Recontextualising the printed ephemera of gay culture to contemplate it anew

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Pacifico Silano composes a “fever dream” of found imagery that speaks of his identity, and that of others, forged amid the tactile pages of magazines from his youth

Visually, Pacifico Silano’s work is multilayered: a montage of vivid images drawn from the printed ephemera of gay culture; blocks of colour, landscapes, interiors and still lifes obscuring the erotic images of men that lie partially buried beneath them. And conceptually, the work also encloses many meanings. “I am creating something transformative,” says Silano.” A new world.”

I Wish I Never Saw the Sunshinethe name of a song by The Ronettes from the 1960s and the title of Silano’s latest photobook, published by Loose Joints – reveals this world. The publication extends into an elegant, two-metre-long, accordion-style book flooded with colour, texture and form. It co-opts and recontextualises images from printed gay ephemera from the 1970s and 80s, becoming an appropriated archive of sorts. And this allows for new meditations on the images to emerge; the push-and-pull of presence and absence, “a fever dream,” as Silano describes it, inciting us to consider what we cannot see, as much as what we can.

© Pacifico Silano 2021 courtesy Loose Joints.
© Pacifico Silano 2021 courtesy Loose Joints.
© Pacifico Silano 2021 courtesy Loose Joints.

The publication’s vibrancy may be read as a celebration of gay culture but melancholia also infuses it. The late 1970s and 80s saw the advent of the HIV/Aids epidemic that stole hundreds of thousands of lives in the US alone, including that of Silano’s uncle. In the publication’s foreword – a conversation between the artist and José Carlos Diaz, the chief curator at The Andy Warhol Museum – Silano explains: “There are fragments of bodies, and that’s very intentional, it’s meant to evoke a certain emotion and how that can be interpreted through these images that were meant to be very specific representations of carnal desire.” 

I Wish I Never Saw the Sunshine also acts as a memorial of sorts; continuing the “legacy” of Silano’s uncle through its rhythmic, animated pages. The artist’s family mostly erased his uncle’s identity and existence following his death, including any visual records. And Silano, who is now a year younger than his uncle was when he died, resists this with an assemblage of the kind of visual media that informed his identity as much as it did his uncle’s. Ironically, Silano’s parents owned an adult novelty store that housed such ephemera, “and yet my father erased that memory of his brother and kept him from me,” says Silano.

© Pacifico Silano 2021 courtesy Loose Joints.

The work also speaks to the elasticity of images, which slip from one context to the next, their meanings morphing as they slide. Also the complexities of the ‘archive’, which, far from being democratic, chooses what to “remember and what to omit,” as Silano describes it. The images assembled in Silano’s archive are not without their problems when viewed beneath a contemporary lens: issues surrounding the objectification and eroticisation of the body in pornography, a genre into which many of these photographs fit, and also the types of stereotypes employed to do this. In recontextualising such visual media, Silano invites us to critically engage with it, while retaining a certain lightness and humour: “It’s all made with a wink and a nod,” he says in the publication’s foreword. “Those moments of levity give us a fuller picture of the lives lived on these magazine pages.”

Silano sends the work into the world open to interpretation, but ultimately it stems from an intimate place. “I’m emotional and the work is emotional,” he says. And so, amid the pages of I Wish I Never Saw the Sunshine, beauty, history, memory and memoralisation collide in what the artist so perfectly describes as a “fever dream”; a red-hot hallucination in which our deepest thoughts and memories fuse to create something at once familiar and fantastic.

I Wish I Never Saw the Sunshine by Pacifico Silano is published by Loose Joints.

Hannah Abel-Hirsch

Hannah Abel-Hirsch joined British Journal of Photography in 2017, where she is currently Assistant Editor. Previously, she was an Editorial Assistant at Magnum Photos, and a Studio Assistant for Susan Meiselas and Mary Ellen Mark in New York. Before which, she completed a BA in History of Art at University College London. Her words have also appeared on Magnum Photos, 1000 Words, and in the Royal Academy of Arts magazine.