research further addresses pressing issues of conservation of the architectural heritage and also consists in documenting these buildings.

Support

This joint research initiative is kindly supported by the Embassy of Switzerland in the Philippines. First results will be presented in conjunction with the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Switzerland and the Philippines in January 2017.