Sitting within Christian Vistan’s artwork brings a gentle, curious and contemplative filter to experiences and engagements. In ordinary moments and within the happenstance of collaboration, their practice notices and encourages a certain kind of wonder. Objects, materials, and mediums playfully resist compartmentalization, performing a sort of butterfly metamorphosis as they move across genres. Often, these fluid processes cannot help but circle around a complicated question for those of us who have come to un/settle Turtle Island: how did we arrive here and what do we bring with us?
In these considerations, language is not only a thought but a medium that moves in and out of the meanings and classifications that it is supposed to describe. The phrase Pilipino Fainting Filipino Painting (2017) stretches across the walls of a gallery to create a space that blends the artist’s labour and imagination with that of their mother, juxtaposing the Pilipino naming for the people, language and culture of the Philippines with an anglicized version of this name. The text refers to Vistan’s mother Perla fainting after sixteen years of labour as an overseas Filipino worker as well as Vistan’s own labour as a painter. Reflecting the action of cleaning, words printed in blue ink appear as if they’ve been washed, language and cultural categories bleeding out from the letterforms of the English alphabet and running down the walls of the gallery.
Water runs across Vistan’s experience and practice. This fluidity moves across painting, text, installation, sculpture and various forms of sociality to create a rich and poetic vocabulary that gently welcomes the large and small elements of the world that they are proximate to. Underlying these humble gestures are deeper water narratives: a flood that displaced Vistan’s grandmother and scattered their family; the oceans that separate and connect across distances. The ‘grey water’ left over from cleaning paint brushes is used both as a wash and pigment in Vistan’s paintings, which again evokes the washing water used by their mother as a domestic worker. Swathes of pink, purple, lemon, jade and deep blue blend this washing water with wet laundry. Domestic life blends with plant life. Visions brought on by moonlight blend with moments suffused in a quiet ambience.
Strong, flexible, and supportive, bamboo appears as a material of everyday use. In Splinter Awe !! (2021) it is split and whittled with tiny curlicues, then lovingly strung together with colourful threads and beads to form handmade venetian blinds in collaboration with Nadya Isabella and Aubin Kwon. Bamboo sprouts up again as a traditional Filipino daybed—a papag—that becomes a platform for readings and performances, a night market stall, a means of sociality, a soundscape, a space of rest. Built to the same ratio as a letter-sized piece of paper, through its construction and a play of words Papag (2017) shifts into the Pa-pag-page (2018) of a book edited with Shizen Jambor.
Proximities to people, plants and objects are vital to Vistan’s subjective and cultural experience, made visible through ordinary yet complex relations that trickle into artistic practice. In Pilipino Fainting Filipino Painting Christian’s mother draws slippers, a kettle, some coconut trees. Collaborative drawings with friends become placemats for Yum Yum BBQ Korean Cuisine, a fried chicken restaurant owned by Aubin Kwon’s mother. The coconuts trees appear again alongside mangos, bamboo, guyabano and kamias in a lot a lot (2018), a meditation on distance and diaspora that mixes reflections of home and place with a text from Vistan’s sister on their mom. In this artist book, avocados and chesa cross an ocean of distance to physically and psychically inhabit a different place — alongside fallen apples, lilac bushes, cherry trees and cedar. Whether they be state lines or property lines, boundaries blur and coalesce so that distant and near places may mingle with each other, gathered into the experience and memory of family and home.
In a present moment that is conditioned by necessary distance due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Vistan’s work is a nourishing reminder to cultivate warm intimacies with the world we are surrounded by, whether this be to people, place, plant, culture, or the elements. These engagements show care for the processes, lineages and labour that cultivate our being wherever they may lead us. It is an invitation to slip into a slow current that releases us from understanding only so that we may reconfigure into something that is less a word — maybe more a feeling, a connection.