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‘In Search of Europe: Discovering the Self’…and finding the Philippines

The Philippines and the Netherlands continue to celebrate 65 years of diplomatic ties and 150 years of consular relations through the “Inspire Innovation” lecture series. Following the success of the Active Vista International Human Rights Festival, the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands brings “In Search of Europe: Discovering the Self” by Dutch artist Lucas De Man to the University of the Philippines in Diliman and Cebu.

It is promoted as a “lecture performance” and that does seem a little vague. To be fair, there was a bit of dancing and the songs used for the “lecture performance” earned the approval of at least one student in the audience.

The hour-long show is akin to a TED Talk. De Man uses small toys and videos of interviews to engage the audience as he presents a condensed version of what he learned during his travels to 17 cities in 8 countries in 30 days.

De Man recreates his conversations with 23 young creators who are trying to change the world for the better…or just trying to make different world than the one we live in now.

He takes on a naive perspective—someone in their 20s or 30s who is inclined to believe that this generation faces very little struggle. Freedom is everywhere and…and there’s still something a bit off about the world.

In five chapters, De Man tries to scratch that itch and soon realizes that the struggle does exist. Tragically, he finds that this generation is facing the same problems as people from the 16th century.

Photo: Embassy of the Netherlands

The Internet has affected the world in a similar way that the printing press did. Capitalism is showing signs of failure. The divide between the rich and the poor is wider than ever. De Man reads from Erasmus and Thomas More, revealing that they could have been writing about 2016.

More is known for penning one of the best denouncements of enclosures, but “enclosure of commons” continues to this day—the privatization of what is otherwise the property of all is happening under everyone’s nose. Air, for example, has become a novel commodity in Beijing, where it is so thick, a performance artist was able to make a brick from the particulates in it.

Another example, cited by De Man, is Poland selling their lakes. Selling something that occurs in nature like lakes seems baffling…that is, until you think of beach-front resorts or absurdly rich people who own islands (plural!).

Instead of aspiring to be the people who could afford these luxuries, De Man dares the audience (through the interviews) to think of themselves “not as consumers, but as citizens.”

While owning a lake seems appealing, De Man likens the process of acquisition to the enclosures of the 16th century—the rich burned down houses and stole sheep, building walls to protect their property, and then punished those who want to claim what was theirs in the first place.

It sounds familiar because it occurs everywhere, even in the Philippines. In place of a government that takes care of the people, a broken society is left disenfranchised—millions of people left to feel unheard and unseen.

A cynic he interviewed, Niccolo Capponi from Italy, takes the cynical approach and says, “All politics is corrupt, because politics is corruption.”

De Man at the University of the Philippines – Diliman. Photo: Aya Tantiangco

But in 2015, the people of Madrid refused to let hopelessness win. Though cynicism seems as appealing as it is “romanticism for the advanced”, the people of the city made a step towards building a community where they are not invisible.

For years, nobody cared about the election, because all it seemed was an election of one corrupt official over the other. But through the formation of Ahora Madrid, an organization that sought to “gain Madrid as a citizens’ horizontal initiative formed by a confluence of people, groups, parties and social movements” a new candidate was chosen. Manuela Carmena, a retired judge, was voted into the Mayor’s office, giving the citizens a platform.

As the Netherlands and Philippines commemorate over a century of consular relations, this exchange of ideas seem the most fitting way to establish stronger ties in years to come.

De Man’s lecture removes the division between nations, focusing instead of the future of humanity as one people. It becomes apparent that the same barriers exist around the world and the succeeding lectures about green design, food security, disaster risk reduction, peace and community building, and sustainable cities offer insights on what kind of society the people must create to thrive and survive. — BM, GMA News

“In Search of Europe: Discovering the Self” was held at the University Theater in the University of the Philippines – Diliman on March 15. Lucas De Man will perform the same lecture in the Arts and Sciences Lobby in the University of the Philippines – Cebu on March 18.