Me and my Philippines: Visual artist Leeroy New

The creator of Lady Gaga's muscle dress for the video "Marry the Night" on his work on the Mad Max post apocalyptic park on the wild dunes of Paoay and his travels in the south

Photos courtesy of Leeroy New

Leeroy surrounded by his work. Photo by Everywhere We Shoot

I grew up in General Santos city (GenSan) in South Cotobato, but I moved to Manila because I got accepted to the Philippine High School for the Arts, which is in Los Baños, Laguna.

Growing up in GenSan was very different. It’s your typical, conservative province

I travel a lot because of work and because I guess everyone needs to travel. It's important to expose oneself to different cultures, see the world.

I wouldn't know what to do if I'm purely on vacation. I tend to get impatient or anxious if I'm not working. I enjoy it when I work and travel at the same time.

Working on the stage at the APEC Summit in Boracay. Photo by Brandon Relucio

I went to the T'boli region in the south recently. The local tourism heads took me to areas they wanted to develop as tourists spots. I went to see Asik-asik falls in North Cotobato. It's beautiful, not easy to get to. There were really rough roads, we had to ride on bikes, and we had to trek for almost an hour to get to the falls.

I also started work on a sculpture park in the Paoay sand dunes in Ilocos sometime in 2012. I made an assembly of art installations from discarded materials, and a cocoon-like spaceship made entirely of bamboo. On the first year, I worked at the dunes for two weeks. On the second year, I had to stay there for almost a month. I would go back to Laoag every night, then in the day go back to the sand dunes. The people from the local government invited me. They collaborate with artists all the time.

I do a lot of outdoor work and I loved the challenge of working on the dunes, so I said yes to the project. I guess it's part of my training as a production designer for film to work in different locations. I once worked on a film shoot in the smokey mountains, a large landfill in Manila.

At the Paoay sand dunes. Photo by Brandon Relucio

The Paoay sand dunes is all of 88 hectares, where you go sandboarding so you have the adventure component covered, but I guess the local government decided to maximize the use of the dunes, and turn it into a cultural capital as well. Originally they just wanted me to do a bamboo sculpture installation on the dunes in time for the Himala sa Buhangin! festival last May, a grand outdoor and music fest modelled after the Burning Man festival in Nevada. But now the idea has expanded to a sculpture park project, a long term thing, so we'll just keep adding to the park yearly until it's developed.

oThe artist as canvas. Photo by Carlo Gabuco

The Paoay sand dunes is the location for a lot of popular Filipino films—Himala (miracle), Temptation Island, Panday (blacksmith)—and the original Mad Max films. The local government is now commissioining outdoor art paying homage to these films. They've got a Panday sculpture up now, an Elsa sculpture (actress Nora Aunor’s character in Himala), plus the sculpture park that we built as a reference to Mad Max, this post-apocalyptic sculpture park. 

Right now, I’m working on a project on the Pasig River in Metro Manila with urban planner Julia Nebrija. The idea is to turn Pasig River into a creative platform, a space for public art. We already did the first installation. Not a lot of people know that there’s a lot to see along the river – Intramuros, Escolta, Malacañang. You can just ride the ferry and see Manila.

 

For art, I like to go to Divisoria, the Paoay Sand Dunes, the Philippine High School for the Arts in Mt. Makiling, the Pinto Art Museum in Antipolo, and the BenCab Museum in Baguio.

My upcoming exhibits include <3-u lolz, at the BenCab Museum from October 10 to November 29, and an outdoor installation on November 12 at the SM Aura roofdeck.

About Leeroy New
Leeroy New is a contemporary fine artist whose work covers theater production, furniture making, sculpture, and fashion. He made the muscle dress for Lady Gaga worn in her music video Marry The Night. His ongoing projects include Aliens of Manila, a public art initiative where people wearing his other-worldly creations roam the streets of Manila. He will also be speaking on the Art & Culture panel at Identified, a two-day branding conference at Green Sun in Makati on October 10 and 11. New is a visual arts graduate of the Philippine High School for the Arts and a graduate of the University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts. 

Interview by Amanda Lago

Published October 2015