Jill Paz Wants To Burn Fragments of Her Past Into Memory (and Balikbayan Boxes)

The Fil-Canadian U.S. citizen has found a way to piece together memories and images in The Past is a Foreign Country

by Gelo Dionora

It’s a Journey Back that I’m Always Taking (Balikbayan Box), 2015, cardboard box, 24”x18”x24”

To etch something on a surface may signify a desire to remember or to be remembered. It can also be an act of reclaiming a memory — whether ours or someone else’s, whether close or far away — protecting it from the throes of forgetting.

In The Past is a Foreign Country, Jill Paz turns the act of etching into a plea for permanence – by burning images into substrata, the multicultural artist leaves an indelible, unforgettable mark. Through this unorthodox method, she turns images into object survivors of the past. Paz clings on to the promise of remembrance amidst the experience of constant displacement and renovation, of salvaging heritage at the face of cultural loss.

Jill has the license to call three countries her home: she is a Canadian citizen, a permanent resident of the United States, and a natural citizen by birth in the Philippines. As an immigrant-citizen in these places, she has developed a sense of neutrality and perspective in each country. Rather than a cause for lament and exclusion (constant displacement, after all, is the antithesis of rootedness), Paz turns her fractured and fragmented life story into fuel for her art. The Past is a Foreign Country expresses Jill Paz’s interest in the cultural and architectural re-fashioning of the self, of how images traverse our visual and material culture.

Jill burns images onto her canvases by using a laser cutter, a device that translates a digital photograph into an etching. In the 8-foot “Untitled (After Hidalgo, Libertatem)’ (2015),” for example, she makes use of cardboard panels to present a phantasmic composition of a personal childhood memory and paintings inspired by the works of her great grand-uncle, the late Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo.

In a Journey Back That I’m Always Taking makes use of an interesting substratum—the balikbayan box. Overseas Filipinos who are unable to come back home send these packages filled with gifts in their stead. The one Paz used in particular is just as well-travelled (or displaced?) as the artist – it was originally shipped to the Philippines from Canada, and then shipped back to her address in Columbus, Ohio. The medium adds a layer of sentimentality to the work, as it implies a sense of distance and displacement. Photographic images of her family home are engraved on the LBC box, signifying an attempt to remember and return to familiar spaces.

Through this unorthodox way of creating art, Jill Paz expresses her longstanding artistic reconsideration of the idea of “painting.” Her method renders imperfect images—all bearing soft, imprecise outlines— that otherwise foster pleasing and unexpected aesthetic balance.

Untitled (After Hidalgo, Vulnera), 2015, etched cardboard, 36’’x48’’

 For all we know, those imperfections may remind us of the impossibility of complete remembrance or return; or, phrased positively, the possibility to reclaim a memory or heritage, however distant.

Installation view of After Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo (La Barca de Aqueronte), 2015, print on matte paper, 14.5’x11′ (174”x132”)

The Past is a Foreign Country is Jill Paz’s first solo exhibition in the Philippines and Archivo 1984’s inaugural exhibition in their new space, which will open August 31, 2017. The exhibit runs up to September 20, 2017.


Archivo 1984 is located at Pasillo 18, La Fuerza Compound (Gate 1), 2241 Chino Roces Ave., Makati City.