The Apotheosis of Found Objects

By: Helen Yu-Rivera

Business Mirror
October 1, 2008

How is an everyday object transformed into a work of art? An object may gain status through time in the same way that wisdom is often ascribed to age. A modest table or chair can turn into fine antique in many years. But not all objects are privileged to acquire such status. A rusty nail, spring or scrap metal, for instance, will never become priceless antiques and do not command center stage in the drama of everyday life. While many recognize these objects’ importance in the assembly line, they are merely part of something larger and are discarded once their usefulness expires. Pete Jimenez’s sculptures afford these seemingly insignificant objects the chance to undergo a transfiguration. From their humble origins in junkyards, they are given new lease in life and elevated into the status of “art.” These found objects are given formal coherence, expressive character and embodied with a “concept” in the hands of this talented artist.

Usually working without preliminary sketch, Jimenez allows his imagination to work spontaneously as he fashions them into beautiful art pieces. He starts with a single piece of material then adds another piece that has been welded onto another until the whole thing takes shape much like a collage. An arresting piece he made, entitled Instant Mami, consists of twisted round bars which were crushed and welded together to form a large rectangular shape reminiscent of the compacted dried noodles one finds inside a pack of instant noodles. Cathedral Window is made up of the body of nails without the head, bent and shaped into triangles. A recent piece, entitled After Shave, is made from an automobile spring and a cut-up liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) cylinder with welded nails scattered on top, reminding one of stubbles left after shaving. Reviewing his works, one feels that Jimenez has breathed life into these inanimate objects. Many of his sculptures have been treated anthropomorphically. The cut –up LPG cylinder has suggested the head of Lola with open curls on top, or Mom with tighter and closed curls, of Batman with a Walkman, or of “Mr. Chairman” decked literally with the back of a wrought iron chair on top.

Another way by which found objects may be transformed into works of art is through labeling. Marcel Duchamp, for instance, transformed ready-mades into art by conveniently changing the labels. Unlike Duchamp’s “urinal” reborn as a “fountain,” Jimenez’s works do not attempt to conceal the origins of his humble pieces. His labels are appropriated from popular terms, often injecting local humor in the texts’ corruption of English words, such as Carabao English to label a sculpture that looks like a carabao; Is Knob (snob) to describe a piece made of knobs and metal; and Petal Attraction (Fatal Attraction) for a floral piece made of parts from a Volkswagen Beetle. His adroit verbal play is exemplified in titles like pusa(kal), a work made from the discarded parts of an old Singer sawing machine shaped to look like a cat; or Tupperware Party, which consists of a series of cut-up pipes whose hollow circular shapes look like the top of different sizes of food keepers.

The commonplace is highlighted by many labels such as Mango Shake, a moving, swinging piece that shakes when tapped and is made of round bars which are bent and twisted to take the shape of two interlocking outlines of a mango. A small piece, entitled Google Earth, looks like a transparent earth with little extended arms. According to Jimenez, the piece also looks like a lunar module or spaceship, and the little arms are like “motion speed lines that make you zoom in and out of earth.” A particularly interesting work is a brown vertical metal piece with holes, entitled Who ate my Toblerone? Jimenez’s works and their labels are also exercises on semiotic reading. Askal (stray dog) is a three-legged canine made of wood, ax and the wheels of delivery carts that look like a trike. The trike becomes indexical of a stray dog whose leg was run over by speeding cars along the highway. According to Jimenez, he conjures up the labels in the process of making his sculptures-sometimes half way through, while at other times “the work sits still for weeks without label.” Indeed, what gives life to his visual images are the verbal puns that accompany them. While Jimenez asserts that the works should be able to stand on their own, the labels have become part and parcel of his creations and give them a comic character, adding wit and vitality to each piece.

Jimenez relates that after a work is welded and he is truly satisfied with the result, he exposes it to the elements and “…in due time, it gathers a textural treatment that can only be done in nature.” Corrosion and the metal’s reaction to the various elements give his works a beautiful patina. The natural patina reminds us that these sculptures remain a part of everyday life; they do not rear their heads like monsters in new and shiny garbs but ubiquitously assert their “everydayness.” Paradoxically, therefore, while the found objects are transformed into art, we cannot help but recognize, in the words of W.J. T. Mitchell, “…the plain old thing with its homely, familiar name…., blushing and smirking at us in the spotlight of aesthetic attention, or ignoring us totally.” But why are we, as viewers, mesmerized by Jimenez’s works? While Jimenez takes his inspiration from Picasso’s assemblage works, the context in which these works were received is no longer viable. The surrealist deployment of the found object caused “shock” among the viewers as the uncanny was made to take the place of art. Today, however, we do not view Jimenez’s works with mouth agape, horrified by these humble objects’ apotheosis. We are rather drawn to them because the everyday objects assert a reality tangible enough for us to experience. In an age where reality is virtual, Jimenez’s sculptures comfort us with the knowledge that we can continue to see, feel and touch objects.

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