It’s been a long time since I last watched anything “Sailor Moon.” But Sailor Jupiter, a.k.a. The Guardian of Protection, quickly popped into my head upon seeing Gera Guinto’s page, bursting with plant-based art.
The 26-year-old visual artist embodies the strengths of the so-called muscle of the Sailor Scouts. Channeling the power of lightning and plants, she becomes the Earth Defense Squad™ leader we imagine her to be, leaving evil entities to shiver and die. Nature squeezes out the strongest version of her—just like we see in Gera’s portfolio.
However, this strength also means finding peace. According to ScreenRant, Sailor Jupiter’s real name Makoto Kino—when translated to Japanese, could mean “trust” or “sincerity” and “wood field” or “tree field,” respectively. As much as plants inform her work, Gera also turns to them for different forms of acceptance: processing her frustrations, interpreting the workings of the world and knowing herself more. Observing how they live, react and thrive is just one of the many ways she connects with plants.
Hailing from Palawan, Gera studied fine arts and currently works in a museum. She digs thrift shopping, tattoos, food, travel, spirituality, astrology, art, design and music. For this week’s Seen On Scout, we talk to Gera on giving plants a part of her life, her history in relation to local flora and her favorite artworks.
To someone who hasn’t met you, how would you describe your art?
My art involves natural and ephemeral objects representing things and symbols from everyday life, and I currently focus on themes of home, spirituality and fashion. My art rots, melts, dries up, crumbles, shrivels up, softens, changes color and decays.
What’s your history with plants? Where did that love affair with horticulture begin?
I am no horticulturist but I connect with the idea of biophilia, and I find that there’s a natural affinity between the understated and intricate beauty of plants and the human body and nature. Maybe this was brought on by living in Palawan, where I got used to coexisting with a lot of greenery and where I had access to resources and was able to try my hand at planting recently, having had the time in the early stages of quarantine. I find growing and taking care of culinary herbs and vegetables a lot more exciting and pleasurable than ornamental plants.
Out of all possible materials, why did you choose plants to be the protagonist of your art?
During one of the conferences in the VIVA ExCon Biennale in 2018, [German artist] Katrin de Guia said, “Philippine art originally is ephemeral because the country is humid. Things are easily rotting. In the Western countries, art is preserved inside houses and museums. In the Philippines, art is traditionally used for rituals and for communication among people. Let us create an art that can rot and then make something new.” And it just made sense to me.
I started to gain inspiration from our ancestors and predecessors’ minimal and spiritual ways of living. Our generation has an abundance of tools now, but I believe that there’s a lot of things that our pre-colonial ancestors did better. I want to connect more to the earth, my spirit and my Maker. Making ephemeral art, to me, feels like coming home.
Can you mention some of your own favorite artworks?
This is one of the first few ephemeral artworks that I did. I felt unprecedented joy in the process as the experience was very intuitive, fun and spontaneous.
This is entitled “The Wild Woman” and I hand painted it using leaves and flowers. The second photo shows how it looked some time after it was painted. I like the word “wild” because it feels like coming home to our purest, most intense and most free nature.
This is my version of the Manunggul Jar and another favorite of mine. I like how a human body, which served as a vessel to the spirit, is then placed inside a jar for burial or a vessel and is then believed by our ancestors to be taken to the afterlife through a water vessel or a boat. A vessel of a vessel of a vessel.
This piece was inspired by the witch artists of Siquijor.
Aside from self-expression, what is the role of plants in your life?
I believe we’re much like plants except they are more in tune with nature and the energies around them. Plants and animals grow or are born and they instinctively know what to do and unconsciously fulfill their purpose by merely being exactly who they are. Sometimes I gain insight into my own existence by observing and studying plant behavior.
No human being is exactly like another and there is no rulebook that tells us exactly how to be and who to become, it’s ours to figure out on our own. We all have our water, sun, earth, space and structures or lack thereof that we cling to, guide us, nurture us, harm us or let us grow.
Are you experimenting with other art formats recently, or do you at least plan to do this soon? How else do you plan to evolve your art?
I’ve been taking a break from producing anything recently and I’ve been reflecting so I can be more honest and true with my art.
I still use the traditional media of canvas and paint in my free time and look forward to more works involving leaves, sticks, flowers and fruit.
I hope I can explore non-visual media though; that would allow me to seek new ways for me to connect and interpret the natural and the contemporary world. Maybe in the distant future because good things take time.
What’s surprised you the most about working with living things for your art?
What I discovered was that working with living things is an intuitive process. You can’t fully plan or decide the outcome. But if it works out in the end, it’s not because you took control of every little detail but because you went with its flow.
Do you have a favorite plant to work with?
I like working with plants that we normally would label as weeds, those that we wouldn’t even bother watering or transferring to a pot. The plants that nobody planted and yet here they are, thriving.
Photos courtesy of Gera
Art by Yel Sayo