Search for Life
Curated by Chus Martinez
Museo Thyssen Bornemisza, Madrid
4 March – 26 May 2024

The museum and TBA21 Thyssen-Bornemisza Contemporary Art are presenting Search for Life, the first major solo exhibition in Spain devoted to the Filipino-Canadian artist Stephanie Comilang (born Toronto, 1980). Commissioned and produced by TBA21 and Sharjah Art Foundation, it is benefiting from the collaboration of Fundación Ecolec.

Search for Life is a visual adventure and a profound reflection on history, identity and interconnection among different forms of life on our planet. In her work, Comilang rehearses a re-reading of nature, contextualized in colonial exploitation but also in rituals, which envision the potential for a new beginning beyond criticism, based on scenarios capable of fostering new processes and behaviours that will positively affect the planet and the species living in it.

Curated by Chus Martínez, the exhibition focuses on migration and the interconnection between colonial and post-colonial powers and the movements of humans and other animal species such as the monarch butterfly. This is a large-format audiovisual installation in which two facing screens show the maritime routes used by Spain after the colonisation of the Philippines. The two projections create a film that shows the scope of today’s cargo movement as well as the role played by Filipino mariners. In the artist’s own words: “This project includes a multitude of intertwined stories, timelines, and characters, both human and non-human, which narrate different migratory experiences and the connections inherent to them.”

Alongside the film, a number of textile creations made of pineapple fibre fill the gallery with images of the natural world, such as the monarch butterfly, flowers from potato and coffee plants, vanilla, and other species imported by the Spaniards. The embroideries recall those on Manila shawls and thus refer to the Spanish colonial past, while the pineapple fibre used by the artist is a traditional Filipino textile employed for local fabric production after this fruit was introduced to the archipelago by the Spaniards.Stephanie Comilang is a Filipino-Canadian artist and filmmaker who works in Toronto and Berlin. Her work centres on the concept of home and often analyses the ideas of diaspora and migration. Her documentary approach to the construction of narratives emphasises themes of social mobility, global labour and inter-cultural communication. Through her use of video Comilang explores the conditions faced by migrants, analysing the exploitation and suffering of groups who abandon their country without wishing to do so. Comilang has shown her work at the International Film Festival Rotterdam, the Asia Art Archive in America (New York), SALTS, Basel, UCA, Los Angeles, and the Bangkok Video and Performance Triennial GHOST:2561, among others.

Photos by Roberto Ruiz