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LONDON-based Filipino conceptual artist Pio Abad and his wife, the jewelry designer Frances Wadsworth Jones, present The Collection of Jane Ryan and William Saunders: Restitution in AR as the inaugural exhibit of the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ new digital musem, 21AM. Launched on the 36th anniversary of the People Power Revolution, it features digital replicas of Imelda Marcos’ contested jewelry collection which was seized by US Customs at the Honolulu airport when the Marcoses were exiled in Hawaii in 1986.
The exhibit references the false identities — Jane Ryan and William Saunders — which Imelda and Ferdinand Marcos used to amass and conceal their wealth in Switzerland.
Mr. Abad and Ms. Wadsworth Jones were assisted by curator Kenneth Paranada for the digital exhibit. The augmented reality exhibit examines the scale of excess of the Marcos couple during the Martial Law regime (1972-1981).
The artwork, 10 years in the making (Mr. Abad began the project in 2012), examines the political and cultural legacy of the Marcoses by remaking their collection of jewelry.
“The project at its heart is an elaborate resistance… Through excavating silence narratives, we’re making a collection of objects tainted by the regime’s corruption and inviting the public to interact,” Mr. Abad said.
“Jane Ryan and William Saunders were the false identities used by Imelda and Ferdinand to open their Swiss bank accounts in Zurich in March 1968. It was through this account and many others that follow that the couple were able to siphon off money from the National Congress, effectively bankrupting the Philippine Treasury,” Mr. Abad explained.
The Marcoses had an estimated wealth of $10 billion by the time they were ousted from office.
The jewelry collection was referred to as the “Hawaii Collection.” After the seizure, the collection was turned over to the Presidential Commission of Good Government (PCGG). Since the 1990s, it has languished in the vaults of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas. In Feb. 2016, the PCGG announced that the pieces would be auctioned following the clearance of legal impediments, and planned a public exhibition.
“I was in initial discussions to find a way of collaborating with PCGG on presentation in early 2016. But the shifting political currents put a stop to these plans,” Mr. Abad said. “Not really knowing what to do with these images that were shared by the PCGG, and fully aware of the epic implications of showing photographs that were not mine, I then turned to my wife, Frances, who not only is an amazing jewelry designer, but also one who was incredibly adept at 3D modeling.”
The Filipino-British couple began their collaborative work in 2018. They have since exhibited together at Jameel Arts Center, Dubai; Kadist, San Francisco; Bellas Artes Projects, Manila; and the second Honolulu Biennial in Hawai’i.
Using the photographs as reference, Ms. Jones digitally sculpted 24 pieces of jewelry into 3D models, a process which took two years to complete.
“The process involves a certain level of creative speculation. My only point of reference was a single photograph from a single angle,” Ms. Jones said.
“It is completing a journey that returns the jewelry to the scene of the crime, so to speak. However, this time, they don’t return as luxurious accessories, but as spectral reconstructions,” she added.
Using 3D scanning and AR technologies, each model of the jewelry also shows the equivalent public projects that its value could have financed.
One of the replicas is of a 1890 Belle Epoque platinum and diamond tiara by Cartier which could fund treatment for 12,052 patients with tuberculosis until their full recovery.
Meanwhile, the exhibition’s “Restitution in AR” feature allows the models to be virtually mounted in public spaces.
“This does not only allow us to place the sculpture within the CCP but, more importantly, allows the public to take ownership by placing perceptual reconstructions in their own domestic spaces,” Ms. Jones said. “We see this as a way of reimagining possibilities of restitution that remain elusive.”
An online artist talk featuring Mr. Abad and Ms. Wadsworth Jones is scheduled on March 14, and an online curators’ conversation between Pastor Roces and John Kenneth Paranada is scheduled on March 21.
Interested parties can view and engage with the augmented reality feature of the exhibition using the hashtags #isauli and #digitalrestitution and tag @janeryan_williamsaunders and @ccpvamd on Instagram. To access the exhibition, visit https://21AM.culturalcenter.gov.ph. For more information, visit www.facebook.com/ccpvamd. — Michelle Anne P. Soliman