Sarmiento speaks through glass

The International Examiner August 30, 2005 0


BY LUCIA ENRIQUEZ

Jeffery Sarmiento’s pieces are mesmerizing. Peering inside blocks of smooth glass, we see lines become waveforms, diagrams or letters. Overlapping, floating through the depths of transparent or lightly tinted glass, we get caught in a web of words and images.

Sarmiento explores the way language shapes a way of being. In glass he has found a medium that provides a sculptural base for ideas and integrates properties crucial to his aesthetic vision: transparency, reflectiveness, prismatic view.

He has a personal stake in language, having grown up Filipino American but not speaking his native tongue. Removed from his hereditary culture, his mixed origin became a source of embarrassment and shame. To transcend his alienation he decided to become a foreigner again, but in a culture of his choosing. He lived for three years in Denmark, the encounter providing a blank slate where he could live out an experience of linguistic and cultural absorption.

Sometimes Sarmiento’s impulse is to strip language down to its physics. In the “Transmission” set of pieces, rectangular blocks of glass enclose waveforms or rings, more speech pattern than words. Though we don’t know what the patterns mean, their sheer beauty tells us something hopeful even in uncomprehended communication.

“Mapping” is a piece with a slightly pinkish tint, perhaps alluding to rose-colored traveler’s idealism. Inside we see veins of white lines. They seem like graining or crystallization, but a closer look shows a more engineered source. Indeed, the veins are a map of the city of Copenhagen, different sections layered on top of each other, stacked and fused. Without signs or landmarks, the piece portrays the essence of a new arrival’s view–the city as an infinite maze, forbidding but also inviting imagination and possibility.

Often Sarmiento’s Danish inspired work teeter on being too pristine. Other pieces contain grittier cultural reference, and bring Sarmiento home. Instead of being completely transparent, “Machete Wedding” and “March” are backed by a layer of opaque white glass and frame a halftone photo. “Machete Wedding” is the Filipino equivalent of a forced marriage. We see a photo of a young woman, a slight smile on her face the only thing confounding a barrage of daggers poised her way. The threat is linguistic as well as metaphoric, each dagger named in the Filipino dialect of its origin. The piece has a lingering, withering, hold your breath kind of effect.

“March” gets to the heart of an alienation that, though sublimated, still calls for attention. In this piece two groups march in opposite directions: in the background a line of tribesmen, in the foreground a costumed marching band. Though transparent, the glass in between them seems impermeable, and so too does Sarmiento’s choice of iconic extremes to represent two different cultures. He pulls no punches. The extremes are equalized and nearly cancel each other out except for the fact that the last tribesman in line is casting a backward glance. He is looking towards the marching band, he is also looking at the invisible photographer, and consequently, at us. Where words may sometimes fail, a glance may be the only means to attempt connection.

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