BY FIEL ESTRELLA
PHOTOGRAPHS BY NIKKI BONUEL
Working on an exhibit revolving around mostly abandoned or forgotten artwork seemed like a natural progression for Gary-Ross Pastrana. The Filipino artist known for culture-conscious yet subtle works that explore the line between concept and context as well as structure and system is one of two collaborators on “Never is a Promise” at Calle Wright in Malate, the other being Singapore-based Heman Chong. Pastrana is also a curator and artistic mentor, but throughout his introductory tour of the show, he consistently refers to himself as an “object-maker,” adding: “Sometimes I also think about [how or] why I make things.” Like Chong, Pastrana had no set process for selecting the artwork to be featured in the show other than ensuring it was overlooked. For this exhibit, he went through his archives and lined up his collection for show-and-tell.
“I started thinking about things that relate to the house,” he says, gesturing to an unzipped backpack that’s been haphazardly put up against one wall. Gazing at it, he observes, “You don’t really know if it’s part of the show or not.” Such ambiguities and seamless incorporations of art into the mid-century home-turned-art space would soon prove to be common themes in Pastrana’s contributions to “Never is a Promise.” The backpack, for the record, is both an art object and an ordinary item—but it has never been “just a backpack.” His mother-in-law had been a victim of robbery via hypnosis, falling victim to the belief that in exchange for jewelry and other valuables, she would be receiving a bag full of cash. But the backpack contained only pieces of paper. Pastrana bought the offending item for $100, also as a way to alleviate his mother-in-law’s loss. But as a prop-maker for movies, he saw something else in the bag: “[I realized] how props and objects define value.”
The artist, Gary-Ross Pastrana
Hourglass, by Pastrana
Several other objects of Pastrana’s can be found drawn directly on the walls with insecticide chalk (every parent’s nightmare), strewn about on the floor, and even in a working freezer in the kitchen, evoking a certain intimacy and familiarity. In one room, a small monitor can be found displaying a perpetually blue screen, unplugged. A modern addition to museums and galleries for a more interactive experience, but it proves to be yet another prop.
The Open Sea, by Pastrana
“People were looking for the DVD player,” Pastrana laughs. “I realized I [didn’t] really have anything to show. I’m only seduced by the idea of technology and having a monitor occupy the whole space.” The piece, however realistic-looking, is actually a high-class art project: a found plastic container dressed up to resemble a screen with childhood art materials (a folder, aluminum foil, and pen caps) and fluorescent light.
Meanwhile, The Open Sea, a product of Pastrana’s 2003 residency in Bangkok, is a particular crowd favorite. It is a miniature bed, cut in half to symbolize sunlight filtering through the windows, each half hiding little wheels that allow it to move around the room and make buzzing noises.
For a while, Pastrana decided to show photographs of his work instead of the objects themselves, which would remain in the studio. One such work is Hourglass, which features a lock made of ice—the most temporary of forms, adding depth and poignance due to its ability to melt and disappear. That lock now sits inside Calle Wright’s refrigerator, sometimes surrounded by beer bottles. “I think it plays into how I see myself as a prop-maker,” Pastrana explains. “These things are only meant to be seen [from one side].”
Chong previously observed that Pastrana tends to extend parts of his body into his work, which is clearly visible in a small chunk of plastic shaped like the artist’s thumb, created using a melted ruler. Measurements, Pastrana points out, are precise, but when he was younger, his father would tell him to use his thumb to measure an inch. “I started thinking about how measurements before were related to the body,” he says. “An approximation [in lieu of] precision. So I decided to melt a ruler into the shape of my thumb.”
Stream, by Pastrana
Pastrana adds that the piece also has a lot to do with parts of us being able to stand on their own—a concept better illustrated in his centerpiece and most-exhibited work, the Stream, a collapsible, full-size boat found in Kyoto. Cut up into numbered pieces, it had been sent piece by piece to Korea. It was then reassembled by someone who had never even seen the original boat, only going by the numbers as guides. The work, which Pastrana notes has “slowly [disintegrated]” over time, has been shown in various states of assembly.
In the master bedroom, the Stream is joined by music Pastrana had created, looping from an iPad Mini, as well as a lamp prototype that takes its shape from a scale model of a gallery in Singapore—a shape Pastrana has also used to create chairs. On the other side of the room is a literal cabinet of curiosities, with items ranging from found objects, a broken VHS tape, a gritty army helmet transformed into a disco ball, more miniatures, and a pile of torn-up dictionary pages, which Pastrana says is a favorite of his.
A book made entirely of glue sticks and is therefore completely impossible to open takes up shelf space all on its own. On another shelf, a Rubik’s cube has been fashioned out of rubber erasers, which Pastrana says is another temporary form. “I really like the part where you need to disarrange the colors in order to solve it again,” he adds. “It’s an integral part of the process.”
This trait can also be found in his art itself: “I like things that you can break apart and then easily reassemble. Forms that are, in a way, temporal, but also [have] an iconic quality [to them].” “My work is always like that,” Pastrana declares. “It’s not a particular object—it’s just this idea of [it]. I just know enough of what [that object] is to be able to recreate it and make something that will be understandable.”
“Never is a Promise” is open to the public until May 26, 2018, at Calle Wright, located at 1890 Vasquez Street, Malate, Manila.