In Sir Isaac Newton’s famous treatise of 1687, the Principia, there is an unexpected passage taken from the observations of voyager and astronomer Edmund Halley, in which ‘Leuconia’ – today known as Luzon, the largest island in the Philippines – is discussed:
"There are two inlets to this port and the neighbouring channels […] one from the seas of China, between the continent and the island of Leuconia; the other from the Indian sea, between the continent and the island of Borneo."
Laying the very foundations for modern science in his unparalleled exposition of the three laws of motion, gravity, and planetary movement, Newton was left stumped, however, bewildered, by the tidal currents surrounding these distant equatorial seas. As he continued:
"…whether there be really two tides propagated through the said channels, one from the Indian sea in the space of 12 hours, and one from the sea of China in the space of 6 hours, which therefore happening at the 3rd and 9th lunar hours, motions of this kind add together; or whether there be any other condition imposed by other seas, I leave to be determined by observations on the neighbouring shores."
Inspired by the curious indeterminacy of Newton’s analysis, and by the ‘motions of this kind’ that exposed the limitations of his own scientific expertise, MOTIONS OF THIS KIND explores not simply “the rise and fall of the tides”, but, as Filipino historian Ricardo Manapat suggested, the “historical ebb and flow of ideas”: Newton’s work will thus set us off, inadvertently, on an exploration of the turbulent temporal currents flowing between Europe and Southeast Asia, the undertows that can both hasten and delay the circulation of knowledge.
Commissioning new works and developing ongoing projects by 11 artists working in and on the Philippines – each of whom examine transnational and temporal themes in their practice – as well as featuring a display of materials from the never before exhibited Ifor B. Powell archive held at SOAS, MOTIONS OF THIS KIND charts the historical and contemporary forces linking this archipelagic chain with other key spheres of global power. Placing the theme of belatedness as our principal concern however – as both a concept, reference, and argument – the project underscores the way time has been used both as a weapon of power and a tool of everyday resistance, a way of dominating the marginalised and creating alternative imaginations alike.
Yet whilst MOTIONS OF THIS KIND is the UK’s first institutional thematic exhibition of contemporary art from the Philippines, the show refuses to act as another (belated) survey of “art from elsewhere” – in which the culture of the ‘periphery’ is extracted from its origin and surveilled in the ‘heart’ of the global art centre. By rejecting the need to “fix” the Philippines as one determinate thing or place, the exhibition continues to explore Newton’s indeterminacy as central to both the methodology and concept of the project: Exploring the perplexing tides, the unmapped channels, the strange motions of this kind equally apparent in the work of our eleven artists, MOTIONS OF THIS KIND acts as a speculative mapping beyond the dominant historical narrative, a refiguring of knowledge beyond these neighbouring shores.