Ryan Villamael

Bio

Ryan Villamael (b. 1987), as the foremost artist working with paper as sculptural medium, has been exploring themes, tensions, and trajectories of his chosen material since his first solo exhibition, Cut Felt, a decade ago at Silverlens, which currently represents him. Beginning with a tactile and intuitive approach into one of the most delicate—and historically enduring—human inventions, which entailed cutting out shapes, details, and holes without a pre-planned design and resulted in a staggering array of abstract metamorphoses, Villamael then shifted his attention to how paper could become a locus of multiple and overlapping meanings, through which ideas on the natural world, domestic sphere, and urban landscape may be negotiated.

The artist’s main preoccupation is space—from the literal expansive flatness of paper to the metaphorical representation of a home to a more conceptual re-imagination of a city or a landscape. (Rather than through cutouts, a recent pursuit allows him to evoke topographies through the direct application of paint.) From the contained platform of a book to the vaulting hall of a museum, his works emerge, ramify, and sprawl, underscoring how the fragility of paper, through Villamael’s deliberate and thoughtful interventions, can serve as a building block to more imposing creations on a monumental scale. Possibly the most representative of this idea is his Locus Amoenus series—a breathtaking installation of creeping flora fashioned from maps—which has proliferated in different arrangements and in different locations: from Singapore to Manila to the Shiga Prefecture in Japan.

As Villamael’s process involves the surgical precision of cutting, snipping, and blading away fragments of paper, Villamael’s oeuvre is underscored by a narrative of deconstruction and loss as it simultaneously offers a terrain of shifting sentiments, an improvisatory view of a city, a reclamation of a lost paradise. By using archival materials—such as books, maps, photographs, blueprints, and letters—as base for his works, Villamael intercedes into the nature of documentation itself and interrogates the primacy of the printed matter. This enables him to reconfigure it as a site for poetic meditations on the limits and possibilities of history, on the artificial demarcation lines of geography, on the folly and glory of the human enterprise.

From this tension between surface and negative space, between construction and destruction, Villamael is able to materialize something thoroughly autobiographical and fictive from the groundwork, or paperwork, of so-called authoritative texts, made possible by the transformative labor of human hands. Observed this way, his works are a distillation of the grand themes into something intimate, familiar, and felt, as a way of making sense of the sweeping and alienating notions present within the territory of competing powers. While Villamael’s devotion to theme and technique is granular, his body of work opens up to a comprehensive version of the world, through which the contact points between the contours of self and the borders of space prompt fresh vistas where human history and destiny may be re-examined and recast.

Villamael’s works, ranging from stand-alone soft sculptures to large-scale pieces to immense installations, have gone far and wide. In 2015, his exhibition, Isles, received the Ateneo Art Award, which presented the artist studio residency grants at La Trobe University Visual Arts Center in Bendigo, Australia, Artesan Gallery in Singapore, and Liverpool Hope University in Liverpool, United Kingdom. The following year, Villamael participated in the Singapore Biennale and, in 2018, in the Biwako Biennale in Japan. He has exhibited at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, MAIIAM Contemporary Art Museum in Chiang Mai, Para Site in Hong Kong, Mizuma Gallery and the Arts House in Singapore, ROH Projects in Jakarta, and the Metropolitan Museum in Manila. Currently, Villamael divides his time between Los Baños and Manila.

    My work uses the process of paper-cutting as a way to mediate and meditate upon history, collective memory, and the interpenetrating layers that constitute a locality. This process initially started out of necessity instead of desire—at the onset of my art-making practice, it was one of the few mediums I could afford to do. But out of economic considerations, it has grown into a practice of concept as much as cutting—liberating the material to become an arbiter of meaning.

    In the medium, I saw an opportunity—to create something with any available material I can manipulate; to have a technique that is deliberate, almost meditative regardless of the scale; to say what I wanted to say and make my ideas tangible with the simplest possible material.

    A big part of my practice involves a dissection—both literal and figurative—of the documentation of our history, especially the process of cartography. Through geopolitical delineations and divisions, maps represent the narrative of political power, cultural life, and human longing in a particular point in history. Not only do they function as instruments which represent the accepted and contested geopolitical boundaries, maps also serve as symbols of competing world views or ways upon which reality is first defined by power brokers or hegemons and subsequently apprehended by the masses.

    In that sense, maps—or any kind of documented history—are instruments of power as well as human longing. They are both political and personal. They speak of national aspirations as well as of individual ambitions.

    In as much as cartographers and historians seek to present geopolitical reality as accurately as they understand it to be, these documentations turn out to be political and navigational instruments that only present partial truths, hiding the invisible realities of the marginalized in the fringes of its demarcated spaces and presenting world views colored by personal experience. In a sense, they conceal as much as they reveal.

    I’ve always been fixated on the idea of loss, may it be dealing with the collective narrative or zooming in on my own personal history. It’s a constant mapping of how it is to be a Filipino with a convoluted past and an uncertain present, drawing strongly on the complexity of heritage to make sense of the narratives that obscure identity.

    Since the prevalence of colonization to present, much has been erased, purposely hidden and misinterpreted about our history. It is this reshaping and myth-making that led me to investigate the way our identities have been imagined, invented and formed through societal interpretations which influence the way we see ourselves as people, nation and self.
    It is the same method that I’ve applied to my own personal history, studying the socioeconomic and geopolitical elements that have created distance between my own family and dissecting narratives of trauma passed down from one generation to the next.

    To me, this process is a form of emotional forensics, an investigation of history, loss, and the ways we piece ourselves together by slicing and cutting away the ties that bind, allowing ourselves to create our own narratives by reconciling with our past.

Ryan Villamael (b. 1987), as the foremost artist working with paper as sculptural medium, has been exploring themes, tensions, and trajectories of his chosen material since his first solo exhibition, Cut Felt, a decade ago at Silverlens, which currently represents him. Beginning with a tactile and intuitive approach into one of the most delicate—and historically enduring—human inventions, which entailed cutting out shapes, details, and holes without a pre-planned design and resulted in a staggering array of abstract metamorphoses, Villamael then shifted his attention to how paper could become a locus of multiple and overlapping meanings, through which ideas on the natural world, domestic sphere, and urban landscape may be negotiated.

The artist’s main preoccupation is space—from the literal expansive flatness of paper to the metaphorical representation of a home to a more conceptual re-imagination of a city or a landscape. (Rather than through cutouts, a recent pursuit allows him to evoke topographies through the direct application of paint.) From the contained platform of a book to the vaulting hall of a museum, his works emerge, ramify, and sprawl, underscoring how the fragility of paper, through Villamael’s deliberate and thoughtful interventions, can serve as a building block to more imposing creations on a monumental scale. Possibly the most representative of this idea is his Locus Amoenus series—a breathtaking installation of creeping flora fashioned from maps—which has proliferated in different arrangements and in different locations: from Singapore to Manila to the Shiga Prefecture in Japan.

As Villamael’s process involves the surgical precision of cutting, snipping, and blading away fragments of paper, Villamael’s oeuvre is underscored by a narrative of deconstruction and loss as it simultaneously offers a terrain of shifting sentiments, an improvisatory view of a city, a reclamation of a lost paradise. By using archival materials—such as books, maps, photographs, blueprints, and letters—as base for his works, Villamael intercedes into the nature of documentation itself and interrogates the primacy of the printed matter. This enables him to reconfigure it as a site for poetic meditations on the limits and possibilities of history, on the artificial demarcation lines of geography, on the folly and glory of the human enterprise.

From this tension between surface and negative space, between construction and destruction, Villamael is able to materialize something thoroughly autobiographical and fictive from the groundwork, or paperwork, of so-called authoritative texts, made possible by the transformative labor of human hands. Observed this way, his works are a distillation of the grand themes into something intimate, familiar, and felt, as a way of making sense of the sweeping and alienating notions present within the territory of competing powers. While Villamael’s devotion to theme and technique is granular, his body of work opens up to a comprehensive version of the world, through which the contact points between the contours of self and the borders of space prompt fresh vistas where human history and destiny may be re-examined and recast.

Villamael’s works, ranging from stand-alone soft sculptures to large-scale pieces to immense installations, have gone far and wide. In 2015, his exhibition, Isles, received the Ateneo Art Award, which presented the artist studio residency grants at La Trobe University Visual Arts Center in Bendigo, Australia, Artesan Gallery in Singapore, and Liverpool Hope University in Liverpool, United Kingdom. The following year, Villamael participated in the Singapore Biennale and, in 2018, in the Biwako Biennale in Japan. He has exhibited at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, MAIIAM Contemporary Art Museum in Chiang Mai, Para Site in Hong Kong, Mizuma Gallery and the Arts House in Singapore, ROH Projects in Jakarta, and the Metropolitan Museum in Manila. Currently, Villamael divides his time between Los Baños and Manila.

My work uses the process of paper-cutting as a way to mediate and meditate upon history, collective memory, and the interpenetrating layers that constitute a locality. This process initially started out of necessity instead of desire—at the onset of my art-making practice, it was one of the few mediums I could afford to do. But out of economic considerations, it has grown into a practice of concept as much as cutting—liberating the material to become an arbiter of meaning.

In the medium, I saw an opportunity—to create something with any available material I can manipulate; to have a technique that is deliberate, almost meditative regardless of the scale; to say what I wanted to say and make my ideas tangible with the simplest possible material.

A big part of my practice involves a dissection—both literal and figurative—of the documentation of our history, especially the process of cartography. Through geopolitical delineations and divisions, maps represent the narrative of political power, cultural life, and human longing in a particular point in history. Not only do they function as instruments which represent the accepted and contested geopolitical boundaries, maps also serve as symbols of competing world views or ways upon which reality is first defined by power brokers or hegemons and subsequently apprehended by the masses.

In that sense, maps—or any kind of documented history—are instruments of power as well as human longing. They are both political and personal. They speak of national aspirations as well as of individual ambitions.

In as much as cartographers and historians seek to present geopolitical reality as accurately as they understand it to be, these documentations turn out to be political and navigational instruments that only present partial truths, hiding the invisible realities of the marginalized in the fringes of its demarcated spaces and presenting world views colored by personal experience. In a sense, they conceal as much as they reveal.

I’ve always been fixated on the idea of loss, may it be dealing with the collective narrative or zooming in on my own personal history. It’s a constant mapping of how it is to be a Filipino with a convoluted past and an uncertain present, drawing strongly on the complexity of heritage to make sense of the narratives that obscure identity.

Since the prevalence of colonization to present, much has been erased, purposely hidden and misinterpreted about our history. It is this reshaping and myth-making that led me to investigate the way our identities have been imagined, invented and formed through societal interpretations which influence the way we see ourselves as people, nation and self.
It is the same method that I’ve applied to my own personal history, studying the socioeconomic and geopolitical elements that have created distance between my own family and dissecting narratives of trauma passed down from one generation to the next.

To me, this process is a form of emotional forensics, an investigation of history, loss, and the ways we piece ourselves together by slicing and cutting away the ties that bind, allowing ourselves to create our own narratives by reconciling with our past.

Crypsis 11
2021
7513
1
acid free paper, acrylic paint
28.5h x 25w in • 72.38h x 63.50w cm (unframed) • 33.5h x 30w in • 85.09h x 76.20w cm (framed)
0
0.00
PHP
0
SPI_RV162
Details
Untitled
2020
7515
1
handmade washi, bell jar
10h x 7w in • 25.40h x 17.78w cm
0
0.00
PHP
0
SPI_RV146
Details
Binary 15
2019
7514
1
acid-free paper
32h x 26w in • 81.28h x 66.04w cm
0
0.00
PHP
0
SPI_RV074
Details
Poof!
2011
423
1
felt
120h x 160w in • 304.80h x 406.40w cm
0
0.00
PHP
0
Details
Mighty Series 1
2011
424
1
acid-free paper
37h x 30w in • 93.98h x 76.2w cm
-1
0.00
PHP
0
Details
Ziggurat
2012
922
1
acid free paper
105 x 110 in • 266.7 x 279.4 cm
-1
0.00
PHP
0
Details
Phylum Series 3
2013
425
1
paper
11.22h x 23.62w in • 28.50h x 60w cm
-1
0.00
PHP
0
Details
Imperium
2014
426
1
paper, bell jar
55.5h x 38w x 35.55d in
1
0.00
PHP
0
Details
Epilogue II
2016
427
1
paper
16.93h x 18.11w x 11.22d in • 43h x 46w x 28.50d cm
1
0.00
PHP
0
Details
Locus Amoenus
2016
923
1
paper (replica maps) and felt
dimensions variable
-1
0.00
PHP
0
Installation view of Singapore Biennale 2016: An Atlas of Mirrors
Details
Index 2
2017
924
1
paper
11.6h x 8.9w x 3.3d in • 29.5h x 22.5w x 8.5d cm
-1
0.00
PHP
0
Details
Terrain, After
2019
428
1
acid-free paper, sand, acrylic case 26.77h x 105.91w in 68h x 269w cm
26.77h x 105.91w in • 68h x 269w cm
0
0.00
PHP
0
Details
Behold A City
2019
925
1
paper
-1
0.00
PHP
0
Installation detail of Behold A City, Art Fair Philippines 2019 Special Exhibition
Details
Behold A City 4
2019
429
1
paper, acrylic case
12.20h x 20.47w x 14.57d in • 31h x 52w x 37d cm
1
0.00
PHP
0
Details
Kadō
2020
430
1
handmade washi, bell jar
18h x 12w in • 45.72h x 30.48w cm
-1
0.00
PHP
0
Details
Vista (series) Plate no. 9
2020
431
1
watercolor, (off-cut) acid free paper
9.50h x 8.50w in • 24.13h x 21.59w cm
1
0.00
PHP
0
Details

Selected Exhibitions

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