Pacifico Silano in Conversation with Stephen Frailey

Stephen Frailey:
The new work, John John, seems a particularly shrewd direction for you. I’m immediately aware of the difference with previous work in the anonymity of the figure versus our familiarity with John Kennedy Jr, and by the fact that in the prior work, their function and presence is to receive the viewer, whereas John would seem to want to deflect our being there. Is that accurate? Or do they have more in common than I have surmised? Is the erotic exchange analogous? Is John also a construct?

Pacifico Silano: This project is certainly a departure from my previous work but there is still some cross over. Particularly the way images in print are circulated and consumed. Tabloid imagery and pornography have more commonalities then differences. Both are cheaply produced, readily available and widely distributed. Both serve to satiate the viewer for a brief moment then are discarded and forgotten.

That said, these photographs function in a very different way compared to previous works. It’s accurate to say that there is a deflection of the viewer in this work. Since I’m dealing with imagery of such an iconic figure, any sense of anonymity is thrown out the window. The project touches on themes of the public and private self and how the lines blur in a culture that feeds off of fame, name recognition and access. I’m fascinated by how this person could be born in front of the world and have every bit of his life documented right up until his shocking death. It reminds me of the Peter Weir film “The Truman Show.”

There is certainly an eroticism in looking at these private moments documented by someone who shouldn’t be there and yet not being able to look away. This type of voyeurism pervades our culture. It’s who we are as a society. I’m interested in what that says about us when we engage with these types of images.

JFK Jr. in this particular body of work is a stand in, a physical manifestation of America’s obsession with celebrity and political dynasties.

Yet the work does not seem like a critique of cultural voyeurism and celebrity culture, but rather a gesture of considerable pleasure. The attraction to John is palpable, it seems.

Silano: There is a certain pleasure in looking that this work addresses. That comes through in the photo components of this project. However I do have specific pieces that are more of a commentary on voyeurism and celebrity. Particularly the video work that is all sourced from found paparazzi footage.

Frailey: The source material, the clippings, are presented with a physicality, an often tactile appearance which gives them an object-quality. They seem like talismans, possessions, as opposed to much ‘appropriated’ work. And does the field in which they appear have any particular qualities? It is not quite scrapbook nor refrigerator door, and I find myself aware of the exact spacing of the images to one another.

Silano: My approach to documenting these materials is more archivist than artist. I specifically work with a copy stand, shooting from above on expansive sheets of white to further isolate the subject matter. In doing so, viewers are invited to deliberate the relationships of multiple images, their meanings and evolving contexts.

Frailey: Could you speak a bit more about the difference between artist and archivist, and how that figures in your decision process?

Silano: I’m interested in observing these scraps of paper as cultural markers from a distant past, subverting the assumption of what is worth archiving. Pop culture and tabloid are themes we often look down on and yet they pervade our lives. There is a certain power that comes with choosing what is worthy of remembering and what gets destroyed. I’m most drawn to imagery that has shifted meaning over time.

Frailey: Indeed, the choice of what is worthy of remembrance, whether deliberate or not, pervades most photographic maneuvers (particularly at the instant the image is made), so I guess the term archive is relevant in a broad sense also. When you say ‘imagery that has shifted meaning over time’, does a sense of the tragic influence that? John’s death or a recognition of mortality in the previous work?

Silano: It’s simple enough to read these images in relation to death and tragedy, it’s certainly there but there’s more to it. Our constantly changing relationship to celebrity, political identity, race, class and privilege are other factors in the shifting meanings of these photographs. These images say more about American culture then they do about JFK Jr.

Frailey: So JFK Jr. would be interchangeable with any number of public figures?

Silano: No, JFK Jr. had these very specific qualities that separated him from most public figures. He had a built in history that he couldn’t escape. He was a combination of celebrity and political privilege long before the two became synonymous with one another.


Pacifico Silano has had individual exhibitions of his work at ClampArt, Baxter Street at CCNY, and the Rubber Factory in New York. He has been an Artist in Residence at Light Work in Syracuse and a Finalist for the Aperture Foundation Portfolio Prize. He holds an MFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York in 2012.