Stephanie Comilang, a Filipino-Canadian artist whose work transcends traditional artistic boundaries, blending elements of film, documentary, and visual art to create captivating narratives that explore themes of migration, identity, and community, embarks on a groundbreaking exploration with her latest exhibition curated by Chus Martínez, “Search for Life,” presented by TBA21 Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary at the Thyssen-Bornemisza National Museum.

“Search for Life” transcends conventional artistic paradigms, weaving together themes of temporality, geography, and technology to create immersive narratives that resonate deeply with questions of diaspora, generational continuity, survival, and aspiration. Comilang’s evocative films, which she often aptly dubs “science fiction documentaries,” blur the boundaries between chronicle and illusion, offering a multifaceted exploration of culture, society, and the forces that shape our globalised world–namely mobility, capital, and labour.

Installation image of ‘Stephanie Comilang: Search for Life’ March 5 – May 26, 2024. Photo by Trevor Good

At the heart of “Search for Life” lies an alluring film and textile installation that envelops viewers in a tapestry of interconnected stories and visual motifs. Presented in the cocoon of TBA21’s underground space on multiple, expansive digital screens and projections, the central film traces the historical maritime routes charted by Spanish conquistadors following the colonisation of the Philippines. Through a masterful interplay of imagery and sound, Comilang illuminates the enduring legacy of Filipino seafarers and the pivotal role they play in today’s global maritime cargo movements. Without spoiling its conclusion, the narratives unfold specifically through two Filipino seafarers, Michael John Díaz and Joar Songcuya. As Comilang aptly describes, “Search for Life” encompasses a multitude of intertwined stories, timelines, and characters–both human and non-human– that converge to illuminate the diverse migratory experiences and connections that bind us together.

Stephanie Comilang. Search for Life. Diptych (2024-2025)

In tandem with the film, “Search for Life” also features a series of textile creations that flank the digital screens, crafted from pineapple fiber, a material traditionally used for local fabric production following its introduction to the archipelago by the Spaniards. The embroidered textiles evoke the mythical Manila shawl and serve as poignant reminders of the Philippines’ colonial past. Adorned with images of flora sourced from potato and coffee plants, vanilla, and other species imported during the colonial era, these textiles offer a contemplative reflection on the intersection of nature, history, and human intervention.

Installation image of ‘Stephanie Comilang: Search for Life’ March 5 – May 26, 2024. Photo by Trevor Good

“Search for Life” ultimately emerges as a visual odyssey and a profound meditation on history, identity, and the interconnectedness of life forms on our planet. Through her transcendent artistry, Comilang invites viewers to reconsider our relationship with nature, contextualised within the framework of colonial exploitation and ritualistic traditions. Yet, amidst these reflections, Comilang offers glimpses of hope–a vision of techno-futuristic scenarios that hold the potential for renewal and transformation, fostering new processes and behaviours that resonate harmoniously with our planet and its diverse inhabitants.

Installation image of ‘Stephanie Comilang: Search for Life’ March 5 – May 26, 2024. Photoby Trevor Good