A Filipino Artist Stranded in Colombia Conquers Isolation by Remembering
ILLUSTRATOR Warren Espejo
As surprising as the coronavirus has been, many across the globe started their quarantine romantically, with visions of their quarantine masterpiece ala King Lear. Finally, some time to be creative. But as the psychological toll set in, those masterpieces fell to the backburner. Filipino artist Ged Merino, however, has managed to keep himself on track.
In 'Charala 2' (topmost) and 'Charala 1,' artist Ged Merino combines photographs and textiles featuring machine- and slow-stiched yarns.
An Artist Stranded in Colombia
“There’s this idea of artists that you kind of wait for inspiration to strike…like, ‘Oh I just thought of this, let me work through the night,’” Merino says. “I was sort of like that when I was younger but I’ve realized...to get the good work, you just have to work.”
A mixed-media artist who splits his time between New York, Manila, and Bogota, where he is currently stranded, Merino has been spending his quarantine working on a new series of textile-based works. “My wife is from here, and since I usually travel a lot for work, we moved here because so she could be with family and friends while I’m away,” he says.
The artist also spends his time running, exploring the city, and walking his dog, which is still possible thanks to Bogota’s slightly more lax lockdown. He wakes up early between 4 to 4:30 a.m. and then exercises—yoga, weight training, bike—“but coffee first.”
Merino's current works are an exploration of memory through textiles and photography, a new technique he has been experimenting with. “While walking my dog I usually bring my camera and take photographs, which I print on synthetic textiles, which I then stitch over,” he explains.
“Since I [usually] move around so much, it’s always been important for me to be in control of memory...things we want to remember, things we don’t remember, when you remember something different. What I’m working on now reflects how I see memory.”
Merino has an omnivorous cultural palette and finds influence in the culture of Bogota, as well, citing Gabriel Garcia Marquez and magical realism as touchpoints. “It really feels like nature is reclaiming everything,” he reflects. “That and the way we’re currently experiencing time are reflected in my newest yet untitled works.”
Returning to What Is Real
Merino has always considered his practice to be a solitary one, but one of the many things the pandemic has revealed to him is the value of our social health and being. “Before all this, I was working with local embroiderers. They were teaching me a little bit. Unfortunately, that’s had to stop,” he says.
“I talk to a lot of friends to keep my mental well-being, and some people are doing better than others," the artist adds. "But at this point, I’m still feeling very positive. People will always gravitate towards the tactile. We like being around each other. It’ll bounce back.”
“I usually always try to focus on what I can control, and I have no control over the future. When you go from place to place like me, survival becomes your main instinct, wherever you land...," he continues. "I first arrived in New York from Manila in 1987. I didn’t end up returning to the Philippines until 2003... I can’t even explain why. Under whatever circumstances, I’d just do what I felt [like doing].”
However, as someone who calls so many places home, the artist misses all of them, dearly. “I miss my studio (Bliss on Bliss Art Projects) in New York. I miss the community...we’d bring food and drink to each other's shows, whatever we had. Nothing extravagant, but it was always nice to come together, you know? People need that,” says Merino. “I miss Manila very much, too.”