RINGO BUNOAN in her studio in Quezon City, Philippines, 2009. Photo by the artist for ArtAsiaPacific.

Where I Work

Ringo Bunoan


North of the Philippines’ slick financial center Makati City, Ringo Bunoan’s studio is nestled in a warehouse in the commercial Quezon City neighborhood of Cubao. A guard swings open metal doors to reveal a courtyard surrounded by a two-story complex. The building is the former home of Big Sky Mind, which was originally a gallery and café run by Bunoan and Katya Guerrero from 1999 to 2001 before it became a space for artists’ projects until 2004.

Under a canopy of trees and beneath a graffitied image of Edie Sedgwick, a blue door leads to Bunoan’s workspace, a calm and silent retreat. Inside her studio, Bunoan’s photographs are nowhere to be seen. A bookshelf lines the wall to the left above a massive low table, both covered with books. In the back is Bunoan’s desk with her laptop and a small table set for afternoon tea. An alcove to the right contains a single bed. Drawings by her seven-year-old daughter Lila cover an adjacent wall.

Over tea, the peaceful-mannered, well-spoken Bunoan pulls a few mounted photographs from the bookshelf from “The Other Half” (2007-08), a series of eight works made in collaboration with artist Gary-Ross Pastrana. Working in tandem, they captured images of eight objects typically found in pairs, and then reconstructed a likeness of them with random materials. The photo of a white sock is paired with a sock-shaped mass of laundry lint, for example, and the oval nose-pad of a pair of eyeglasses is matched with a black watermelon seed—surrogates that replenish a sense of loss for the object that is missing its other half.

Bunoan often collaborates with other artists who work in the complex, including Poklong Anading. In SOS (2003), shown at Mo_Space in Manila in 2008, two TV monitors sit on the floor facing each other. On the screens are images of the two artists sending flashlight signals to each other, creating a sense of communication and intimacy between the two inanimate objects.

To manage Big Sky Mind, Bunoan put aside her creative work for five years. Three years ago, she closed the project and went to Kathmandu where she began a series involving pillows. Bunoan’s return to the Philippines in 2007 has been welcomed with a number of new shows. In 2008, Silverlens Gallery mounted “Pillow Talk,” featuring photographs taken in Nepal of pairs of pillows tied together, lone pillows outside buildings at night in front of places that she used to visit, and The Wall (2008), an installation of found pillows in a variety of colors stacked like sandbags in a levy or a bunker, evoking the many dream-states of their previous owners.

She now divides her time between artmaking and researching contemporary art in the Philippines for Hong Kong’s Asia Art Archive, which is appropriate for this curator, artist and writer whose work is concerned with memory. Last December at Finale Art File, Bunoan presented Untitled (Price List) (2008), an installation composed of two-dozen tables, each different in style, clustered together haphazardly. On each table, she placed a photograph of price lists taken by the artist at various art openings. This tongue-in-cheek piece turned price lists into art objects, proposing the notion of the price list as the ultimate archive of past exhibitions.

Bunoan’s concept-driven projects revoke ideals of unity and objectivity, moving towards an understanding of differences that considers the spaces in between two subjects. The installation White Noise (1997) starts with a photograph of a bed with two pillows mounted to the wall. Below it on a stand, a CD player with headphones plays excerpts of silence between two lovers engaged in an intimate conversation, the ambient sounds of passing cars and clicking teaspoons filtering into the void. The spaces—whether physical or emotional—that Bunoan creates reside between intimacy and exposure, simplicity and sophistication, the profound and the commonplace. In the bustling, sprawling environs of Metro Manila, her small studio is a serene space for resting and an intense space of creation.