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Rembrandt Quiballo: In His Own Words
Sep, 20, 2022
Rembrandt Quiballo: In His Own Words
Exposed to the political and social disparities of the world at an early age, Rembrandt Quiballo draws influence from his life experiences and channels them into his practice. He finds creating therapeutic and fulfilling.
Using the photographic medium as a tool, Rembrandt combines datamoshing and glitch techniques to generate digital artifacts within images found in mass media, including film, television, and the internet. His work, which was most recently exhibited at Walter Art Gallery, explores mass media and its effects on social and political history through the moving image.
Here’s Rembrandt Quiballo, in his own words, on his inspirations, photographic manipulation, and more.
“I’ve used really difficult imagery and really visceral war footage in my work, but this has helped me to process some of the unpleasant parts of humanity. And in the end, I feel like there’s still hope.”
Rembrandt Quiballo, Portrait. Courtesy of the artist.
PhxArt: Tell us about who you are and where you’re from. What was your first inspiration, and what continues to inspire your work?
Rembrandt Quiballo: I was born in the city of Manila in the Philippines. My father was an airplane mechanic who worked all over the world, and my mother took care of the family. The assassination of Benigno S. Aquino Jr. by the ruling regime resulted in immense social and political unrest in the Philippines, compelling my family to leave the country. We lived in Saudi Arabia and the Netherlands for my father’s job briefly and eventually immigrated to the U.S. These experiences exposed me to the political and social disparities around the world at an early age and would continue to influence my life and art practice.
Creating art is both fulfilling and therapeutic for me. My work gives me the platform to express myself and my views about everything in existence. It’s given me a purpose and a lens through which to experience life. Life would be boring without art. Anything can be used for your art. I’ve used really difficult imagery and really visceral war footage in my work, but this has helped me to process some of the unpleasant parts of humanity. And in the end, I feel like there’s still hope.
PhxArt: Tell us about your art training.
RQ: I studied painting and photography at University of Arizona. I became interested in continental philosophy, which many artists I admired were referencing in their work, so I got an additional degree in philosophy. I guess at that point, I was trying to find myself and find some truth; both art and philosophy were an ideal conduit for that pursuit. I eventually entered the photography graduate program at Arizona State University (ASU) and studied under insightful professors including Adriene Jenik, Mark Klett, Bill Jenkins, and Julie Anand. ASU was great, and it was a transformative experience for me as a practicing artist. Every crazy idea I had was taken seriously and was thoughtfully considered. My thesis was an hour-long suite of video works about the historical trajectory of the media spectacle, dating from the John F. Kennedy assassination to the September 11 attacks. I also had work about social media and the emergence of phone cameras as a tool to destabilize the narrative endorsed by giant broadcast corporations, which I think we’re seeing bear fruit today.
Rembrandt Quiballo, Burn, 2019. Digital print. Courtesy of the artist.
PhxArt: What are the media that you prefer to work in, and why? What drew you to the moving image, film, and photography?
RQ: My work is photo-based and most everything I make has some kind of photographic element, whether I’m using conventional film, digital camera, smartphone, screenshots, or even photographic collage. I started as a painter. Early on, I used images from the television and magazines for reference, as mass media was a seminal influence on me. I would take pictures of the television screen with a Polaroid camera. This led me into exploring photography as a tool and other ways of interpreting media.
The foundation of my work is the moving image and its tenuous relationship with the still image, whether the final result is a still photograph or a video projection. My work investigates the way technology affects how we consume mass media. The proliferation of compression artifacts in our everyday visual experience denotes a shift in “how” we look, which will inevitably affect “why” we look.
PhxArt: What made you move away from painting to focus on photography?
RQ: When I was a painter, my work was very painterly and expressionistic. When I got into photography, I wanted to keep that style and technique. Photography is different from painting and has many characteristics such as its adherence to focus, detail, and clarity. I wanted my photographic works to be like paintings in order to gain legitimacy. There have been movements within art history that have been painterly, but in general, photographic work tends to stick to its mechanical strengths. So I’ve delved straight into photography throughout the years, and it comes down to the ideas and imagery I want to create. The camera is only one of many tools I use to express myself.
Rembrant Quiballo, Digital Explosion, 2019. Digital print. Courtesy of the artist.
PhxArt: What are the topics or subjects that you most focus on, and how did you become interested in them?
RQ: My work explores mass media and its effects on social and political history through the moving image. I use interdisciplinary means to critique and analyze mass media and the absurdity it tends to generate. My art practice varies from compositing screen captures of cinematic films to create a conventional still photograph, to collecting video uploads from YouTube in order to create a more complete visual representation of a media spectacle. I primarily utilize existing footage found in film, television, and the internet. I consume these forms of media as research and analyze their effects on our culture and society. Whether the artwork results in a physical object or a video depends on the subject matter. I use different techniques and methods to communicate the ideas I have. For example, I have an installation that consists of hundreds of Polaroid snapshots taken from a television screen to demonstrate the overwhelming effect of visual images we are bombarded with on a daily basis. Another body of work examines how religion has been surpassed by mass media as a principal force on our beliefs and values as a society. I use found images that might refer to religious or mythical notions and apply instances of compression artifacts found in digital media as a point of intervention. This is where the immaculate façade of high-definition media disintegrates and exposes instability in the seemingly stable.
PhxArt: Who are your greatest artistic influences?
RQ: My greatest artistic influence is the Irish-British painter Francis Bacon. He was sort of an anomaly in that he was making figurative works when abstraction was all the rage. He was one of the earliest artists to use mass media as a reference point. His resulting artworks were paintings, but he used films, photographs, and magazines as inspiration for and the subjects of his work. His paintings were also existential and that tends to underscore my work a lot. Other artists who have influenced my practice are Cecily Brown, Robert Heinecken, Nancy Burson, Takeshi Murata, Eadweard Muybridge, Paul Chan, and Trevor Paglen.
Rembrandt Quiballo, Gigablast, 2019. Digital print. Courtesy of the artist.
PhxArt: What’s something you’re currently working on or have recently exhibited?
RQ: I recently exhibited at Modified Arts. The piece I have in the exhibition is from a body of work that focused on how every facet of human life will soon become digitized. Additionally, this body of work imagines the possible remnants of our existing digital culture. While archaeologists excavate the earth to find evidence of long lost civilizations, my work shows the possibilities of what future scientists would discover in our ever-expanding digital cloud.
Through the use of datamoshing and glitch techniques, I generate digital artifacts within images found in mass media, including film, television, and the internet. Datamoshing is a glitch technique that manipulates compression within the video files to create pixelated artifacts we often see unintentionally on Youtube or streaming channels. The prevalence of data compression today makes the loss of information inherent in our everyday images. We want unsurpassed quality but with the least expenditure of resources. The mere transfer of data causes the contemporary image to be in a constant state of decay. In our pursuit to produce and consume an endless stream of visuals, we face complications such as finite data space and visual incongruity. In the meantime, a new kind of imagery emerges.
PhxArt: What can our community expect to see next from you?
RQ: I’ve been collaborating with Nicole Olson to create various dance films. She’s a fabulous dance artist who has been pushing the boundaries of the performing arts for years. We’ve worked on some prior projects that have steered my work in beautiful and unexpected ways. We were recently awarded a Research and Development Grant from The Arizona Commission on the Arts. Many of the ideas and choreography will be from Nicole, while I will have input in the more technical aspects of the project. It’s a true collaboration.
Rembrandt Quiballo, Tarantula, 2018. Digital print. Courtesy of the artist.
PhxArt: We’re curious how creatives are navigating the time of coronavirus. Rembrandt Quiballo shares what gave him life during the pandemic.
RQ: I’ve been really getting into the NFT space. NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, are a unit of data stored on a blockchain that assigns any digital asset unique authenticity. This is a game changer for digital artists because digital works can be reproduced endlessly. Although this remains true, now digital works can be given value, similar to a unique physical object, like a traditional painting. There’s been a real “gold rush” in the space and lots of excitement to say the least. I’ve been exploring the space and how it relates to my work.
Rembrandt Quiballo, The Ecstasy of the Saint, 2018. Digital print. Courtesy of the artist.