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Miljohn Ruperto: The Artist As Visual Sleuth

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Courtesy: Koenig & Clinton, New York
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Miljohn Ruperto, Animated by Aimée de Jongh, Mineral Monsters (5), 2014, Video (LCD monitor, media player, SD disk, mount), 11 x 17 x 4 in (27.9 x 43.2 x 10.2 cm)

Every semester, the UNLV Department of Art brings in a visiting artist.

The current artist is Miljohn Ruperto, who is here from Los Angeles. He’s a conceptual artist – and something of a visual sleuth.

An interest or passion for a subject takes him to all sorts of places via photography, film, video, and more. 

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

On what the students at UNLV ask him:

Most of the conversations I have had with the students are mostly about professionalism in art. What the etiquette is being an artist in the art world. Most of the questions they ask me are practical things about the job.

On moving from an interest in art to making a living:

It was a pretty long path. When I talk to the students here I always tell them you need consensus around your work. And you have to think about your work as something social. So I try to tamp down these romantic ideas of genius and all that. It is more about making work in a social context, conveying something and having your work dialogue with art history or what other artists are doing right now.

On conceptual art:

A conceptual artist is an artist that is interested in ideas and how they relate to each other. And sort of using ideas as material in an aesthetic way.

On choosing to focus on Isabel Rosario Cooper:

When I was a kid. I heard sort of little bits and pieces about Isabel Rosario Cooper. I knew her name was “Dimples” and she had an affair with Gen. Douglas MacArthur when she was still young. What struck me about it was it as a colonialist story. Where this older man comes to the Philippines and has this relationship with this kid.

I found a book at the flea market about MacArthur. I think about him a little bit from time to time. My grandmother was really obsessed with him. And so I read it and it was a psychoanalytic take on MacArthur’s relationships. The back of the book had these amazing footnotes. So I started following up on Isabel Rosario Cooper.

Miljohn Ruperto, Appearance of Isabel Rosario Cooper, 2006-2010, 16mm film, Runtime 11:30 min/Courtesy: Koenig & Clinton, New York 

On making her story into art:

I guess I’m always thinking about things making into art. I’m constantly thinking about these things as material. So I follow them and see if they fit to what I’m thinking about now. In this case, these issues mostly about the specific kind of relationship of this colonial relationship.

In one of the projects, I reprinted her head shots. In another project, I made a 16 millimeter film where I took out all the bit parts that she’s been in and blurred everyone else out expect for her. So it is kind of this special effects fiction. She is the center of action and everyone else is defocused.

On Las Vegas:

It is really interesting. It seems more fractured. I feel like there is not too much connecting… community.

On getting inspiration from Las Vegas:

I think that traveling through and around and seeing this fantasy come to live is interesting. It is a very weird place.

On the Voynich Manuscript project:

The drawings are botanical drawings. There is a mixture of different types of drawings but the drawings I’m really interested in are the botanical drawings. The botanical drawings themselves are up for debate on what these plants were.

They’re not well rendered and they look fantastic. I think the general view is that they’re composts of different plants.

On the work of German photographer Karl Blossfeldt as it relates to the Voynich Manuscript project:

Karl Blossfeldt made photographs in the early 20 th Century. The work itself is formal photographs of botanical specimens. So they’re really beautiful photographs of plants or parts of plants. We [Ruperto and an artist friend] found it funny that people think they’re beautiful because of nature or this presentation of nature. And we both felt the opposite. It’s Blossfeldt’s conforming nature to a specific aesthetic that makes them beautiful.

So we want to make something where we conform our aesthetics to something we don’t even know what it is. The plants themselves we don’t know what they are and it’s an added bonus that the texts also are up for debate.

Miljohn Ruperto & Ulrik Heltoft, Voynich Botanical Studies, Specimen 50r Zima, 2014, Silver gelatin print on fiber-based paper, Sheet: 19.75 x 15.5in (50.2 x 39.4 cm); Image: 19.25 x 15 in (48.9 x 38 cm); Frame: 25.25 x 21.25 in (64.1 x 54 cm)/Courtesy: Koenig & Clinton, New York 

On what he wants people think of the photographs he produced of the Voynich Manuscript:

Well, I guess mostly to think about the structure around these photographs like what made these photographs happen. And how much we ascribe to an image.

The thing within itself is mysterious. The Voynich Manuscript is mysterious. The subject of the photograph is mysterious but everything else is pretty clear. The process of getting there is pretty clear. 

Click Here to see more of Ruperto's work.

Miljohn Ruperto, UNLV visiting artist

 

 

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Since June 2015, Fred has been a producer at KNPR's State of Nevada.