Silverlens’ Isa Lorenzo and Rachel Rillo rebuild an old passion on new ground
“It’s important for people to imagine how it feels to live with art. Because of the larger spaces in galleries, art isn’t necessarily just displayed on the walls anymore. It’s become an experience.” - RACHEL RILLO
Navigating the sprawling new space of Silverlens feels like an intrusion. The first few steps past the gallery’s sliding doors bring unease, with art displayed as if it were poised to consume you. Conversations can be heard from a room to your left, but they’re muffled enough to compel you to enter the gallery further. As you look at the artworks, there’s something curiously familiar about how they are framed against the white walls and how the artists’ names resound. You know you’ve been here before, and yet you also haven’t.
The new place that Silverlens gallerists Isa Lorenzo and Rachel Rillo now call home along Pasong Tamo Extension is a 1,500 sq. m. converted warehouse, refurbished with a phone-controlled lights system. A stone’s throw away from the gallery’s old address, the newness of the space doesn’t last long; nostalgia lingers in every nook and cranny, reminding us why Silverlens, one of the country’s leading contemporary galleries for the past 10 years, is still here.
“I feel like I’m still learning,” Lorenzo says about the last decade. “When I jumped into this blindly [years ago], I didn’t know anything about art; I just knew I liked art. I knew how I wanted to be treated as an artist and as a client. What I’m learning now is that when you want something, you have to ask for it. You have to pursue it.”
The past few years have been a steady pursuit of opportunities and relationships with their resident artists. Apart from helping legitimize photography as fine art, Silverlens has been crucial in building a community so unlike the art world cliques present before. The ties that Lorenzo and Rillo have established made their first show in their new set-up possible, with Translación bringing together old and new works by artists who have worked with the gallery.
“It’s fun being able to give an artist a stage, a platform,” Rillo says. “As partners in this, we always ask ourselves, ‘Is it still fun? Do we still like what we’re doing? Is it still giving us much excitement?’ Though it’s becoming more about work, the answer has been yes—many times. The commitment to build this space was a big yes, but it was also just the scariest.”
Lorenzo and Rillo have gone through the most terrifying nightmare a gallerist could have. On July 13 last year, an electrical fire burned down 217 works of art in their old warehouse. “When that happened, there was a lot of self-doubt,” Lorenzo admits. “It was a real, ‘ I don’t want to do this [anymore].’ It was a death—we lost everything. That was a huge moment.”
“She was devastated,” Rillo adds, “But I was also like, ‘ This is it. This is the adult step. Do we keep at it or do we chicken out?’” The result of taking the brave step forward is this: a gallery that stays faithful to its vision of irreverent art for 10 years and counting.
Today, it isn’t enough for the two to make people see art. “It’s important for people to imagine how it feels to live with art,” Rillo explains about their new space’s design. “Because of the larger spaces in galleries, art isn’t necessarily just displayed on the walls anymore. It’s become an experience.”
This isn’t also the time for artists to slow down. “My doubt has to do with looking at artists who think they’re not as good as they think they are. I doubt for them, because they don’t know it yet, that being an artist is [the] best thing for them,” says Lorenzo.
Now that the art scene is getting bigger, how “new” should artists be thinking regarding what they produce? “There’s nothing fresh and new,” Rillo states. “Everything’s online now so I don’t look for ‘new’ that way. Maybe a new experience? Yeah. It’s the new feeling when you do something.” Like how the new Silverlens welcomes you: there’s enough novelty to draw you in, with the comforting ghost of familiarity keeping step beside you. •
“The audience is not just people who buy art. It’s students, artists, people who don’t really buy art but want to experience it.” - ISA LORENZO