Essentially a monolithic single artwork spread across multiple rooms, In Habit: Project Another Country by Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan is a true spectacle. The cardboard world is chaotic but beautiful, something to get lost in and spend hours looking through.
Alfredo and Isabel moved to Australia from the Philippines, and so have felt the struggle of relocation and displacement firsthand. Their collaborative works often deal with the subject of home, community and memory, and In Habit: Project Another Country is no different.
It is inspired by the lives of Badjao children, who often end up living away from their homes and begging on the streets of large cities. The eccentric, vertical construction of the piece is representative of the Badjao people’s traditional housing, beautiful stilt houses that rise from the beach, or even straight out of the sea in some cases!
In addition to the hive of cardboard houses (that would likely impress M.C. Escher), a short video installation plays on loop. It presents a brief story of a Badjao family and shows how their culture has integrated with modern society. Two screens with attached headphones sit amongst the construction, playing a video of a child rapping in his native dialect. The use of multi-media furthers highlights the blurred lines between contemporary and traditional art forms, and also the blurred lines between family and wider society.
The most important and fascinating aspect of In Habit: Project Another Country is that the constructed piece is actually a collaborative work involving not just Alfredo and Isabel, but the entire community. Children from numerous schools were tasked with creating individual houses and structures out of cardboard and toothpicks, which were then arranged and connected to create the piece we see today. The Aquilizans even invite members of the public to stay and build their own house, which will be added to the whole, ensuring the work continues to grow and change over the years. The idea of a single “author” or “creator” is challenged, making us all feel like a part of the piece, connected to each other through this awe-inspiring creation.
When you first walk into the gallery, you can’t help but being struck by the immensity of the project. There is seemingly little sense to the position of individual houses, but there is an underlying flow. It is something innate, chaotic, primal maybe, but overall very human. The piece speaks about our need to construct, to build homes and cities for our communities. Somehow, even if every individual chunk of the artwork is created by a different person, it all comes together to create an aesthetically pleasing whole.
Walking around and taking close looks at the various streets, ladders and houses almost makes you wish you were tiny and able to live inside the piece. It’s not everyday that you find an exhibition so impressive that you want to move in!
In Habit: Project Another Country will definitely be a highlight of the whole Ozasia Festival.
Reviewed by James Rudd
Venue: Samstag Museum of Art, Hawke Building, City West Campus, University of South Australia, 55 North Terrace, Adelaide (cnr Fenn Place & North Terrace)
Season: 1 August – 3 October 2014
Tickets: Free Entry