Gary-Ross Pastrana might be the Philippines' biggest contemporary artistic export right now. In his work he explores the sentimentality of objects, how emotional attachments and new identities are created, incorporated or lost as the object is broken down and made anew. For instance, in a recent show that Pastrana had at the ICA in Singapore, entitled 'Practising Habits of the Day', he had an old car stripped of its part and sold almost everything as junk. With the money raised Pastrana bought gold, which he subsequently turned into a large bolt that was screwed back into the heart of the car, and the only part he had kept: the engine. As JOSEPH opens its second location in the Philippines, in the architectural S Maison at Conrad Manila, we caught up with our favourite artist from the region to discover more...
What is your definition of an artist? In everyday life, I could consider anyone who does a particular thing with a special level of skill, care, and creativity, an artist. From a trained chef to a street side cook, from a clothing designer to a neighbourhood seamstress. On the other hand, I also believe that it will be better for practitioners and more enlightening for the audience if we could have a slightly more examined, categorical definition in a specific field like contemporary art. Can you tell us about your training and formative experiences? I went to the University of the Philippines to study painting without any prior knowledge of art. Although I liked drawing, my real entry point was music and film. I consider myself lucky to have met professors and senior artists who gave me a glimpse of a possible and exciting future in pursuing art as a career.
I think I was initially motivated by the desire to look into the constitution of objects
Your practice involves deconstruction, breaking down objects and recasting - what is it about this process... Looking back, I think I was initially motivated by the desire to look into the constitution of objects, what defines a particular thing and when does it start losing its 'thingness', whether it disappears or becomes something else. Through the years I've investigated in different projects how form, function, materiality, value, define an object. To be honest, it just developed and evolved naturally in this direction without any prior, overarching plan. What are your chosen objects to work with? I like to work with common, recognizable objects, things that people encounter in their daily lives. In the studio, I primarily work with paper. I think my collage practice offers a (visually divergent) counterpoint to my object-based works as it tends to be quite graphic design-oriented, and more attuned to visual culture. But if you look at the process, it is still quite grounded in the same act of breaking things apart and rearranging the myriad bits and pieces into something new.
next to the object, the idea of process is very important in my practice.
Critics say your work is full of poetry - how do you go about imbuing an everyday object with such emotion? Again this is not something that I intentionally tried to accomplish. Maybe it is just a (very welcome) by-product of how I see things coupled with influence of the works and artists I looked up to when I was starting out. In the end, I think that next to the object, the idea of process is very important in my practice. I think that a lot of the time concepts that I wish to expound on are articulated through the process that the material or object is subjected to. Who are the other Filipino artists we should have our eye on... Mac Valdezco, Juan Alcazaren, Lani Maestro. I've always liked their works. Mac and Juan for their magical handling of any found material and Lani for the intimate and lyrical mastery of space, words, materials. What are your upcoming projects and goals? Currently I'm helping set a new space called Calle Wright, which will focus on encouraging more research and writing about contemporary Filipino art. We plan to host writers, curators, academics for short term research residencies, hold public programs, conferences and the like. I am also hoping to do a small, intimate project in my friend's guest house in Malacca by the end of this year. Lastly, there are some spaces and institutions in Mexico that I really wish to develop a relationship with, hopefully I will have the chance to explore this next year.