Two standing fans face off in a boxing ring; delicate boxing glove hang as if ready for battle; three step ladders balance precariously—these are some of the object-based narratives Sherwin Rio creates in his work. Mundane objects are recontextualized to highlight the complexities of Filipino-American identities, experiences, and histories. The artist uses these readymades as "visual metaphors to re-position mis-visibility."

FOOTWORK is an eight-foot by eight-foot boxing ring that's made out of bamboo, rope, and fans. I was thinking very much about the footwork of boxing, tied with the footwork of the Filipino dance of Tinikling, that I participated in as a high schooler, and the kinds of dance that we have to do in society, navigating interpersonal relationships. And standing in for fighters, I included two fans that trade blows. So whenever I start the piece, the fans are synchronized to move left and right. But over time, they start to go out of sync, but they always come in and out of sync. There's a tension there.

I'm using the readymade object as this contextual device, but I'm reframing that to broaden that context even further.

GLOVES is a pre-embroidered piña jusi fabric-sculpture. The fabric is used in a ceremonial menswear shirt from the Philippines—one that I grew up wearing here in the States called the Barong Tagalog. I've recontexualized the fabric and turned it into gloves, into boxing gloves. Thinking of the footwork of boxing and the coordination that goes into sizing up an opponent, but they're actually futile as fighting devices because they are so light and airy. There still remains a ceremonial quality to them so that the viewer can understand that this fight is not a fight for the hands or the body, as much as it is a conceptual fight.

 

 

INADEQUACIES OF HEIGHT is sculpture made out of found step ladders of various heights that I stacked together to create the visual metaphor of a larger step ladder. Like GLOVES, it's a futile object. You can't actually use the step ladder because it's so precarious. With that piece, I was thinking very much of Filipino-American history–especially in California–thinking about the ways the bachelor society of Filipino men had to navigate American society. And the kinds of ways they would have to climb social ladders, or being not able to climb the social ladder.

So we're talking about the bachelor society that came here in the early 1900s and had poor conditions, poor wages, and excruciating labor. But that's how they had to navigate society, and they often did it with style.

2018. Site-specific bamboo, rope, and wire installation at Fort Mason Pier 2 SFAI Campus, 4 1/2 x 3 1/2 x 27 1/2 feet. Photographed by Marco David Castaneda.

IN THEORY AND PRACTICE

Rio explores similar themes in his scholarship, recently completing his masters thesis on Filipino-American artist, curator, and teacher Carlos Villa (1936–2013). Rio analyzed Villa’s artwork through “methodologies of camouflage and prankster comedy” to illustrate a theory of “Filipino American misvisibility—the tactical obfuscation of its history, culture, and society.” In doing so, Rio continues Villa’s groundbreaking work in Filipino American art research, archiving, and artmaking. "Carlos Villa has taught me many things about art," says Rio. "There’s an inspiration to uplift, to be generous, and to be active. I find in those ways, he provides a context for my work."

IN THEORY AND PRACTICE

Rio explores similar themes in his scholarship, recently completing his masters thesis on Filipino-American artist, curator, and teacher Carlos Villa (1936–2013). Rio analyzed Villa’s artwork through “methodologies of camouflage and prankster comedy” to illustrate a theory of “Filipino American misvisibility—the tactical obfuscation of its history, culture, and society.” In doing so, Rio continues Villa’s groundbreaking work in Filipino American art research, archiving, and artmaking. "Carlos Villa has taught me many things about art," says Rio. "There’s an inspiration to uplift, to be generous, and to be active. I find in those ways, he provides a context for my work."

2018. Site-specific bamboo, rope, and wire installation at Fort Mason Pier 2 SFAI Campus, 4 1/2 x 3 1/2 x 27 1/2 feet. Photographed by Marco David Castaneda.

IN THEORY AND PRACTICE

Rio explores similar themes in his scholarship, recently completing his masters thesis on Filipino-American artist, curator, and teacher Carlos Villa (1936–2013). Rio analyzed Villa’s artwork through “methodologies of camouflage and prankster comedy” to illustrate a theory of “Filipino American misvisibility—the tactical obfuscation of its history, culture, and society.” In doing so, Rio continues Villa’s groundbreaking work in Filipino American art research, archiving, and artmaking. "Carlos Villa has taught me many things about art," says Rio. "There’s an inspiration to uplift, to be generous, and to be active. I find in those ways, he provides a context for my work."

A COMPLETE CROSSING: FORT MASON PIER 2 HISTORIC RAILWAY & FOOTBRIDGE INTERSECTIONS

2018. Site-specific bamboo, rope, and wire installation at Fort Mason Pier 2 SFAI Campus, 4 1/2 x 3 1/2 x 27 1/2 feet. Photographed by Marco David Castaneda.

SITE SPECIFIC

Site, too, has a charged meaning for the San Francisco-based artist, who intentionally works in a place deeply rooted in both Filipino-American history and Filipino-American art history. His work bridges the past and present—sometimes quite literally, as in A COMPLETE CROSSING: FORT MASON PIER 2 HISTORIC RAILWAY & FOOTBRIDGE INTERSECTIONS. This site-specific installation of bamboo, rope, and wire hangs at Fort Mason, once the port of embarkation for US involvement in the Pacific and now an art school. Rio gently calls attention to this hidden history by hanging the bamboo poles overhead in a formation that echoes the intersecting train tracks, demarcated in the concrete directly below. With this site-specific work, viewers can consider how space is framed and whose stories are erased in the process.

IN THEORY AND PRACTICE

Rio explores similar themes in his scholarship, recently completing his masters thesis on Filipino-American artist, curator, and teacher Carlos Villa (1936–2013). Rio analyzed Villa’s artwork through “methodologies of camouflage and prankster comedy” to illustrate a theory of “Filipino American misvisibility—the tactical obfuscation of its history, culture, and society.” In doing so, Rio continues Villa’s groundbreaking work in Filipino American art research, archiving, and artmaking. "Carlos Villa has taught me many things about art," says Rio. "There’s an inspiration to uplift, to be generous, and to be active. I find in those ways, he provides a context for my work."

SITE SPECIFIC

Site, too, has a charged meaning for the San Francisco-based artist, who intentionally works in a place deeply rooted in both Filipino-American history and Filipino-American art history. His work bridges the past and present—sometimes quite literally, as in A COMPLETE CROSSING: FORT MASON PIER 2 HISTORIC RAILWAY & FOOTBRIDGE INTERSECTIONS. This site-specific installation of bamboo, rope, and wire hangs at Fort Mason, once the port of embarkation for US involvement in the Pacific and now an art school. Rio gently calls attention to this hidden history by hanging the bamboo poles overhead in a formation that echoes the intersecting train tracks, demarcated in the concrete directly below. With this site-specific work, viewers can consider how space is framed and whose stories are erased in the process.

SHIFTING FOCUS

More and more, Rio is expanding out from the readymade to immersive environments. The multisensory installation BIRD ON A STRING: AGAINST THE WIND(OW), for example, poetically explores the precarity between freedom and containment. This system of elements—comprised of architectural portals, standing fans, and audio-visual media—asks the viewer to be an active participant in the narrative. It's an open invitation for empathy, which we could all use more of.

Much of my work is about bringing to light a kind of Filipino-American identity that I find has been misguided or skewed.

FOOTWORK is an eight-foot by eight-foot boxing ring that's made out of bamboo, rope, and fans. I was thinking very much about the footwork of boxing, tied with the footwork of the Filipino dance of Tinikling, that I participated in as a high schooler, and the kinds of dance that we have to do in society, navigating interpersonal relationships. And standing in for fighters, I included two fans that trade blows. So whenever I start the piece, the fans are synchronized to move left and right. But over time, they start to go out of sync, but they always come in and out of sync. There's a tension there.