Pacifico Silano, After Silence, Stellar Projects, 2018. Courtesy of the artist and Stellar Projects
On ViewStellar Project
June 28 – July 27, 2018
Absent are bodies in Pacifico Silano’s After Silence, yet this absence leaves a haunting presence in what remains. The artist, who only photographed magazines he personally culled over the years, was given access to former Whitney curator Richard Marshall’s collection of gay pornography, donated to NYU Fales Library following Marshall’s passing in 2014. From leather daddies to Americana and foaming beaches, all that is dear to queer life permeates from the pages, not excluding euphoria, endurance, and death. In these works, Silano looks away from the bodies pervaded by carnality to discover the world surrounding them: roadsides, hay farms, back alleys, or the San Francisco skyline. The artist acknowledges the responsibility of interpreting an archive not collected by himself, discovering uncharted territories of his material within technical and dramatic extents of photography. Unoccupied and meditative corners of his images substitute for sexual and narrative implications of bodies, refrained from sight, yet implied in impact.
The Meat Rack (all works 2018) centers on a cowboy hat resting on a wooden branch; it is the sole hint of human presence in the otherwise unoccupied scene. Neither the owner of the hat nor the reason for hanging it on a tree are evident, leaving the viewer to mediate on a fractured narrative. Under The Hood shows a pick-up truck parked on a dusty road, its hood pitched open as if the vehicle had broken down. A crumpled garment on the edge of the engine compartment suggests a partially nude body elsewhere, but it’s not in the frame. To a knowing reader, a man with a broken vehicle in need of help in a foreign town is a perfect porn backstory. However, kink is all in the eyes of the beholder.
Sexuality is occasionally implied: a silhouette reflects onto sun-filled tiles in At Sunset; a hand lifts up a pocket-size mirror behind a wooden door in Untitled (Mirror). Silano’s competence over a vast pool of imagery bears intricately-orchestrated shots, arranged meticulously enough to ignite curiosity and composition, at the same time, leaving the viewer room for imagination as well as reflection. The exhibition title aims to trigger us—those proceeding the Stonewall riots and the surge of AIDS pandemic—against the comfort of taking our liberties for granted. Through a direct reference to the Silence=Death collective and their influence on queer solidarity, the works ponder a legacy still in the making. What rests beyond silence is in Silano’s shots of the periphery—walls, skies, or trees witness sex experienced not only carnally, but also politically. Deprived of the explicit imagery, the viewer is prompted to question the victories and losses of queer emancipation.
Silano’s camera espouses its subject matter, elevating the blemishes on decades-old spreads and embracing their physicality as books. The body of the page is handled with delicacy and affection. The artist emphasizes the negative space and tactility of the paper to remind his audience of the reality of his subjects. The lenient relationship between his lens and periodicals results in a nuanced appreciation of their corporealities and intellectual properties. Coming from dusty boxes in attics or deep corners of closets, they are torn, folded and put aside, yet here to resist the fickle present.