Eva Bentcheva speaks to Noel Ed De Leon

Cribbage board walrus tusk inscribed with “Behring Sea”. Length, 41.5cm long. Gift from a friend.

Noel Ed De Leon is one of the selected artists for the digital commission series At Home in the World presented by the Bagri Foundation. He proposed a project called Microcosmic Orbit as part of the Lectures & Courses category, curated by art historian and curator Eva Bentcheva. Find out more about the project and the collaborators on our dedicated events page.

EB: What drives your practice?

ND: I was born in Pangasinan in the Philippines in 1976 and moved to Metro Manila where I graduated with a degree in architecture. In 2007-09, I relocated to London with my wife, Leah, along with our three children. My work involves archiving, installation and performance art. I am particularly interested in the themes of history and memory, and exploring how conflicts, migrations, exploitation, global capitalism and exchanges may be traced through surviving historical objects. Over the years of ‘travel-orbiting’ and exploring remote areas, historical places, meditation landmarks and landfill sites in the Philippines and Britain, I accumulated objects with historical values and sentiments. Each object tells a story which maps and traces the past, the DNA forensics of the present and the surviving evidence of a future to come. In my performances, I experiment making new ‘constellations’. I often combine the objects with my own body in site-specific locations to create new meanings. They are part of the testaments of my life’s encounters that are imprinted in my memories.

EB: How have the past months affected your practice?

ND: When the Corona virus broke out in March of this year and we were instructed to remain at home, I began to think about the challenges which live performance will face in the future and the fate of my own collection which relies on being activated in real life. I also began to think about how people are living in a constant danger… there are natural catastrophes, terrorism, war, migration, economic crises, political disputes, outbreaks of pandemic diseases and even cyber addiction happening everywhere. My mind raced. I saw my collection as a reflection of my life; before, I had travelled in a macrocosmic world. My family and I journeyed across the globe experiencing life. Everything was to be temporary; we had been living a nomadic life where our survival instincts were vital. We had to adapt and heal at each new encounter with places, peoples, cultures, and environments. Now here we were, fixated and reduced to a microcosmic space.

EB: What is Microcosmic Orbit?

ND: As my objects are currently stored in my home’s attic, I spent much of the initial lockdown phase organising this space. I decided to develop a project through which I could virtually invite ‘guests’ to visit my attic and collection, and connect its contents to their own work around “being at home in world” and being “multi-positioned” across Southeast Asia, the UK and Germany. Since 2012, I had sought to build conversations and collaborations with artists, art historians and curators across Britain, Germany, Holland, France and the Philippines who share an interest in invisible histories connecting Europe and Asia. This now seemed like a good moment to pursue this. With your assistance as co-director at Batubalani Art Projects, we conceived a series of virtual exchanges.

Noel Ed De Leon, Kulay Labitigan, Lawrence Carlos, Kilapsaw: Everything Must Go, live performance, Piccadilly Circus, London, 2016. Photos by Eva Bentcheva

 EB: What form does the work take?

ND: This project activates my attic into a ‘microcosmic orbit’ of exchange. It invites.  ‘inside’ a series of guests who are also culturally active in the Southeast Asian     communities across Europe and whose work engages with diaspora, migration, and   archiving. It is a pleasure and honour to be working with Berlin-based artist Pepe Dayaw and cultural anthropologist/activist Tran Thu Trang, as well as London- based artist Erika Tan. I would like to learn from them and think together about how  objects reveal histories of exchange, conflict, and inter-dependence between  Southeast Asia and Europe.

 EB: How will these exchanges unfold?

ND: Pepe, Trang and Erika will undertake private virtual tours of my personal  collection between July and September. As there is a wide range of objects in this  collection – from original equipment from the First and Second World Wars collected  in Britain and the Philippines, to found objects, tribal artefacts and  remnants of artworks – I have made a selection of objects around three core themes.  These are directed at each guest respectively: first, ‘sheltering’ with Pepe will delve  into the deeply symbolic and aesthetic nature of interiority, housing and survival.  Second, ‘wrapping’ with Trang will explore the dynamics of visibility and invisibility  which migrants often face. Third, ‘temporalities’ with Erika probes into the  importance of coincidental survival of historical objects in shaping the writing of  fragmented and layered histories. These themes are not exclusive, and are aimed to  open up new conversations as well.

 

Noel Ed De Leon, Life as I Know It, live performance, London Biennale, Trafalgar Square, London, 2020.Photo by FiFi Komaira & Victoria Dela Cruz

EB: How will you share the experiences of these ‘visits’ with audiences?

ND: I hope that these virtual discussions will be a chance collectively to explore personal anecdotes and experiences around how materialities and objects embody microcosms of ‘being at home in the world’. Also, during these attic ‘visits’, myself, Pepe, Trang and Erika will jointly conceive three live-streamed events around the aforementioned themes – sheltering, temporalities and wrapping. These will be shown online over the course of July to September. These might involve the building of a temporary installation inside the attic, or spoken commentary, debate, poetry, music or even cooking. While they will be staged across multiple locations in London and Berlin, they will meet in one virtual space online. I can’t quite say yet what the outcome will be – to be honest, it’s all a big learning curve for someone who normally works in a very physical way. I am nervous about meeting for the first time in a virtual realm. Let’s see where the microcosmic orbit takes us!

Biographies

Noel Ed De Leon is a visual and performance artist whose practice spans archiving, installation and live art. His work explores the themes of history and memory, engaging with questions of how historical conflicts, migrations and exchanges may be traced through surviving historical objects. His installations and performances have been featured in the group exhibitions Corpografias (2016) at the A-Side B-Side Gallery in London, Should the World Break In (2017) at the Fundación Joan Miró in Barcelona, M.A.P. Archiving Asia (2017) at the Live Art Development Agency in London, UnAuthorised Medium! (2018) at Framer Framed in Amsterdam, Archives in Residence: Southeast Asia Performance Collection (2019) at the Haus der Kunst in Munich Germany. His practice was also the subject of two major solo exhibitions Tokens of a Time Gone By: Reanimating History as Art (2014) curated by Eva Bentcheva at the Philippine Embassy of London and 1,976 Objects (2019) curated by Patrick Flores at the Jorge B. Vargas Museum in Manila. Since 2015, Noel has co-directed Batubalani Art Projects with Eva Bentcheva, a non-profit organisation working to promote Philippine art across museums and universities in Europe.

Pepe Dayaw is an artist and anthropologist of Filipino heritage, born in Manila, migrated to many places and now resides in Brandenburg, Germany. He obtained Master’s degree scholarships in International Performance Research at the University of Amsterdam and Warwick; Performing Arts and Visual Culture at the University of Alcala / Museum of Reina Sofia; as well as Art History, Creative Writing, and Philippine Art Studies from the University of the Philippines. He is a trained dancer, having learned traditional folk dances from the Philippines while being part of a church. Singing, speaking many languages, hospitalities, ritual-making and facilitating: social skills that he learned in the school of life forms part of his repertoire as a storyteller. He developed methodologies and pedagogies of lifelong learning through a migrant cooking concept of leftovers (Nowhere Kitchen) and many other repertoires of cooking the body (Social Dance Laboratory). He co-founded the Sari-Sari, a community of artistic lives and practices that collaborate on ecologies of performance and economies of friendships.

Tran Thu Trang studied social and cultural anthropology at Freie Universität Berlin. Her practice oscillates between cultural work and grass root political activism. Since 2013 she has been part of the Berlin Asian Film Network, a platform for Asian diasporic (and beyond) filmmakers and artists. Since 2017, Tran has been an pro bono board member of the Migrationsrat Berlin e.V. Between 2016 and 2017 she was a member of the free theatre network cobratheater.cobra, part of the project Haus der Digitalen Jugend (House of Digital Youth), funded by Doppelpassfonds. She is currently in the co-founding process of the intersectional feminist NGO Connected Differences.
http://www.migrationsrat.de
http://www.berlinasianfilm.net

Erika Tan’s practice is primarily research-led and manifests in multiple formats (moving image, publications, curatorial and participatory projects). Recent research has focused on the postcolonial and transnational, working with archival artefacts, exhibition histories, received narratives, contested heritage, subjugated voices and the transnational movement of ideas, people and objects. Selected exhibitions: As the West Slept, (Performa, New York 2019); By All Estimates (4A Sydney 2019); Paralogical Machines (Wei-Ling Contemporary, KL 2019); The Diaspora Pavilion (Venice Biennale 2017); Artist and Empire (Tate/National Gallery Singapore 2016/7); Come Cannibalise Us, Why Don’t You (NUS Museum, Singapore 2014); Thermocline of Art (ZKM, Germany 2007); The Singapore Biennale (2006); Cities on the Move (Hayward Gallery, London).

Erika is a lecturer in Fine Art at Central Saint Martins College of Art (London), Associate Researcher with Decolonising The Arts Institute (UAL), and currently a Stanley Picker Fine Art Fellow, Kingston University. She is currently developing a film and installation project titled Barang-Barang which resonances of the notion ‘belongings’ across different Southeast Asian languages and its connection to personal collections, as well as mythologies and asserting difference.
https://www.erikatan.net/barang-barang

Eva Bentcheva is an art historian and curator. She holds a PhD in Art History from SOAS, University of London. Her research focuses on transnational performance and conceptual art practices, particularly connecting Asia and Europe. Together with Noel Ed De Leon, she is co-director of Batubalani Art Projects, working to promote Philippine art in curatorial practices and academia in Britain and Germany. She has held research and curatorial fellowships at the Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art in London, and was the Goethe-Institut Postdoctoral Fellow at Haus der Kunst in Munich. In 2019, she co-curated the exhibition ‘Archives in Residence: Southeast Asia Performance Collection’ with Annie Jael Kwan and Damian Lentini at Haus der Kunst. She was previously a Visiting Research Fellow (2016) and Adjunct Researcher (2017-18) for the Tate Research Centre: Asia, with a focus on conceptual and performative practices in Philippine art during the 1960s-80s.

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