Silverlens founder Isa Lorenzo finds herself buying a house in 2015. Once the residence of her late aunt and a few doors down from her own childhood home it’s a relic of Malate’s heyday in the post-war era. She and co-founder Rachel Rillo don’t quite know what they’re going to do with it—not until conceptual artist Gary Ross Pastrana mentions that he’s always wanted to do a show in an old house. Months later, Singaporean artist Heman Chong finds out about the place and asks about it too.
“Okay,” says Lorenzo. “It’s going to be an arts house.” What an arts house is, exactly, was unclear at the time. But under the light of a scorching February afternoon three years later, it’s hard to find the words to describe what else Calle Wright could be. And that’s where the artists come in. Inaugural show Never is a Promise (yes, like the Fiona Apple song) is a two-man exhibition by Pastrana and Chong exploring both the possibilities of the space and their own past work—from the neglected and forgotten to the over-exhibited and exhausted.
The works, resurfacing in new contexts, dialogue not just with each other, but with the house itself. Many pieces are sighted from the corners of your eyes, set too high or too low, deliberately placed in the peripheries. Entering through the gate, you spy Chong’s reproductions of I WANT TO BELIEVE posters from The X-Files, plastered on the garden walls and exposed to the elements. Entering the house—restored by architect Ae Geli-Pastrana, with its original grilles, flooring, and jalousies maintained—there are two halves of a miniature bed whirring around the room on the floor and a backpack filled with fake money hanging right by the door, all by Pastrana. In the kitchen freezer, he places a lock made of actual ice—and next to the fridge, Chong paints a list of opposite actions on the wall.
“We didn’t really talk about it—Gary did his thing, I did my thing,” says Chong. “It came together in this way that it wasn’t about the curating of the show. We didn’t agree on anything. Literally, I arrived on Tuesday and I was like, “Okay, I want that wall.” I went out for lunch, and when I came back, there was this bird (an insecticide chalk drawing by Pastrana) on it already!”
The only real agreement they had was to display one of their most popular works. Pastrana’s iconic Stream, an abandoned boat found in Kyoto sawed into pieces and reassembled with glue, holds court in an upstairs bedroom with many of his smaller pieces. Residing in the room’s cabinet are a pile of red leaves made from dictionary pages, a replica of his own fist made of foam, and a book made entirely made of melted glue sticks. “I actually really enjoyed remaking some of these things,” he says. “Revisiting them, you know. It’s made me look at certain works from my own practice that revolve around living. Most of these are things you can find around the house, interpreted in a different way.”
Interestingly, the largest work in the entire show, composed of one million black business cards, is piled high in the tiniest room in the house. Chong’s Monument to the People We’ve Conveniently Forgotten (I hate you) deliberately refrains from giving instructions—which has resulted in visitors making snow angels, burying each other, and outright stealing business cards by the bag in the work’s iterations in other galleries. “We wanted to create a show that was quite open,” says Chong. “We had no system. There were no presumptions about what the show would be. It’s not about making the show: it’s about allowing it to reveal itself. And I think this is the true possibility of this house.”
Through the artworks’ new contexts and configurations, the experience isn’t just visual and cerebral, but experiential on the parts of both the visitor and even the artists—who aren’t given any instructions and get to choose the next artists to exhibit. Each show runs for three months, and the place is only open on weekends, probably the only time most visitors will have the time to make the journey through the nostalgia of Malate’s neighborhoods. “That’s the kind of place this is,” says Lorenzo. “It’s like slow food, slow cooking: slow art. There’s like this whole ecosystem here, and it’s so contained and connected to the space. It’s very organic, absolutely freewheeling—back to the spirit of why people make art.”
‘Never is a Promise’ runs from February 27 to May 26 at Calle Wright, 1890 Vasquez St, Malate, Manila.