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Newsflash: We Need to Talk About Art—and Artist Patty Eustaquio Is Leading the Conversation

“I grew up at a time when you had to entertain yourself. If you were bored, you didn’t have an iPad, so we made a lot of things ourselves,” artist Patricia Perez “Patty” Eustaquio shares. She recalls having three sets of encyclopedias for kids, which showed her how to make all sorts of things, from fans to puppets. So from the time they were children, she and her siblings would make their own toys. “And of course our parents would also encourage us to read. We read a lot, and I guess we discovered art through reading—even through educational shows.”

Eustaquio’s father was a pilot, who started flying with Philippine Airlines when she was 11. This gave her access to one of the most precious privileges of all: travel. Their family got to fly for free. Whenever they tagged along on his trips, they would go with him to the museums. “I guess we were exposed to art a lot. And then of course, in school you draw. And if you excel, your teachers encourage you. I guess that was me. But I didn’t think I would be an artist until I was in my late teens.”

Eustaquio took art history and painting at the University of the Philippines, and began her practice as soon as she finished her studies in 2001. Today, she has been invited all over the world to showcase her work.

Exhibiting in Paris

Her latest exhibit, as of this writing, took place at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris last June. She tells us it’s one of the most exciting spaces in Europe, and is definitely the largest. “The building itself is really beautiful, so a lot of artists who showcase there can really make work that is specific to the architecture and history of the space. It’s very exciting in that sense.”

Her work That Mountain is Coming was based on a project done in the Netherlands by a group of Dutch people. “It’s a flat country and was originally below sea level. The only reason they’re above sea level now is because they dumped land on it so that they would be above water. It’s really a feat of engineering. In recent times, they had this group who made a proposal to build an artificial mountain, just so the Netherlands wouldn’t be a flat country. And it sort of went with my idea of how the machinery or the cycle of consumerism is like.”

“We like fashionable things,” Eustaquio continues. “We are attracted to things that are current. We buy them. We accumulate all these objects—and then we throw them away. So basically we are just surrounding ourselves with stuff. My idea was that I would focus on the ignored aspects, or the byproducts of production.”

In art production per se, Eustaquio was looking at the likes of leftover paint and paper. She walked over to one of her cupboards to retrieve a clump of leftover paint from three paintings, setting it on the table before us. It was about the size of a fist. “Like this,” she said. “I photographed them. I translated them into drawings in graphite and made a large-scale installation out of these drawings. It’s like building mountains out of very small debris.”

For Eustaquio, her art practice revolves around questioning our tastes and opinions about aesthetics. Through her work, she tries to investigate why we like and dislike certain things. She shares that she has always been interested in what is out of fashion, or things that people tend to ignore or don’t necessarily consider art. She is especially drawn towards themes that are no longer relevant in the zeitgeist of contemporary art.

“I investigate why we don’t like still lifes. People don’t put value in still life anymore. They think it’s this very provincial form of art. Why is it that people are now looking more at abstract, minimal art, which is a continuation of a movement from a hundred years ago, and they still think it’s super current. They’ve completely ignored things like still life landscape, thinking it’s out of fashion,” she explains the thought behind her practice.

The art scene in the Philippines

No matter where she showcases around the world, Eustaquio remains a staunch believer in our own. 

“The Philippine art scene is very interesting because it’s very dynamic. There’s a strong market in the Philippines that drives art production, so you have very, very young artists coming into the scene,” she shares. But Eustaquio also observes that it is still immature, as there is not much critical dialogue going on. “It’s mostly about commercial exhibition rather than critical discourse. There aren’t a lot of art reviews.”

That being said, she isn’t one to despise commercialized art events like the annual art fair. Eustaquio believes that everything is important in its own way. And despite what artists may complain about, like commercialism, all of these factors contribute to what makes art move and develop.

“The art fair is good because it actually brings in a lot of foreign interest to the country,” she says. “A lot of foreign curators come and visit our studios, and that’s how people like me get invited to shows abroad. And then of course there’s that large, huge audiece from Manila. A lot of young people, a lot of mall crowds go there. The art fair brings in around 15,000 people in one day, which is great. It’s difficult because right now the space is really small. It’s very hard to see the work. But at the same time, you have people recognizing different expressions of the art object, and they realize that this can be art, or that can be art. It’s a good form of education.”

Eustaquio strongly believes in our artistic sensibilities. “The Filipinos are super creative!” she is quick to say, without missing a beat. “We have a very long psychological history of making do, being a poor country—making do with whatever resources and material we have access to. In that sense, the Filipinos are innately resourceful, and resourcefulness is one of the most important aspects of being creative. That’s where you find space to make things. And because we live in such a chaotic environment, there’s just so much to play around with.”

But we definitely have our challenges set before us, if we want to move forward. Culturally we don’t like to talk about things. And once somebody starts to speak in a serious tone, other people are quick to judge that person as being pretentious. “I think we have to get over that,” Eustaquio says. “Art can be playful, but it is also a serious conversation. And it’s a serious conversation we all have to have.”

She also understands that many artists are hesitant to talk about their art, because for them, they’re already talking about it through their work. But at the same time, she still believes that conversations among artists, curators, and collectors should be developed. “Because it’s nice to look at art in terms of just aesthetics. You can say this is pretty, this is not. I love this color, for example. I love this composition. But it’s also very important to ask why. Why choosing a certain color makes sense for a particular work, and not for another. Even things as simple as that. We need to start having more critical conversations, because we also have to learn how to discern which directions we’re going and how to develop. It’s boring if you keep making the same thing.”


Article originally published in Metro Society's August 2016 issue / Photographs by JC Inocian / Minor edits have been made for Metro.Style