Interviewed by Fleur Adderley
You are a Filipinx-Canadian artist currently based in Brooklyn. What drew you to New York?
I originally moved to New York at age 23 from Toronto because I was trying to get my green card. I needed to live in the US for a period of time. I did not want to return to Maryland where I grew up as child, I wanted to be in a city where the arts were flourishing. I had spend a summer in NY before taking art classes and enjoyed it and so decided to return.
You are a multi-disciplinary artist who creates materially embodied narratives. Your works have a strong presence, but are tracing the viewer back to aspects of the past, how do you create this temporal balance?
I take photographs from the past and use strategies of collage and sculpture to transform these images.
Many of your pieces explore American colonial texts and photographs about the Philippines, can you tell me why this is such a prevalent concept in your body of work?
I am driven by questioning how history is formed. What do you do when the histories you seek have been erased or not recorded? My research is focused on dismantling colonial histories about the Philippines. I seek to uncover the feminine, spiritual, pre-colonial histories of the Philippines. I take text books and images that construct the dominant colonial narrative of the Philippines and look to reveal their fictional character and mythologies through strategies in collage, sculpture and performance. Some questions that guide me - What is in between the lines of the text? What is outside of the frame of the photos? What is coded in metaphor? What is implied? What is missing? What do I do when the stories I am interested in have not been written / recorded?
A project that stands out to me is Salt of the Earth (2013-2014). It tackles the symbolic significance of salt, a material that relates to concepts of “migrating bodies, absent bodies, displaced bodies, and spaces of home that are physically separated.” Firstly, what inspired this piece? Secondly, what was the sculpting process like using salt crystals as your medium?
"From Dust You Came" (2014) which is part of the series "Salt of the Earth", is an installation of hanging silk threads with salt crystals growing from them. The work started after my Lola (my grandmother from the Philippines) passed away. I was thinking a lot about what connects me to a country so far away, and what could anchor me to a site when the figure that had me return there was gone. I started visiting abandoned sites in NY as a way to reflect. One of the sites, Dead Horse Bay, was a place littered with objects, some new, some 100s of years old. I would collect these objects, bring them back to my studio, and attempt to create prints by soaking the objects in salt water and placing them on the paper to dry. My studio would be stained with salt water even after I cleaned. This was also around the time of Hurricane Sandy, where buildings were in danger of destruction because of salt water corroding the cement. I began to think about salt as a preservative but also as this corrosive device. I liked the uncontrollable nature of it. The process of trying to work with salt water and salt crystals mimicked my experience of trying to connect to the ghosts of my past, the process of grief, as well as trying to understand the history and legacy of the Philippines through my grandmother. The salt had a life of its own, and would shape shift.
You are exposing narratives close to your heart on a large, immersive scale. What is it like seeing the inside of your mind suspended and presented around you?
It is my favorite medium to work in. I love creating new physical realities that surround the body. It's incredibly magical.
"From Dust You Came"
Space is something fundamental in your installation works. How do you perceive space? What aspects of it do you try to bring out in your pieces?
Every project is different. I am very interested in responding specifically to the sites in which I make work.
For example, I was asked last year to create an installation at Wave Hill in the Bronx. I made a work called “The Edge of Dwelling,” which is an immersive, fictional city from printed and collaged photos of historical ruins, churches, schools, government buildings, and estates. The original images are sourced from American colonial texts documenting the Philippines after the Spanish-American War. Mixed within these photos are images of buildings from Wave Hill that have similar architectural facades. I was interested in creating a fragmented kaleidoscopic site of facades and replicas that play with perspective, representation of space, and one’s sense of orientation to one’s surroundings. How are sites of dwelling constructed? Who are these places for? How is power signaled and maintained through the reconstructions of the land and the erasure of narratives? The installation was not a static space; I repositioned the architectural structures several times throughout the run of the exhibition.
Finnish musician Lau Nau and I collaborated to create a soundscape that vibrates throughout the gallery.
For the closing I did a live performance, where I cleared the sculptures from the space and placed them outside. I attempted to interact with the printed images as though they were 3D pieces. Afterwards, I attempted to reconstruct the installation as quickly as possible with the audience watching. Lau Nau, performed live music as I moved in the space.
Another example is a piece I did in Atlanta in 2018 called "Cenotaph". I was asked to respond to the history of the Oakland Cemetery in Atlanta. The cemetery was created in the 1800s and is incredibly segregated. There is a 'Confederate section', an 'African American section,' the 'Jewish section." When you enter the Confederate section, you are greeted by a towering obelisk.
"Cenotaph" is a monument commemorating the 872 probable unmarked burials in the African-American section that were discovered in 2016 and are still being uncovered and identified. A cenotaph refers to a monument commemorating people buried elsewhere. It is placed in a Magnolia Tree next to the "Lion of the Confederacy", a preexisting sculpture already constructed to commemorate the unknown confederate dead. Each of the fabric pieces in the installation is an abstracted red obelisk. The obelisk is the main structure in the Confederate section.
What are the key messages you want the viewer to take away once they have seen your work?
First, I hope that the form that the work takes is visceral. I want the visual language of the work to create a bodily response in the viewer. I then want the viewer to be lead to looking into the history that the works refer to.
Finally, what advice would you give to fellow artists at an unpredictable time?
Take actions of self care that ground you. Take care of your body and be in touch with your quiet intuition. Find ways to support your peers of black and brown artists and to join the fight for social justice. The art world is not in a vacuum - it has also been structured by white supremacy and patriarchy. Educate yourself and find ways to support your community and extended community to dismantle racial oppression.