Leeroy New: Aliens of Manila
On ViewPintô International
March 9 – May 27, 2019
The Pintô International is an off-site initiative of the Pintô Art Museum located on the top floor of an Alphabet City apartment building. For Aliens of Manila: New York Colony, current resident Leeroy New fills the space with wearable “alien” sculptures (produced with both senses of the word in mind) which are composed of tools and materials used for domestic cleaning that he found in dollar stores and recycling centers around the Lower East Side. Scrub sponges, rubber baskets, feather dusters, and watering hoses are sewn into sculptures, put onto mannequins, expanding across the floor like extraterrestrial species which crawl up the walls to the ceiling.
The sprawling installation is the culmination of the artist’s sojourn amidst grassroots Latin communities and the skyrocketing gentrification of the Lower East Side. Dense with an unabashed color palette of low-cost plastic, items such as baskets or fly swatters are molded into various renderings of abstraction. Stripped of use and labor, their forms convey a sense of aesthetic that ridicules the demureness of abstraction with references to whimsy, such as the space helmets he created by attaching two colanders from their rims to elevate the otherworldly aura of the installation. With their voluptuous bases and sharp points, funnels are attached to dome-shaped colander/helmets letting Manhattan light through their cage-like surfaces in lieu of the usual kitchen sink water. Puffy multi-colored dish scrubs orchestrate a sea of circles, gleaming in pristine fashion far from the grease and grime that should otherwise cover their surface. Yellow and orange plastic baskets are suspended from the ceiling, mimicking the sun as it arcs across the sky, joined by flyswatters floating above the sculptures akin to roaming birds. In its current state, this cacophony of utilitarian objects refuses to cater to the mass production of unsustainable products but also to labor associated with domestic work. New, whose own mother, like many Filipinos in the United States and Europe, worked as a housekeeper in New York, proposes a land of color and form attained through unfamiliarity of familiar objects, often times overlooked and discarded.
The exchange between domestic and foreign circles back and overlays notions of the alien as new immigrant and alien as a species from another planet. The artist activated his wearable sculptures through a series of performances, in which performers put on New’s plastic shrouds and took over New York streets. The creatures, for which he coined the term OFW (Overseas Filipino Workers), wandered the city in dollar store item suits donned by mannequins throughout the show’s run, confronting public urban space with objects associated with domestic labor. “It became quite natural for me to shift my seemingly ‘masculine,’ formal sculpture training towards the increasingly queer fields of costuming and ‘dressing up,’ despite knowing nothing of sewing or pattern-making that the aforementioned disciplines traditionally require,” said New in an email. “The initial choice to ‘invade’ public urban spaces in Manila with these obviously displaced bodies is an extension of the people’s struggle to reclaim and occupy more and more the spaces that are meaningful to them.” Thus, the performances return the objects back to the East Village’s streets from kitchens and bathrooms, from overlooked laborers’ hands onto performers’ bodies—a celebration of resilience.