LIAN LADIA (PB 2006) is a San Francisco-based curator and organizer who received a Post Baccalaureate degree in Photography from SFAI in 2006. Ladia completed an MA in Curatorial Studies at Bard College and participated as a curatorial program participant in de Appel Art Centre in Amsterdam. Ladia co-founded Planting Rice, an important cultural and curatorial platform founded in Manila, Philippines that promotes contemporary art discourse of Southeast Asia otherwise unavailable via mainstream media outlets. We sat down with Lian as she prepared for her departure to Asia where she has organized presentation materials and related talks on the work of esteemed SFAI painting professor and alumni, Carlos Villa (BFA, ‘61) (1936-2013) for the 2019 Singapore Biennale.
Could you give an overview of the scope of your project for the Singapore Biennale?
The Singapore Biennale curators initially took notice of Carlos Villa as a result of the Worlds in Collision event at BAMPFA, which I co-organized with Jenifer Wofford (SFAI, BFA) in 2018. In conjunction with that event, I performed research and gave a talk on the exhibition Carlos Villa curated at SFAI called, Other Sources (1976). Carlos is an enigmatic persona because by reflecting on his own place in the canon of art history, he unfolded a larger issue about race and gender in the general historiography of artists and artists works that is not correctly processed by the general status quo due to systemic racism. He is largely unknown in the Philippines or in the U.S. but he has significantly contributed to San Francisco being the zeitgeist of Asian American and multicultural political consciousness in the arts in the 1970’s. Not to mention that this led to the many diverse programming, treatments, curriculums that we have about multiculturalism in the arts in the Bay Area. He will be having a retrospective of his work at the National Gallery of Singapore which will run throughout the biennale from November 2019 to March 2020. There will also be an archive room designed by British Artist Céline Condorelli at the museum where SFAI archives of the exhibition “Other Sources” will be presented in various forms (architectural and archival). I will be presenting two talks on the Opening weekend in relation to Carlos Villa and his work surrounding the concept of “ritual” and its abstract expressionist implications, as well as another talk discussing the importance of early multiculturalist exhibitions such as “Other Sources” and Magicien Dela Terre in terms of curatorial weight and global influence. In January, Danish Artist Lilibeth Cuenca Rasmussen will have a performance on the concept of “ritual” who has very similar performative work to Villa although they have not met, but are also dealing with Filipino diaspora. And in February, the National University of Singapore has invited my curatorial collaborative, Planting Rice to lead a conference with a workshop element on an iteration of Worlds in Collision in Singapore. Titled, The Matter of Difference, a case for intimating a world in pieces, the conference reflects on the ways of world-making by revisiting the global imagination of a connected world. This includes questioning the minor histories, and minor gestures that reimagine notions of region, place, identity, system, and politics. The conference will look at how occasions of practice and larger powers have constructed the world we live in relationally and contextually. This event is run alongside a week-long workshop that activates the archives from Worlds In Collision with educators, scholars, and practitioners in Singapore.
What interests you about the work and practice of Carlos Villa?
I have a personal relationship with Carlos because like many others he was a mentor for me. He supported my early curatorial projects as well as the artist collective that I was a part of as a student. I first knew him as someone who believed in me and supported what I did within my curatorial projects up to my recent curatorial collaborative, Planting Rice. Apart from this, I was really inspired by his idea of “rehistoricizing.” He had a project called “Rehistoricizing Abstract Expressionism” and this gesture he initiated is something that I constantly do for my own research all the time - this idea of questioning HIStory. And finding value in my own image and likeness reflected in a narrative that includes my story. This is a larger pedagogical inquiry which re-evaluates the many problems of colonial and western museology. As an educator, Carlos’ inquiry continued on in the curriculums that he co-designed with other students. And the process on how he goes about this is through his artist mind. He has a curriculum which he considered a drawing, precisely because that’s how he sees his work as and educator - it is still artistic work. He once said, “I viewed the construction of a syllabus as relevant visually and thematically as a drawing.”
Villa’s work as a community-based artist, activist, and organizer is well documented and regarded, especially in the Bay Area. Would you say that his approach to art education, multiculturalism, and diversity in the arts is still relevant today?
Carlos Villa was a product of his time - due to the many dialogs created by the civil rights, and the third world liberation front, as well as the social justice energy of artists and organizers of the Bay Area in the 70’s, this was a wonderful sociological landscape which enabled Carlos to pursue his own questions about his identity, history and place in California gestural abstraction. I absolutely do not think that San Francisco would be what it is today, with all it’s pedagogical capacity to articulate identity politics in race and gender without the artistic inquiries and works of Carlos Villa and his peers. Villa is as American and Californian as can be, with a range of knowledge and articulation that campaign against systemic racism, this issue is as strong as ever.
If you could name one take-away for viewers of your presentation of Villa’s work at the Singapore Biennale, what would it be?
I think the fact that there is an artist born and raised in the Bay Area, whose work looks ethnographic, but are actually abstract expressionist, will have paintings and drawings made of blood, semen, hair, feathers, bone - a raw expression and desire to reach out to his identity is finally in Southeast Asia - its the closest to his Malay roots as it can be. Historian Margo Machida mentions that it is not really to recover an atavistic notion of authenticity but rather a necessary act of self assertion by recuperating the indigenous form with an abstract or modernist sensibility.
Any other projects you’re working on now that you’d like to share?
In San Francisco, right now I am a YBCA fellow looking to expose YBCA and its audiences to the history or urban renewal and gentrification of the building of YBCA, SFMOMA and Moscone Center has caused with regard to the displacement of immigrants in SOMA and the century-old forgotten history of Asian men who went through exclusion, miscegenation and current continuous displacement (with now, immigrant families) with what we now call as the tech boom. My fellowship is from 2019 to 2020.
In Singapore, I look forward to the next iteration of Worlds in Collision at the National University of Singapore in February 2020.
The San Francisco Art Institute and the Asian Art Museum will co-present Carlos Villa: A Retrospective of Ritual and Action, in conjunction with SFAI’s 150th anniversary in 2021. This exhibition will mark the first major solo exhibition to examine and highlight the legacy of Filipino American artist Carlos Villa (1936-2013). Over the course of his six-decade career, Villa was significant both in the context of American and Filipino American art history and, internationally, for his contributions to a post-colonial perspective on “Third World” art that is part of a critical discussion today. Organized by a multi-generational, geographically dispersed curatorial and advisory team, Ritual and Action will premiere at SFAI, in partnership with the Asian Art Museum, in the spring of 2021The exhibition will showcase works from the 1960s to the last decade of the artist’s life. The project will include a major catalog published by the University of California Press and a range of public programs.
Top image credit: Carlos Villa, 1973. From Anne Bremer Memorial Library archive.