Detonating Lightbombs: Q & A with Zoe Peña


Her mother loves textiles, antiques and furniture – things with a lot of character and history while her father collected ceramic jars from his travels as a pilot. Zoe Peña thought maybe in an off-tangent way, they were responsible for cultivating her strong love for visual and visceral beauty in objects and why she does what she do now. Her love for Philippine Art though was of her own kindling, deeply rooted and can we say torrid?

Among the first graduates of the Art Management program in Ateneo de Manila University in 2010, Zoe started off writing for artist’s exhibitions and for galleries in Manila. It was however in 2008 when she helped Louie Cordero and Gary Ross Pastrana put together Futuramanilain Osage Hong Kong while still in school that she thought of the possibilities of working in art there some day.
In 2011 she was able to realize this when she founded Lightbombs Contemporary, an art advisory based focusing on Philippine Contemporary Art in Wong Chuk Hang San Wai.  
Zoe has gathered 28 Filipino artists around the world for the exhibition, New Natives. In the exhibition notes, Petra Magno writes it “deals with displacement on many levels and, more importantly, the work deals with displacement outside of outsized nationalism — a trait that afflicted and afflicts the post-colonial Filipino. The post post-colonial Filipino, the ‘new native’, doesn’t dismiss the problems that are still alive in the country’s politics and society. Rather, the departure from realism has necessitated a more conceptual approach to such issues, creating art with more room for interpretation, art that risks looking politically irrelevant precisely because the very notion of politics has shifted to accommodate the new century, the larger world. Here it is: the new narrative, the new native, discussing plans for a new home.”
We are sharing you Zoe’s reply to our questions regarding this milestone.

Happy Schizocouple
Archival print, Arylic, Thread, Glitter, Ink
36 x 36 inches, 2014

How was Lightbombs Contemporary conceptualized? Can you tell us the thrust of Lightbombs Contemporary?
I started Lightbombs in 2011 as a way to converge my passions for introducing new artists to collectors. Artists I used to work with before (artists from New York, Hong Kong) would contact me and so would collectors that I worked with before. Molding it as an advisory, it was also a way to impress upon the importance of collections management and development in the primary market for contemporary art – so documentation, cataloguing, initiatives to build provenance, collection portfolios – these were things I really loved to do because it really helped me learn in depth about an artist and those that appreciate their work. 

Later on, it then grew into a solid idea of promoting Filipino artists while still maintaining that focus on collections management. I think I have always been a bit daunted to really take on Philippine art because it is what I love most. If I was going to do this, I wanted to do it properly. And so the first two years of Lightbombs was experimenting and growing because at 23, living in a new country, exploration was the only thing that made sense. Now at 26, I feel confident in knowing I can represent Filipino artists the best way I know how to which is through transparency, curiosity and passion. And this is where we are now!

Island 3
Digital print on fine art photo paper
12 x 20.5 in. (framed: 29 x 34 in.)
Edition 1, 4 and 5, 2013

Was it a decision to be based in Hong Kong? Your timing seems perfect, as you were there already before these international art fairs started organizing there, is there really a market for Philippine art in HK?
I definitely wanted to be based in Hong Kong after I helped Louie Cordero and Gary Ross Pastrana put together Futuramanila in Osage Hong Kong. I was still in school then so I think ever since that show in 2008 it was a very conscious effort to get back to Hong Kong because I could see the possibilities for working in art there. Also, I was (am still) in love with a man that lived in Hong Kong. Life fell into place and keeps me in Hong Kong.
I think there is a market for anything in Hong Kong, whether big or small. These days especially Philippine art has been tipped as the next big thing and while we are aware of the buzz, it’s not a focal point. I have always done everything in life based on my gut so it’s very exciting to see things coinciding with Lightbombs’ passions. It opens new doors for everyone involved, I think.
How are you since you opened? Is art advising something common there and does not apply here?
We are a young outfit and very niche so there are challenges but at the same time we are very privileged to be able to introduce Filipino art to enthusiasts. I love seeing how a brow furrows and relaxes when looking at a work they’ve never encountered. Art advisories are more understood in Hong Kong I think in terms of numbers and anyone that is curious about protecting their investments in art.

Terrarium no. XX
30 x 20 inches
Archival Pigment Ink on Hahnemüehle
Photo Rag Fine Art Paper
Editions of 5 + 2 AP
Edition 1, signed verso, 2013
With new galleries and independent art spaces opening side by side with local auction houses in the Motherland (as you would call it), having the perspective, can you comment on the current Philippine art scene?
I think it’s all fantastic! I think the opening of new ventures forces everyone else to up their game. Standards in the art industry are very complicated to talk about but I think everything is moving forward and that is inspiring.

On New Natives, how did you choose the artists? What were you looking for in their works? Was there a criteria?
It truly was the most casual and organic process in the beginning – I wanted to work with artists I loved and knew. And then it turned into an opportunity to really do something significant because I realized there is so much that people have not seen or know about these Filipino artists. What we hear about are big numbers from auction houses and that’s fantastic too because they allow for some light to be shined upon Filipino contemporary art. With regards to the works in New Natives, I trust each and every artist’s creative decisions for their work, so I wasn’t working with too much of a criteria except for, I suppose, size constraints because Hong Kong is a city that is lacking in spaces ideal for art exhibitions. That aside, my job is to love and support their practice and understand it so that my passions may be shared with others.

Sacred Is The New Profane 1 (diptych)
Assemblage with Found Objects
24 x 48 inches, 2010
If you may, can you name highlights of the show?
Ringo Bunoan’s Island Series,Victor Balanon’s The Kindly Ones, Michael Arcega’s A Tautology, Norberto Roldan’s Sacred Is The New Profane, Dex Fernandez’s Happy Schizocouple, Costantino Zicarelli’s Beyond Evil series, Marija Vicente’s Play Money, Felix Bacolor’s Gloat works and everything else in the exhibition, to be honest! 
I’m sure you will get to meet or be introduced to more Filipino artists, will New Natives be an annual event?
As much as I like the possibilities of an annual New Natives, I think because this venture was driven very earnestly by instinct that it would be hard to repeat this. This is a special show and if we something akin to this exhibition, I would like for the next one to have an identity that is as strong and as distinct as New Nativeshas.

New Natives exhibition is ongoing at Lightbombs Gallery.