One of Europe’s top contemporary art museums puts a Filipino in the spotlight

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Patricia Perez Eustaquio’s “That Mountain is Coming” recently opened at the first level of Palais de Tokyo, one of Europe's most prestigious art museums. Photo by ISABEL SANTOS

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — On June 23, Patricia Perez Eustaquio’s “That Mountain is Coming” opened in the Palais de Tokyo, a premiere contemporary art space in Paris, France. Occupying the Métopes, one of the Palais de Tokyo’s spaces on its first level, Eustaquio’s drawings take on a life of their own — an organic combination of discarded detritus and delicate flowering blooms, rendered in soft graphite and blown up, appearing to consume the panels they’re set against.

“That Mountain is Coming” is a site-specific work, and is a part of “Emerging talents from emerging countries,” the institution’s program set up in partnership with the Total Corporate Foundation to promote the art scenes in Southeast Asia.

Over email with CNN Philippines Life, Eustaquio — who is also one of the 12 artists participating in the Singapore Art Biennale this October — discussed her project, what went into its themes and imagery, and its journey to the Parisian art space. Below are edited excerpts from the interview.

patty eustaquio A view of Patrica Perez Eustaquio's work at the first level of Palais de Tokyo in Paris, France. Photo by ISABEL SANTOS  

How did this project come about and how long did you prepare for it? What was it like to have your work commissioned for such a major art space in Paris?

Late last year, a curator from the Palais de Tokyo, Daria de Beauvais, came to Manila to explore the art scene here as well as meet some artists. Earlier that year, they had offered a residency grant to emerging artists from the Philippines and had chosen Lou Lim for a 10-month residency in Paris. Both are part of a larger project of the Palais de Tokyo, through the Total Corporate Foundation, to include more artists from Southeast Asia into the institution’s program.

Daria was tasked to look for an artist from the Philippines they could commission for a site-specific installation. And about a month later, I was invited to go to Paris to discuss the project and see the space.

I was, of course, very thrilled and honored to have been invited. It is, after all, my first solo project at an institution. And Palais de Tokyo is one of the best contemporary centers in Europe. It has always had a great, diverse program, and I was keen on applying myself and making something that would work for the space.

Basically I had about four months to prepare for the project from start to shipping. And because of the scale of the work required for the space assigned to me, I really had to make the most of the four months.

patty eustaquio In "That Mountain is Coming," the artist explores the afterlife of discarded art materials: leftover paint, paper, and so on, which she had photographed in black and white and then translated into drawings. Photo from PALAIS DE TOKYO  

Tell us more about “That Mountain is Coming.” Was it an easy decision to incorporate the space in the pieces, in such scale? What made you decide to use graphite as your major medium over paint or something more sculptural?

“That Mountain is Coming” explores the man-made landscape, the accumulation of objects that make up our visual culture, but instead of focusing on the obvious, I wanted to look into the other side of object- or art-making. I used the discards and detritus from art practice and used these as the images for the landscape. These are images of the trash brought about by art practice: leftover paint, paper, and so on, which I had photographed in black and white and then translated into drawings.

I’ve been using graphite to translate the images because I like the idea of using dust to draw dust. And I use a very soft graphite that can achieve a true black without any of the silvery sheen because I wanted these drawings to be as much about the images as they are about this black dust.

I approach work from an object-making point of view, so even the drawings are objects to me. (Or I see them as objects.) It was a curatorial decision for my works to be a continuation of this idea and it was a challenge to problem-solve how these drawings would fit into the Métopes.

When I visited the Palais in January, I was also shown photos of other artists’ works that were incorporated into the Métopes, which are four architectural recessed frames in the walls within perhaps the most used gallery of the Palais. After I saw it for myself, Daria and I agreed that it would be better if I went beyond the frames and tried something more organic, which is how I ended up making several drawings on shaped panels and then assembling them into these organic forms that crawl from frame to frame. I suppose in one way, it was an attempt at making this landscape more “natural” given its inorganic subject matter. Also, there’s this suggestion of movement, of a tide and ebb of form, or fragmenting of object or image and landscape to suggest that it is part of something bigger, that mountain that is coming.

patty eustaquio The Palais de Tokyo, in Paris, France is dedicated to modern and contemporary art. Patricia Perez Eustaquio's "That Mountain is Coming" is part of the institution's "Emerging talents from emerging countries" program. Photo by ISABEL SANTOS  

When did you start exploring the juxtaposition of and relationship between floral imagery and entropy? Is it something you think you will continue to work on?

I think after sorting through a lot of ideas when I was younger, I realized that I was interested in things that were ignored or out of fashion. Looking at contemporary art, there are certain aesthetics and modes of presentation that are clearly popular with audiences, and hence can be arguably labeled as fashionable. Of course, it is more prudent to call it “zeitgeist," and of course, this is again, arguably, a superficial observation. But I didn’t want to be part of that. I wanted to explore forms that would question such popularity and taste, which is how I ended up where I am, I suppose: making forms that can border on baroque, painting carcasses and flowers and trash. It stems from this fascination with the question of how the still life came to be frowned upon, how craft was almost a dirty word only thrown in the company of Sunday painters. This is the world I wanted to explore. How did we come to this point of looking down at still lifes, or placing craft and design in the lowest rungs of “art?” Can we look at them another way?

To answer it more directly, still lifes are memento mori — and I wanted to take another look at this long disused theme.

What are the themes, questions, or ideas you are planning on exploring in the future?

More of the same. The marginalized are many and there’s still so much to explore. For the Singapore Biennale in October, I have been researching on the idea of the orchid hunter, and how in the 19th century and early 20th century, so many naturalists risked their lives, were maimed or killed, just to hunt for orchids in the wild. It is interesting because orchids are a huge family of flowering plants, with thousands of natural species. But they could be so tiny and quite camouflaged with their bestial markings and forms that there was a real mad frenzy to find the rarest ones. And yet today, there are thousands and thousands of hybrids everywhere in the world. Again, I suppose, it is my interest on attention: Who gets it and who doesn’t, and make us ask ourselves why?

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"That Mountain is Coming" is on display at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, France, until Sept. 11, 2016.