by Patrick D. Flores
Ged Merino’s foray into the art scene in the eighties was fairly straightforward. After art school, he began to participate in group exhibitions within and outside the country to present his art together with peers; he also traveled to study. His experiments with medium, technique, and surface might have germinated in his engagement with printmaking on textile. Merino owed this passage to Manuel Rodriguez, Jr. whom he considers his mentor in New York. He shuttled between painting and printmaking, and between the two lay the surface of textile. To some extent, textile spoke to the material dispositions of the said disciplines. On the one hand, the ground of textile seems to require ornamentation by way of painting. On the other, it is meant to be reproduced. And so, the decorative and the reprographic condensed in Merino’s work in printmaking on textile.
This was a consciousness honed in the art world, one that prospered in the process of invention and innovation. There was a more primordial impulse, however, that led Merino to textiles. And it morphed at home. According to him: “My mother repurposed old fabrics; she would stitch, dye, and embroider, then make them into our house clothes or pajamas. She never saw herself as a creative person or an artist; it was a way of life. Her family grew up in the in the culture of repair, repurposing, and recycling.”
In tracing Merino’s arc of object making, therefore, it is productive to probe the more intimate impetus. Textile here becomes a realm of memory in which the artist weaves his biography with his art history through a material that threads through seemingly separate, even disparate, worlds. Inflecting this mode of making that significantly shaped his creative habits was his training in art school, the site perhaps where he learned to value the risks of mingling media to offer new forms and to think about the implications of both technology and the art that it yields. These two matrices of formation were crucial in enhancing the acumen of Merino. And this engagement and sympathy with painting, printmaking, and textile would serve him well in his future endeavors.
A turning point in his career was 2009. In his recollection, he spoke of scarcity: “When I resigned from my day job…I realized I did not have money for store-bought materials. Not having the cash flow I had to re-evaluate and look around. I looked into my closet and found shoes, clothes, and other things that I kept over the years. Living in New York City nearly half of my lifetime, I accumulated things and objects reminiscent of home. A realization came to me after spending several years in Manila working on projects, triggering an immediate reconnection with my roots and culture – most strikingly the contrast between poverty and waste. Fascinated with the questions of why we buy and hold on to things, and why we throw some away, discarded materials eventually became my focus.”
We glean from this account of the artist the elements of his repertoire. First there is the miscellany through a gathering of belongings. Second there is the mixture of discrepant things. Then finally there is the procedure of bundling them together, of stuffing, of binding wth a certain punctiliousness. This multiplicity is not far away from printmaking. The ornamentation brought about by sheer variety and incongruity among artifacts may well be a painterly effect. But the third moment is the installation of sculptural fiber structures that crosses the gaps across painting, printmaking, and textile.
Merino continues to articulate the basis of his forms: “Currently, I use personal belongings and objects discarded by other people, a way of collecting artifacts from people’s lives, and repurposing materials into my artistic process. It is almost like archiving sentimentality.” In the end, he is haunted by possession and disposal. By reclaiming objects from nostalgia and waste, he restores in it a historical process referencing the different ecologies that have hewn it.
For this exhibition, he pursues the anxiety of personal history that is also his art history. The node in this network of material affinities across the years is the nexus between Manila, Bogota, and New York. In his own words: “We temporarily moved to Bogota Colombia, and while my studio was in New York, I took with me to Manila household objects I had in my studio and home in New York. I also brought with me found objects that reminded me of my neighborhood and New York. Discarded sweaters, gloves, and other clothes, especially abandoned bicycle parts some still chained to the posts and broken umbrellas that litter the streets after a downpour. And if I could not bring them, I purchased similar objects in junk shops here.” This is the initial articulation of the project: a transposition of experiences made possible by migration and settlement. And it is largely realized through the contact between fiber work and photography. At this point, print, textile, and image conspire to muster a collage, an artistic achievement that may well be a beginning of something new for the artist or a re-encounter with previous preoccupations with intermedia.
Then comes an elaboration: “I also am fascinated with some jeepney doors I see in the streets here in Manila, which however are not available for the taking. I had them fabricated. I guess in some way abandoned bicycles and jeepneys are/were objects of transport, like transitory sculptures and their momentary existence in some way is similar to my ambivalent state I am right now as I shuttle between New York, Bogota, and Manila. I somehow absorb all the energy and the visual stimulation each city emits yet on the other hand feels a sense of displacement.” This instance refers to the ambivalence of a migrant’s presence in a place that seems to move like vessel, like the jeepney, which on its own tells a history of transformations from wartime vehicle to popular public transport.
All this stirs up the energy that pulsates in Merino’s figures and plots out an environment. It seems that his his stuff and his contraptions are secure and assured in their places. But then again, we see the rough edges that threaten the density. The ties that bind his works are the same ties that give way in the nervousness of constant passage from site to site. The unease may be discerned in the hybridity of the sculptures in which living and machine forms contrive mutant creatures; or in how delicate personal photographs graft onto bricolage that resembles cocoons and pieces of luggage; or how industrial junk cohabits with very vulnerable filaments of fabric. These tensions spin the very fiber of Merino’s art.