Pacifico Silano is a talented artist who, using collage and photography, creates a melancholic lens through which to explore the impact of the HIV and AIDs epidemic had on the queer community, and its impact now. He interpolates different images from gay erotica with candid photos, and uses contradiction to change our perception of this crisis.
Firstly, congratulations on your first book I Wish I Never Saw The Sunshine. What was your motivation to publish your artwork in this format for the first time?
Thank you! I’ve been drawn to accordion books for a long time. I have always wanted to make one. I was thrilled that Loose Joints was completely on board with the idea. There is a rhythm and flow that takes place from page to page that really excited me about the format.
The format of your book is unique, in an accordion format, so it can be viewed as individual photos or a continuous collage of individuals. What was the reasoning behind this?
I like that there are two ways to read the book. It further complicates the life of the images in the book. There is an intimacy that takes place when turning through the pages of each spread like a traditional photo book. There is a narrative we built on each side of the accordion, like a fever dream that takes us through different scenarios as well as peaceful moments. The book takes the form of an art object that references back to my gallery and museum installations. I found that it was an exciting new way to reinterpret all of this existing imagery giving them second and third lives through these new iterations.
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It is a heart-wrenching topic, covering gay culture during the HIV and AIDs crisis; did you find it difficult to put this book together?
I lost my uncle at a young age due to complications of HIV and his memory was subsequently erased from my family. That was what started my journey making this work. Much of my art have been long term projects. I’ve spent almost a decade exploring themes of loss and longing in relationship to the HIV and AIDS crisis. There have been times where I have to put these images down for a bit and work on other projects because there is a weight that comes with it.
The aesthetic of the photos convey a strong sense of melancholy, and look as if they are of the time, how did you manage to create this aesthetic and why?
I’ve worked really hard to develop my own visual language over the years. I’m drawn to quiet, meditative moments that have an inherent sadness to them. It’s what inspires me most. I’m always searching for meaning and metaphor in life and art.
You layer photos with cut-outs from gay erotica, which almost gives a sense of not submitting to the virus - that despite the sadness and grief in the community it prevailed. Was this what you wished to convey?
I love the inherent contradiction that exists between the original source material and the lens of history which we read these photos through.
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Was there a need to ensure that the photos carried an emotional weight, beyond just the context of the topic?
The work has multiple meanings beyond the themes of HIV and AIDS. I’m always thinking about how these images can be transformed by time. The way I crop an image can evoke a variation of emotions which is central to my work.
You have covered a lot of LGBTQ+ subjects in your photography, but this is a more personal project, due to your uncle’s death at the hands of the virus. Is this piece of work the most personal you have done? What were the emotions you went through when working on this book?
My uncle has been the entry point into the work that I make. When I have felt overwhelmed by the weight of it all I’ve taken breaks to explore other side projects but always find my way back to making these images. It’s all about finding a balance where I can be close to the work but also have distance.
Whilst incomparable in impact (given that there is still no vaccine, as such, to prevent HIV and AIDs), the release of this book during the COVID-19 pandemic will strike a chord, given the quick response to eliminate COVID and the lack of action by governments during the spread of HIV and AIDs. Did this strike you at all when working on this project, and does it feel relevant to be publishing this book now?
Yes, it was hard not to see the similarities and their stark differences. They both have government inaction in common. It’s been a very somber year filled with great loss. That was weighing heavily on my mind as I worked on making this book.
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The impact of the HIV and AIDs crisis on the gay community was devastating, however, the current generation of LGBTQ+ people are living in a world that their existence is safer and they are more accepted that before. Is it important to you that we don’t forget the struggle of the past generations?
I was born at the height of the AIDS crisis and grew up in its shadow. I remember the fear of HIV and AIDS, and how it was portrayed on TV and in films. So, my work is informed by that knowledge. I think more younger queer people are becoming interested in our community's history. So the work exists in a time where people are open to receiving it which I’m thankful for.
For this current generation, there are a lot more popular culture pieces that tackle the topic, such as the UK’s Channel 4 show It’s A Sin, that was praised by critics. Do you believe that the taboo of the disease is lifting in comparison to even 5 years ago?
I do think there has been a lot of great strides in recent years to end the stigma. We also live in a post prep world which has transformed the way queer people can live with a new sense of freedom. There are lots of reasons to be hopeful for the future.
I Wish I Never Saw the Sunshine by Pacifico Silano, published by Loose Joints through to
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