Manila’s Silverlens Gallery is featuring Filipino artist Gary-Ross Pastrana’s latest collage works.
Art Radar catches up with Filipino artist Gary-Ross Pastrana as he marks his 10th anniversary with Silverlens.
A futuristic landscape built with geometric shapes; a close-up view of a wooden surface that’s got splinters and paint residues; planes of sliced glass, mirror particles and unpolished crystals – these are just some of the images one may see in Silverlens Galleries’ “Utopia Hasn’t Failed Me Yet”, an exhibition spotlighting Gary-Ross Pastrana‘s collage series, alongside other pieces from Pastrana’s oeuvre created from 2000 to the present.
Initiated in 2017 and amounting to two hundred 10-by-8–inch pieces by the time the exhibition was launched last 7 July, this body of collages by the Filipino conceptual artist, more than toying with and exercising the imagination of viewers, reveals the maker’s discipline and dedication to his work. The series also demonstrates how labour-intensive conceptual art could be, and suggests an alternative way of composing a collage. Here, instead of putting together the recognisable and familiar, Pastrana avoids these aspects and makes sense out of various gradients, ignored backgrounds and blurred images.
Art Radar interviews artist-curator Pastrana, touching on the visual language found in “Utopia Hasn’t Failed Me Yet”, his experience with Silverlens, a gallery he has grown with for the past ten years, and his personal observations about the Philippine contemporary art scene.
Congratulations on the opening of “Utopia Hasn’t Failed Me Yet”. Let us begin with your show echoing aspects of On Kawara’s date paintings. We are wondering if you recall what you first thought of this series by On Kawara was. Did you immediately like his repetition of dates on a solid background, for instance? What are your thoughts on the works of this Japanese conceptual artist now?
It was probably 20 years ago, while browsing through a book introducting conceptual art or something similar. At first, the dates appealed to me as an interesting subject matter and material, quite similar to Dan Flavin’s use of fluorescent light tubes, or Carl Andre’s bricks. Only when I became more aware of his other daily acts, like the sending out of telegrams and postcards to a select group of people and the inclusion of newspaper headline cutouts with the date paintings, did his practice take on a different, more profound sense to me.
Today I probably refer to On Kawara’s practice in what I would say, more physical aspect of working; in the way that a person wills himself to get something done, however small or modest, each day. I’ve never really had anything in the form of a regular studio or studio practice and up to now, I actually still just make these things at home, sitting on the living room floor with my scissors, cutters and glue intermingled with my daughter’s toys. For a long time, I was making collages mainly as a form of exercise, something that I did in between exhibitions to keep me engaged, with the peripheral goal of hopefully getting better at composition. Working on this project has somehow moved me to rethink this and perhaps consider finally carving out a dedicated space for working.
On Kawara is known to work on his date paintings in an irregular manner – there were times when he had produce two a day and work on the next piece days after. He would also destroy paintings that he did not finish at the end of the day. We are curious to know the time element of your collage series. Do you religiously work on one collage a day? How long does it take for you to finish one and move on to the next piece in the series? Are there breaks when you decide to work with a different material?
I think for the first three months, I was really able to work on it religiously every day, which means that I started working on the piece and finished it within that same day. I was able to do this in the beginning because I had an unusual stretch of free time, in between preparations for shows. Still, I already knew that I wouldn’t be able to sustain this streak much longer and I actually set a soft target of around 300 works in the first year, allowing about two-months’ worth of days that I could spend on previously scheduled projects. Right now, I’m slowly trying to get back to this daily working rhythm.
My long-term goal is to one day ‘migrate’ or redirect all my collage-based outputs, and to an extent, all the rest of my two-dimensional, wall-bound interests into this single, continuous project which I intend to sustain, way into the future or as long as I physically can.
I’ve organised the project in sets, comprising of 40 works each, with each grouping defined by the material that was used to create the collages.
Speaking of materials, what moved you to work with magazine pages and cutout ink spills and markings this time? Why did you choose to omit words? Many magazines, after all, contain text.
This has been part of the strategy from the very beginning. I’ve consciously cut around text, figures, any recognisable human or animal forms, symbols and the like. I know that the entire history of collage is replete with the juxtaposition of images and text, and I think I challenged myself to somehow subvert this and try to arrive at a kind of ‘picture’ or visual language in a different manner. So, I trained my eye on the margins, borders, a lot of the blurry backgrounds, fabrics, architectural surfaces and the like that when you start noticing are also quite substantially featured in fashion and design magazine spreads and advertisements.
After years of working with magazine pages, I became more aware of the idea of surface information… that basically, the images printed are in essence just different gradations of colours, tones or levels of ink applied on paper. Also, I was always interested in experimenting with materials and in the past I’ve tried making collages out of old paintings on paper, photographs and in the most recent one, I used aerosol spray paint. These shifts in medium/material were at times prompted by the desire to work on a larger scale, sometimes to challenge my idea of a ‘found material’ and most importantly to keep the whole process interesting and still rife for discovery.
Any idea for how long you will be working on this series?
Like I said, the plan is to continue doing this up until I physically, or perhaps mentally, can. If I’ll be lucky enough to reach an advanced age, I can imagine still doing this activity, not how some older people would be spending a few hours tending to a small store or answering the daily crossword puzzle.
The last time Art Radar published a thorough interview with you was back in 2014, when you collaborated with Lightbombs Contemporary in Hong Kong. In that interview, you mentioned that the pace of the Philippine contemporary art scene scares you. Is this still true today? Are there any significant changes that happened in the scene in the past four years?
I think we’ve all somehow adjusted or adapted to the pace in our own ways. Personally, within that four–year span, I’ve also become a father and this has left me little choice but to really slow down.
Generally speaking, I think the overall mood is still very bullish and optimistic. A lot of the more contemporary art-inclined galleries relocated along a single street in the business district, which has somehow made it easier for people to hop through simultaneous exhibition openings. Perhaps what’s more interesting to note is that some of these galleries have recently started to run more project-based or non-commercial spaces, like Calle Wright in the case of Silverlens, and for Artinformal and 1335 Mabini, retaining the spaces where their old galleries used to be for more experimental and curated projects.
Outside the commercial sphere, Ateneo Art Gallery has just reopened in the new, multi-level creative hub/arts complex called Areté. A very forward-thinking, internationally-minded space and residency program in Bataan, Bellas Artes, has brought in such an impressive collection of high-profile artists from Not Vital and Krzysztof Wodiczko, to Rana Begum and Hassan Khan, to explore what the site and their army of trained craftsmen could have on offer.
You have been working with Silverlens for the past ten years not only as an artist, but also as a curator. What is it like to work with one of the country’s prominent galleries? Could you name some exhibitions that you have done for the gallery, which you consider milestones in your career as an artist and curator?
I think the main one would be the series of show that I programmed for Silverlens Singapore, back when we still had a space in Gillman Barracks. We featured Maria Taniguchi, Nona Garcia and MM Yu, Poklong Anading and a group of Filipino artists working under pseudonyms or collectives.
It ended with my show, “99%“. I believe this show has opened quite a few new doors for me and my practice. I also met a lot of interesting people, from the other galleries at Gillman, to regular patrons, visitors and other artists. I also familiarised with the area well enough that I was no longer a stranger when a few years later, I spent three months there on a residency at NTU CCA.
As a curator, how do you choose your artists? Do you usually go for artists whose practices are similar to yours or the opposite? Could you name some Filipino artists that you regularly feature in the exhibitions you curate?
Right now, a lot of shows that I organise feature the artists Issay Rodriguez, Lesley-Anne Cao, Lou Lim, and more.
Sometimes I’m drawn to artists who I think works or thinks in a somewhat comparable manner to myself and this is because I feel that I have at least some insight to offer them. I rarely make shows about painting, for example, mainly because I think this is beyond my expertise. Other times, I invite artists mainly because I just really like their work.
These shows also usually involve a kind of workshop or seminar component wherein we all meet for at least four sessions, to discuss the curatorial brief, research about artists with related practices, maybe interview some resource people, basically just things that would further inform and expand our understanding of the whatever the show’s about. I really like how this creates a kind of communal or shared knowledge and at the same time encourages people to see the benefit of meeting and discussing about art among one’s peers.
What other exhibitions and projects are you currently working on?
The main one that I’m currently working on is a new video piece for the show “The Extra, Extra Ordinary” curated by Yeyey Cruz and Esther Lu opening on 20 September 2018 at MCAD, Manila.
I’m also preparing a small, sculptural piece for Signum, a new platform co-founded by my close friend, industrial designer Stanley Ruiz, which has gathered together creators form the fields of design, craft, art and architecture to contemplate about notions of memory in contemporary object making.
Also, a small collection of my daily collages will be featured by ROH Projects in the upcoming art fair in Jakarta, Art Jakarta.
“Utopia Hasn’t Failed Me Yet” by Gary-Ross Pastrana is on view from 7 July to 4 August 2018 at Silverlens, 2263 Don Chino Roces Avenue Extension, Makati City.
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