Artist Gary-Ross Pastrana: Redefining the notions of what is Filipino – interview

Art Radar asks artist and curator Gary-Ross Pastrana about “New Natives” and his artistic practice.

Gary-Ross Pastrana, one of the most internationally well-known Filipino artists, speaks about his participation in “New Natives” in Hong Kong and his influences, inspiration and vision for the future of his artistic career.

Gary-Ross Pastrana, 'Time - Action = Thought', 2010, archival Inkjet print, facemounted on plexi, 15.55 x 22 in, edition 4/5. Image courtesy the artist.

Gary-Ross Pastrana, ‘Time – Action = Thought’, 2010, archival inkjet print, facemounted on plexi, 15.55 x 22 in, edition 4/5. Image courtesy the artist.

Gary-Ross Pastrana (b. 1977, Manila) is a conceptual artist and curator, who is primarily known for his collages and sculptural installations. He received his BFA in Painting from the University of the Philippines and won the Dominador Castaneda Award for Best Thesis in 2000. In 2006, he was a recipient of the prestigious Thirteen Artists Award of the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

Pastrana participated in the 2008 Busan Biennale in Korea, the 2010 Aichi Triennale in Japan and was the country’s representative at New York’s 2012 New Museum Triennial “The Ungovernables”, among others. His work is shown by galleries such as Silverlens and Osage and has been exhibited at various international art fairs, galleries and institutions worldwide. Pastrana is one of the co-founders of Future Prospects Art Space in Cubao, Philippines, and has regularly curated for shows both at home and abroad.

Art Radar caught up with Gary-Ross Pastrana to talk about his most recent collaboration with Lightbombs Contemporary in Hong Kong for the “New Natives” exhibition (30 April to 30 May 2014), which features 28 contemporary Filipino artists, and what drives his artistic practice today.

Gary-Ross Pastrana, 'L’Autorittrato (Cosmos)', 2013, archival inkjet print, 9 x 13 in (22. 86 x 33. 02 cm). Image courtesy the artist.

Gary-Ross Pastrana, ‘L’Autorittrato (Cosmos)’, 2013, archival inkjet print, 9 x 13 in (22. 86 x 33. 02 cm). Image courtesy the artist.

The New Natives

Zoe Peña mentioned that most of the “New Natives” participants are artists that she has worked with before and with whom she has established long and trusting relationships. What makes working with Zoe and Lightbombs a unique experience? 

I’ve known Zoe since 2008. Back then she was still in school and was assigned to assist Louie Cordero and myself in the Futuramanila [September-October 2008] exhibition that we organised for Osage gallery in Hong Kong. Even then, we already knew that she had great potential and that she would go far in case she decided to pursue a career in the arts. She could write, she was highly organised and was genuinely interested in the artists and their works. I’m really pleased that she went ahead with this initiative, and to be a part of it now is definitely exciting.

How do you identify with the theme of “New Natives”? How does your work fit into the concept of the exhibition?

It’s not so much the work addressing a particular theme but more of the attitude or approach in art making, of being a part of the current generation of art producers that is hopefully redefining the notions of what is Filipino beyond the familiar symbols, iconographies and representations.

Could you expand on the concept of your work in the exhibition? What are the main ideas behind it and what is it?

My work for the show is a piece that I initially made for a show called “The Unnamable” (2010), based on the book of the same name by Samuel Beckett. What struck me about this book is that it seemed to be constantly denying or challenging itself in each succeeding line or statement. The line, “You must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on” typified this ploy. In my mind, I had this image of a ball or globe with an overlapping and entangled clock hand. As a further step of denial, I decided to not make the actual object and instead construct it virtually. Eventually, I found and worked with a 3D artist to model the object on the computer and exhibited the piece as a photograph.

Gary-Ross Pastrana, 'Pulse', 2013, archival inkjet print, 9 x 13 in (22. 86 x 33. 02 cm). Image courtesy the artist.

Gary-Ross Pastrana, ‘Pulse’, 2013, archival inkjet print, 9 x 13 in (22. 86 x 33. 02 cm). Image courtesy the artist.

The perks of exhibiting internationally

Have you exhibited in Hong Kong before? How do you value being present and visible in such an art hub?

Yes, twice at the Osage Gallery – “Futuramanila” (2008) and “Complete and Unabridged” (2010) – and in last year’s Art Basel Hong Kong. As always, I’m excited to show in a new space, reach a new audience and hopefully make new and meaningful connections.

The Department of Foreign Affairs in the Philippines has recently announced the country’s participation in the Venice Biennale in 2015 with its own national pavilion after a 50 year hiatus. There has been much discussion about this, especially around the fact that the curator is not well known in the Philippines and that the artists will be selected through a competition. How do you feel about this whole issue? How do you think being at the Venice Biennale will benefit the art scene in the Philippines?

On the one hand, I appreciate the aspirational aspect of finally being able to join the Venice Biennale after so many years. Also, it could be a life-changing career boost for those who would get chosen to participate. On the other hand, I’m not really sure about the mechanics of a competition-type selection/curation process. It’s highly probable that there are some good artists who are not too savvy in making proposals and presentations; some don’t even have email.

You have exhibited extensively abroad and in the Philippines. How is your work received at home and abroad? Are there different responses and feedback from different locations?

Yes, I believe there are differences. I noticed that the works are received well by fellow artists and students both here and abroad. Although abroad there seems a slightly larger interest in discussing the works further among non-artists.

Gary-Ross Pastrana, 'Set Fire to Free', 2009, detail. Work in the Aichi Triennale. Image courtesy the artist.

Gary-Ross Pastrana, ‘Set Fire to Free’, 2009, detail. Work in the Aichi Triennale 2010. Image courtesy the artist.

The Philippines’ art scene

Talking about the art scene in the Philippines, how is it at this stage and what are the main characteristics that make it unique?

Almost every gallery now will have at least three openings in the same night, which is good for bringing different groups of people together. Another upside is that there are more opportunities for artists to show. Although considering this, together with numerous art fairs and auctions, can sometimes leave some artists overbooked and severely pressured to produce — the year can just be an endless series of deadlines.

This pace is somewhat scary. I’m actually looking forward to the time when galleries will again just have one well-planned and curated show per month. Still, I think artists would choose to be terribly busy than to not be doing anything at all.

You founded Future Prospect Art Space in Cubao. How long was it active for and what did the space do? How did you support the art scene through your programmes?

We operated for two years, from 2005-07. I believe it was because of this effort that we were later asked to organise the “Futuramanila” show. In those two years, we had two art seminars by the late Roberto Chabet, talks by Paul Pfeiffer, Gina Osterloh and Jenifer Wofford and we exhibited works by Barry Mcgee, Neckface, etc. We also had film showings, music events and monthly exhibitions. Overall, I believe it was a good learning experience for everyone involved.

Gary-Ross Pastrana, 'Receipt', 2013, archival inkjet print, 9 x 13 in (22. 86 x 33. 02 cm). Image courtesy the artist.

Gary-Ross Pastrana, ‘Receipt’, 2013, archival inkjet print, 9 x 13 in (22. 86 x 33. 02 cm). Image courtesy the artist.

A personal insight into an artist’s practice

Are there fellow Filipino artists that you are inspired by? Why? How about international artists: who are the main sources of inspiration to you and why?

Locally, I’ve always looked up to Nilo Ilarde, Juan Alcazaren, Lani Maestro, among others. Aside from liking Nilo and Juan’s works, I also appreciate their camaraderie and their sustained effort to work together, in helping set up each other’s shows, etc. I’ve always admired the poetry and lyricism in Lani’s works.

Internationally, a wider range, from Shimabuku, to Hans Haacke, Magritte and Richard Long.

Are there Filipino artists that are inspired by your practice, that you know of?

It’s hard to tell, but what I can say is that I’ve actually started an informal programme in my studio where I sort of mentor young artists that we usually work with in our fabrication shop. I’ve also invited fellow artist Maria Taniguchi to be part of the programme.

Among all your experiences abroad – exhibitions, residencies and other events you participated in, including prizes, for instance – are there any in particular that you consider a milestone or turning point in your career?

As a turning point, I would say that my residencies in Bangkok and Japan made me realise that there is more to art than having a career in Europe or America. It made me aware of the importance of establishing something in Asia and knowing more about my immediate locality and context.

An interesting milestone would be being part of the New Museum Triennial “The Ungovernables” (2012) where I was able to meet and hang out with other artists of my generation, like Hong Kong’s Lee Kit, practicing in different parts of the world.

Where were your residencies in Bangkok and Japan? Could you talk a bit about the works you made there, what you researched on? And what about at the New Museum Triennial, what work did you present?

In Bangkok, it was with the Bangkok University Gallery, under curator Ark Fongsmut. The first time, I went there with [no] particular plan in mind. My idea was to just go there and experience the city, and let the rituals and acts of everyday life – of trying to live in a foreign place for two months – come into my working process.

In Japan, I was fortunate enough to be invited to the Jenesys programme under the Japan Foundation. They were very helpful, and I received assistance in realising a major project wherein I shipped an old boat cut into smaller pieces to Busan [for the Biennale in 2008].

For “The Ungovernables” show, I made a piece directly on the museum’s front glass window. It was actually one of the first works that came out of my silver plus gelatin experiments. I sprayed a thin mist of gelatin mixture on the glass and then I dispersed silver dust on it using my breath. This piece was called Balloon. I found it interesting that the work was somewhat invisible inside the museum, but can actually be seen more by the people outside, without ever having to go into the museum.

Gary-Ross Pastrana, 'Stream', 2008, produced during a residency in Japan and shown at the Busan Biennale. Image courtesy the artist.

Gary-Ross Pastrana, ‘Stream’, 2008, produced during a residency in Japan and shown at the Busan Biennale 2008. Image courtesy the artist.

If you were to choose a favourite artwork among the ones you have created so far throughout your career, which one would it be and why?

It always changes, normally I like what I’m currently working on, or an old work that relates to my current project, or something that I’ve yet to do. The first one because of the high one gets from the completion or realisation of an idea and the next one because of the brimming anticipation.

As a successful artist, what would you tell aspiring and emerging artists if they were to ask for advice on how to pursue the career of an artist?

I would ask of them what I also ask and expect of myself – always be true to the idea, try not to compromise the process and, all in all, always aspire to be an original signal – however faint – and not a mere echo.

What are your plans for the future? Do you have something important in store that you’d like to share with us and that we should keep an eye out for?

I actually just opened an exhibition at the UP Vargas Museum a few days ago. Now I’m preparing for my upcoming shows at Silverlens Gallery at Gillman Barracks in Singapore and at Mo-space in Manila.

Gary-Ross Pastrana, work produced during a residency in Bangkok. Image courtesy the artist.

Gary-Ross Pastrana, work produced during a residency in Bangkok. Image courtesy the artist.

C. A. Xuan Mai Ardia


Related Topics: conceptual art, Filipino artists, art in the Philippines, interviews, events in Hong Kong

Related Posts:

Subscribe to Art Radar for more interviews with artist across Asia