Pacifico Silano is a lens-based artist whose work is an investigation into lost histories of the LGBTQ community. Born in Brooklyn, NY, he received his MFA in Photography, Video & Related Media from the School of Visual Arts. His work has been exhibited internationally, including group shows at the Bronx Museum; Context, Miami; Oude Kerk, Amsterdam; and ClampArt, New York City. Reviews of his work have appeared in The New Yorker, Art Forum, Newsweek and Vice. Awards won by Silano include the Individual Photographer’s Fellowship from the Aaron Siskind Foundation; Finalist for the Aperture Foundation Portfolio Prize, an Artist in Residence at LightWork and First Prize at the Pride Photo Awards in Amsterdam. He is a 2016 fellow in Photography from the New York Foundation for the Arts.
Your work is often steeped in historical and cultural references. How did this obsession with history come about?
I’ve always had a fascination with the past, specifically the 1970s. I love disco and all the decadent excess of a place like Studio 54. I actually snuck into the movie theater when I was 13 to see the movie starring Ryan Phillipe. The movie wasn’t that great from what I remember but to 13 year old me it was like a sexual awakening. I knew I was gay after that movie.
I became more invested with this time period later on when my estranged father gave me an old polaroid of my uncle. He had passed away from complications of AIDS when I was a small child and rarely spoken about again. Growing up it was as if he had never never existed. He was a gay man who lived, loved and died in NYC during the 1970s & 80s. I started to look towards the past more intensely to piece together who someone like my uncle might have been.
In doing so I’ve discovered just how much of my own identity has been informed by the ones who’ve come before me.
In one of your series you are using gay porn magazine content from the 70s. How did you go about finding the images you needed?
There are a lot of websites devoted to selling vintage pornography. It’s actually very expensive to acquire depending what kind of condition you get it in if you know what I mean. Sometimes I buy off of eBay but it can be a gamble because you never know what you’re going to get when you do that. Estate sales are great too! It’s a bit like a treasure hunt culling all of the material.
As a gay man, which era in history do you think you would be most interested in experiencing?
There isn’t a lot of great options to choose from knowing everything that the LGBTQ community has experienced historically. It’s one of those things that making this type of work has helped me really understand. We can romanticize the past all we want but there is no escaping the harsh reality of oppression and violence. I’m able to appreciate just how much we have achieved on a human rights level. I grew up during the culture wars, never believing I would ever be able to marry a man or have basic legal protections. So I’m very content living in the now!
Which other artists inspire you and where do you get inspiration from in general?
I really admire the artists from the “Pictures Generation.” I got to study under Sarah Charlesworth and I think that had a profound impact on the type of images that I’m interested in crafting.
Penelope Umbrico, Leslie Hewitt and Erica Baum are some of my favorite artist’s to look at. I love the way that they critically engage with the medium.
How many similarities do you find between your work and your life?
Sometimes I’ll be studying an image from an old magazine of a gay man and laugh at how the model might resemble someone I know.
Everything old is new again, that’s the way culture and fashion work I suppose.
Are you working on a specific project at the moment? Or an exhibition?
I am currently finishing up a residency with LightWork in Syracuse, NY where I have continued to make work for my ongoing project “Tear Sheets.” I also have a little side project about gay pornography, the late 90s and dial up internet that’s kind of fun! Not sure if or when that will ever see the light of day.
My installation “Pages of a Blueboy Magazine” is part of the traveling museum exhibition “Art AIDS America.” It just opened at The Bronx Museum of the Arts and will be on view until September 25, 2016. I’m incredibly proud and honored to take part. If you find yourself in NYC please check it out as this is the first major museum show to tackle the subject of AIDS and its impact on the art world on this scale.