The Social Life of Minimalism: Yason Banal
This interview with Yason Banal was conducted throughout the first quarter of 2014.
Congratulations on the recently concluded exhibition at the Drawing Room in Singapore, and a current one at the Vargas Museum, can you tell us more about your work for these exhibitions?
The first work at the Drawing Room exhibition Powers That Be was The Social Life of Minimalism (Bankers Banquette), a glass cube made from the crushed wine and champagne bottles consumed during the annual Bankers' Night party held at the Central Bank of the Philippines and Metropolitan Museum of Manila. The second work was The Ethnographic Style of Abstraction (Haute Tribe Meme), an editioned digital file of a pattern that will show up in forthcoming works, including the one at the Vargas Museum right now.
The Vargas Museum’s A Blank Stare Dear Abstract is an ongoing exploration of abstraction and documentary, social sculpture and design culture. Works include abstracted documentary images via zooming in, slow downloading and opening up in an incompatible format; Google search result for “abstract painting”; a neon hyperlink indicating a wall painting-peeling effect tutorial; and a wall text referring to an archive of cumshots as well a post-Beuysian platitude “Everyone Wants To Be An Artist”. There is also a triptych of Super 8 films of the Art Fair openings in Hong Kong, Singapore and Manila; languorous portraits of male figures (artists, soldiers, diplomat, art collector, student); and a screen povera of evicted bamboo, aged and laser-cut leather, neon light, commercial tarpaulin, spray paint, indigenous textile, genre painting and lo-fi lullaby.
2. Looking back in the past year, the exhibition you curated in Hong Kong is sort of a big deal, a select number of films by Andy Warhol are on exhibit for the first time in Southeast Asia, can you tell us more about this project with Geralyn Huxley? What was the reception in Hong Kong like, how was the programmed discussion?
Hello It's Me, Goodbye: Andy Warhol's Cinema was an exhibition I curated with the assistance of Geralyn Huxley for the Osage Art Foundation and the Andy Warhol Museum. It attempted to focus on the influential artist’s seminal motion pictures - from his Structuralist masterpieces Empire, Sleep and Kiss to conceptual experiments in portraiture such as Screen Tests, Blow Job and Outer and Inner Space, as well as explorations into narrative, celebrity and archive via Imitation of Christ, Factory Diaries and Chelsea Girls. The installation Silver Clouds, traversing cinema and sculpture, performance and philosophy, hovered above the exhibition.
The support from both institutions as well as the public was excellent, a very productive exercise in generosity, criticality and play. It was great to show Warhol's films in an exhibition context, a first in Southeast Asia, and be able to discuss their impact on cinema, visual arts and contemporary culture via the filmed event Talkers that featured Andy Warhol Museum director Eric Shiner, artists Cao Fei and Ming Wong, curator Cosmin Costinas, academic Giorgio Biancorosso, Sandy Ma of Christie's and Hong Kong Film Festival's Roger Garcia. The talk was enlightening and provocative, the party fun too.
3. It seems that your work has a lineage in dealing with strategies which links or triggers suppressed associations, can you let us know how this has slowly evolved? When did you (or others) realize this about your works, and where has it taken you to?
I am always intrigued by systems and their workings, and possible and perverse constellations around them. Ideas, materials and contexts are both exciting and frustrating, though almost always inspire me to explore things and be fine with certain uncertainties and wrongness. I don't know where the practice will exactly take me, hopefully somewhere with some good shade.
4. Amongst performance, installation, photography, video and text - what did you find yourself consistently exploring? What are you exploring now?
I play with various media pretty much in equal measure yet awkward relation, and am interested in them as evocative and critical qualifiers. The performative, sculptural, photographic and textual, as much as the social, formal, conceptual and historical are materials to work with, involving process and research (hard and soft), experimentation and implementation.
5. Going to your exhibition at the Cultural Center, mo_space, Finale and Blanc, do you think they are linked somehow? How has institutional critique come to play? How is it relevant to Manila?
The shows are somehow linked, as they were all though in varying ways trial modes of art production, display and valuation, and the possible suppressed ties among the formal, the economic, the institutional and the social. The Mo Space exhibition was a déjà vu of mixed signals, a mélange of past works and artworks-gifts given to me by artist-friends. For the Finale Art Gallery exhibition Strike Anyspace Whatever Trading I solicited and exhibited essays (embossed on the gallery wall in solid colors) by curators including Adriano Pedrosa, June Yap and Agung Jenong, as well as original artworks by artists such as Assume Vivid Astro Focus, Matthieu Laurette, Chicks on Speed, Jordan Wolfson, Heman Chong and Lee Auginaldo. I also invited a foreign gallery to emblazon its huge logo on the host gallery’s wall in return for financial assistance. The CCP exhibition A Reading of Brightness Dark Clouds Surrounding displayed documents related to the Metropolitan Museum's White Cube gallery for rent, portraits of 13 beautiful male artists (in lieu of the CCP 13 Artists) and the designer shirts they wore encased in Donald Judd-like "specific objects," Super 8 film footage of the renovation of the former Senate Hall inside the National Museum, an original artwork by Damien Hirst guarded by CCP security, and neon and scraped vinyl text from a commissioned work at the first Art Fair Philippines. Small financial assistance was provided by 3 Philippine senators. The Blanc exhibition Intercontinental Event Things included (molotov) cocktails based on ROYGBIV colors, large format photographs of former Dutch-colonial houses-turned-outlet stores, a Sol Le Witt "primary structure" with exact same dimensions but in faux kamagong pastel finish and utilised as support for various art and theory books, photographs of Mark Rothko and Daniel Buren-like abstractions that were actually close-ups of dress shirts by fashion houses Balenciaga and YSL, 4 glass cubes made from crushed liquor bottles from various 5-star hotel New Year's Eve parties, and a video of 1 cube being auctioned at Christie's and another video of 2 Warhol doppelgangers going around Frieze Art Fair and eating bananas at the Regent Hotel in London. A keen and humorous interest in institutions, powers and forms - their histories, economies, aesthetics and agendas – can prove useful in exploring the tangled funny networks of the art world and society, its performers and markers, framing devices and off-screen narratives.
6. You've mentioned that you are currently exploring the world wide web for a recent project, can you expound on this?
Recently I’ve purchased a few domains, one of which is an artworld xxx site that Christie’s auctioned off last year. The site is both graphos and vacui, document and abstraction, a marked but empty site under development, made available for browsing, bidding and speculation just because it is there. The website’s HD video trailer is already done and currently on exhibit at the Vargas Museum and the Metropolitan Museum next month. The studio-space is another link. Upcoming offshoots include performance paintings, video tutorials, objects and a chapbook.
7. You are an artist, teacher and curator, and a former columnist and director of a film center - how do you position yourself amongst these roles, what are you most comfortable in?
I think all these roles are part of artistic practice – they employ certain methods, forms, timelines and frameworks that are important to creativity and criticality, aesthetics and ethics, and the slippages, pleasures, failures and insights that exist among them. I am comfortable with a certain multi-valence, which means the working process can also be very stressful and complicated, engaging with the many and particular concerns of a project or a situation. Many artists I find compelling straddle different worlds and lead interesting lives and still somehow maintain a generous and imaginative singularity as well as a patient and complex body of work.