The Bagri Foundation’s ‘At Home in the World’ Covid-19 Commissions Get Underway with ‘Microcosmic Orbit’ by Noel Ed De Leon

Noel Ed De Leon in his attic. © noeleddeleon archives. Photo courtesy, Godwin De Leon, London 2020

The call to be productive, to occupy our lockdown hours with efforts to realise our best creative selves, has resounded loud and clear over the last few months — whether that’s in producing an artistic masterpiece, or merely clearing out a loft. For one of the five winning artists of the Bagri Foundation’s ‘At Home In The World’ commission, these two activities are more closely aligned than they might at first appear. In Noel Ed De Leon’s ‘Microcosmic Orbit’, a home attic has become an exhibition space.

As part of the Foundation’s online programme of work by Asian artists in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, De Leon has conceptualised a series of three live-streamed events. ‘Microcosmic Orbit’ will feature guest artists, researchers and cultural activists, each of whom will be given a virtual tour of De Leon’s collection of historical artefacts. The result, streamed live from the secluded sanctuary of the artist’s attic, promises to be astounding. Playing on the dynamics of materiality and memory, of presence and absence, ‘Microcosmic Orbit’ explores how history might be traced through the survival of objects, and how these objects in turn raise questions of exchange, conflict and interdependence between Southeast Asia and Europe.

De Leon’s collection is vast, traversing centuries and continents. He draws together original equipment from the First and Second World Wars collected in Britain and the Philippines, found objects, tribal artefacts and remnants of artworks, and has chosen three key themes for each livestream which are correspondingly wide-ranging: ‘Sheltering’, ‘Wrapping’ and ‘Temporalities’. During their attic ‘visits’, De Leon and the collaborating guests will conceive three events around these themes. This could be anything from the building of a temporary installation in the attic, to spoken commentary, debate, poetry, music or even cooking.

Born in Pangasinan in the Philippines, De Leon moved to London in 2007 where he began to pursue work as an artist, finding ways to express not only his personal experiences in a global economy but also his passion for tracing historical relations and narratives across Southeast Asia and Europe. In 2012, De Leon presented his first site-specific performance, Life As I Know It, using original gas masks from the First and Second World Wars. His work today continues these experiments with collected objects in live performance. As they interact with his body, these objects become a material language, a means of expressing the endurance of war, violence and exploitation which many Filipino migrant workers often must face. Since 2015, De Leon has been co-director of Batubalani Art Projects alongside art historian and curator Eva Bentcheva. This London-based non-profit organisation is committed to promoting Filipino modern and contemporary art in academia and curatorial practice.

‘Microcosmic Orbit’ marks a new chapter of De Leon’s oeuvre. In the first livestream, which takes place at 1pm on the 17th of July, he is accompanied by Berlin-based artist Pepe Dayaw. Together they will delve into the deeply symbolic and aesthetic nature of interiority, housing and survival. On the 14th of August, ‘Wrapping’ with cultural anthropologist and activist Tran Thu Trang will explore visibility and invisibility as experienced by migrants. And, on the 18th September, ‘Temporalities’ with London-based artist Erika Tan will examine the coincidental survival of historical objects: how might an artefact, imbued with the stories of lost times and the many people through whose possession it has passed, come to shape the way history is recorded? The way memory is made?

The brief for Bagri Foundation’s ‘At Home In the World’ commission was deliberately left broad. The Foundation encouraged a diversity of proposals from artists, writers, musicians, curators, filmmakers, researchers and academics from Asia or the diaspora, inviting them to offer new ways of thinking about survival, care and solidarity from a place of hope. The other winning commissions will be presented across the Foundation’s digital platforms from June through to the end of August 2020. They range from a series of personal poems, to live instrumentations and movement cycles, to an ethnographic video essay. Alka Bagri, Trustee at the Bagri Foundation, says ‘We were thrilled with the response to our open call. It was a great way for us to find out about artists working across Asia that we otherwise would not have known.’ From the teeming emporium of his attic, Noel De Leon starts a conversation which both begins at home and has global reach.

Dates for live streams:

Freelance journalist covering fine art, photography, film and tech. UK based

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