Another Country

Isabel and Alfredo Aquilizan

Jan Manton Art
Australia Philippines

For their first exhibition since moving to Brisbane from Manila, Filipino artist-couple Isabel and Alfredo Aquilizan present their mixed media installation Project Be-longing: In-Transit (2006) as a conclusion to their ongoing “Project Be-longing” series of works exploring the experience of travel, relocation and re-orientation. The works forms the centerpiece of their recent exhibition at Jan Manton Art. The Aquilizans display the contents of their family’s balikbayan (homecoming boxes), rectangular cardboard containers specifically constructed to maximize airport luggage restrictions, in stacks placed randomly around the gallery.

Balikbayan are used by Filipinos returning home from abroad. The “Project Be-longing” series employs the balikbayan as a motif to engage with the emotional and physical meaning of coexisting between countries—a subject triggered by Alfredo’s experience when he was completing a master’s degree in England in 1997. The accumulated domestic mementoes that find their way in to the Aquilizans’ signature works are the corporeal debris of human life—items recording journeys of loss and renewal.

The audience is encouraged to walk amid the resulting sculptural formations of uniform height and shape, composed of precisely arranged layers of personal possessions such as clothing, toy cars, dog-eared books, photographs, backpacks and shoes. As an inventory of domestic life, the installation reflects he cold efficiency of economy, as the objects are thrown together not by category but rather by incongruous patterns of shape—a wooden clock resting next to a jar stuffed with small knick-knacks or a ruler neatly traversing the breadth of another assemblage.

Fittingly, the “Project Be-longing” series debuted in Brisbane at the 3rd Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art in 1999 as an assemblage of cherished objects collected from migrant Filipinos the artists met in Australia. Various iterations were subsequently included in the 7th Havana Biennial in 2000 and the 2006 Biennale of Sydney, in each instance connecting with local communities and sharing memories triggered by objects inscribed by both use and sentimental value.

Elsewhere, the Aquilizans’ need to familiarize their new surroundings is apparent in Another Country (2007), a work-in-progress pinned to the wall, comprised of two small paper cutout maps of suburbs outside Manila and Brisbane. Each map represents home in some way, one with a wrenching fondness and the other with new apprehension. A corresponding work entitled BNE (Another Country) sits in an adjacent darkened room. This suitcase emits a blinking light illuminating the letters “BNE,” which have been neatly stamped and incised into it, like a luggage tag identifying the airport in Brisbane as its final destination—an intriguing announcement of a new body of work by this renowned artist-duo who now call Australia “home.”