Stephanie Comilang. Search for Life
Curated by Chus Martínez
March 5 – May 26, 2024
Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid

Design: Ana Domínguez studio
MNTB Madrid


Search for Life, by Filipino-Canadian artist Stephanie Comilang (Toronto, 1980), is a new exhibition presented by TBA21 Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary as part of its program at the Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum. Curated by Chus Martínez, this is the artist's first major solo exhibition in Spain and is carried out in collaboration with the Sharjah Art Foundation.

Comilang's work juxtaposes temporality, geography, and technology into narratives in which the future and past become aligned, addressing diasporas, generations, survival, violence, and desire. Comilang’s films, which she calls “science fiction documentaries,” are a combination of chronicle and illusion, with stories that inhabit multiple voices and perspectives that aim to describe how culture and society are related to the cornerstones that shape our globalized world, namely mobility, capital, and labor.

Search for Life is a totalizing large-scale film and textile installation. The film is displayed on a large digital screen and a projection that face one another, tracing shipping routes used by Spanish conquistadors after the colonization of the Philippines. The two projections constitute one film that brings to the screen the extraordinary scope of today's global maritime cargo movements, as well as the vital role of Filipino seafarers. The stories are told by interwoven voices of various figures, including the historian Guadalupe Pinzón Ríos; Philippine butterfly specialist Aster T. Badon; Michael John Díaz and painter Joar Songcuya, both Filipino seafarers; a boy named Simón from Michoacán, Mexico; and, of course, the voice of the monarch butterfly. In the artist's 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, the exhibition will show a number of textile creations made of pineapple fiber, traditionally used for local fabric production after this fruit was introduced to the archipelago by the Spaniards. The embroideries allude to the mythical Manila shawl and, with them, the Spanish colonial past. They fill the room with images of the natural world, such as flowers from potato and coffee plants, vanilla, and other species imported by the Spaniards, re-interpreted through the eyes of the butterflies.

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 techno-futuristic scenarios capable of fostering new processes and behaviors that will positively affect the planet and the species that dwell therein.

The exhibition also includes a downloadable digital publication encompassing a curatorial essay along with contributions by two leading figures of the Philippine cultural scene: Feifei Zhou, an architect, artist, and researcher committed to investigating alternative ways of understanding the role and position of nature on our planet; and Mara Coson, one of the most iconic voices of contemporary literature in the Philippines. The contributors will come to Madrid for a talk with the curator Chus Martínez as part of the exhibition’s public program, which will also include additional talks, screenings, and workshops featuring international guests as well as local artists and communities of Filipino descent.

This public program is produced with the support of the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Madrid, the Embassy of Canada in Madrid, and Casa Asia.

Stephanie Comilang. Search for Life. Diptych (2024–2025)
Search for Life is a work in the form of a diptych commissioned by TBA21, Sharjah Art Foundation and The Vega Foundation. The work unfolds in two episodes that are composed of independent pieces but together tell a single story. The first episode, curated by Chus Martínez, is presented at the Museo Nacional Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid (5 March- 26 May 2024) and the second episode, curated by Amal Khalaf, will be presented at Sharjah Biennial, United Arab Emirates, (16 February - June 2025) and is commissioned by Sharjah Art Foundation and The Vega Foundation.

Artist biography
Stephanie Comilang is an artist living and working in Berlin. Her documentary-based works create narratives that look at how our understandings of mobility, capital, and labor on a global scale are shaped through various cultural and social factors. Her work has been shown at the Tate Modern, Hamburger Bahnhof, Tai Kwun Hong Kong, International Film Festival Rotterdam, Julia Stoschek Collection, and Haus der Kunst. She was awarded the 2019 Sobey Art Award, Canada’s most prestigious art prize for artists 40 years and younger.

Artist website

Stephanie Comilang 
Chus Martínez