[VIDEO] INTERVIEW W/ Pacifico Silano

Beautifully re-appropriating vintage gay pornography....

For some people, the source material may be a little shocking, but your final products are very removed from its original intent. Could you explain the context behind it.

So  I was born at the height of the AIDS crisis and my uncle passed away from complications of HIV when I was three years old. And so when he died, it was kind of like he didn't exist in the family. So that's sort of eraser in my family history really, it became this catalyst for making new work that gave a voice to people like my uncle who were silenced and who were forgotten. I didn't have any pictures of my uncle,I  had to sort of think about how could I tell that story without pictures of him because there were no family photos after he died. I started to think a little bit broader. And so that's why I turned to images of vintage gay pornography because these are images that sort of informed his own identity growing up. When he was coming of age in the late seventies, early eighties.

So that's why I work predominantly with this material, it's kind of like a stand in portrait. It's the material that people like my uncle we're influenced by. I know it's kind of a twisted to be making these portraits relating it back to my dead uncle because it's pornography, There is something about it that does ring true to the gay experience and identity

I spent a lot of time thinking about the images and how they go out into the world, how they’re received. I mean pornography is such a fascinating thing for me because it's like my parents owned a porn store growing up. I have a different relationship to pornography. I don't ever talk about this nearly enough because I think that when I tell people that little tidbit, it makes a bit more sense with the work that I make. I don't know, for me it just sort of commerce, right? It's another industry. I'm not like, Ooh, it's porn. Like that's never really been something that I've thought of when I was making work from this. It just seemed very kind of natural. I guess that's why it's sort of weird that it started from pictures of my uncle, or the lack thereof. 

There's like this connection to something that's also very familial, you know? That was like my whole Undergrad thesis when I was in school. I was photographing my mom and my dad running a store that was meant to like sell romance and sex to like couples, as my parents were separating. So it was like this really strange juxtaposition of like my mom and my dad in an unhappy marriage selling like glass dildos to people and lingerie and I would come home from college like spring breaks and stuff and get put behind the counter to check people out at the register. And so my mom was like, you put people at Comfort. Women, women are very comfortable buying from you.

I have so many of these boxes, it's crazy. I've been looking at the same magazines. Like last weekend I was here, trying to make some images and it was just like complete creative block where I was like, man, I hate what I'm coming up with. I don't even know if I'm gonna be able to make anything this week. And then they came in and I just had been on a roll today. I've just been like, I've been shooting a ton of work, so it's been good.

Don't you wish you knew what you could do to make it like that? 

The thing is like, it's kinda crazy because I am thinking that I've hit like a roadblock or that I’ve done everything I possibly can with the material that I have. And then it turns out that there's actually something in here that I just hadn't seen at all. It was right in front of my eyes the whole time. You just have to laugh about it.

I'm really kind of crazy about this, how serious OCD I can get myself struck headache sometimes because I want the piece of paper to be completely perfect. And I know that doesn't always work that way, but I'll take like, I don't know, 20 photographs sometimes at the same thing, like in just variation where it's like something's off by like two centimeters. I'll try out looks, a couple more centimeters off. And then you're like, oh that makes all the difference. 

And it’s probably something only you could see yourself.

Yeah and you show someone else and they're like "Wjat the fuck is wrong with you?"

I'm very kind of methodical when I take a photograph. I don't really leave a lot of room for chance because what I'm doing is so particular that there has to be a little bit more regimented. Like I'm very interested in formalism, so I want the photographs to be very well considered when looking at them. 

The particular image I'm looking at today, It kind of reminds me of the renaissance painting of like a big bushy woman's vagina. So like looking at that today and I'm just thinking of like, wow, there's like this sort of art history kind of reference here in this photograph that is porn, gay vintage porn. So I've been working around that image today and seeing if there's some way I can elevate it and recontextualize it and sort of put it into the work that I'm currently making.  I'm always sort of finding these references. Right now I'm really interested in cowboys.I have like a ton of cowboy images that I've been making. So, um, it just happens that it's like a really cheesy archetype that happens a lot in these magazines. 

So these sort of mock ups of like masculinity, it's almost like drag performance by these gay men. Putting on these roles of like stereotypical machismo. The cowboy is like one of those archetypes that I've been exploring a lot in this residency. My current work that I've been making sort of tends towards these ideas of the American west and the kind of queering of that. It also sort of reminds me of the Village People cause it's like, you know, you have like the cowboy, you have the military man, you have the police officers, 

So I've been sort of playing with that, telling a very fine line between subverting and not quite reifying it. So that's been a challenge. I think the work is always open to interpretation and people are gonna see whatever they want to see in the work that I'm making. 

I sort of read it through a very specific lens, from a very specific, life experience. So from there, you know, whatever anybody gets is just kind of up to them. 

I've had this magazine now for three years. And I thought I made the image that I needed to make from this particular magazine. I found the collage or the juxtapositions of images next to one another and think that it's done. And then I'll come back to it. and I'll remember something that I've forgotten about. There's like a specific image that stood out to me at the time, but I couldn't quite figure out how to re appropriate it and then I'll come back to it. 

It's kind of amazing ‘cause it sort of speaks to the power of photography and working with other people's images. The infinite life a photograph can have. That's one of the most exciting things about the medium of photography. Whenever I think I'm done, I thought I've seen everything there is to see in these magazines, that I've had for years, that I've cut out and you know, rephotographed in all these different ways, I'll just sort of be paging through them, the same magazines and then see something I didn't see. And I don't know. I think that something that's really fascinating about the way we look at images and their power. And also kind of talks about time and how we read images through a different lens as time progresses. 

One thing that sort of has shifted in my work is that it was about loss, it was about longing, but there was sort of a desire. But so much of the work that I've been making in the last year, year and a half is about voids. It's about like this sort of melancholy feeling. I talk a lot about queer melancholy in my work and that's been the sort of ideas that I've been really doubling down on in my process. 

I think that there's like all these really amazing queer artists right now and a lot of them focus on the joy of being a queer person and making work that is like unabashedly happy. And I think that's amazing. I love seeing that work, but it's not who I am. And it's not the work that I respond to. I really like sad songs and like that kind of stuff. So a lot of my work sort of digs into those references of these sort of bittersweet moments. 'Cause they're all meditations on sort of life and death and sex, all the things you're not supposed to talk about over dinner table. Identity.