Jeffrey R. Sarmiento Essay
Jeffrey R. Sarmiento
Winter 2002 Fellow
Jeff Sarmiento addresses universal issues through the quirky specificity of his autobiographical subject matter. At the Creative Glass Center of America, the winter, 2002 fellow focused on extending a diverse body of work which deals with his personal history as a Filipino born in the US and raised in the Chicago suburbs. At CGCA, he acknowledged his current location in a historic glass-making region by using cast iron molds and supplies from the old factory near Wheaton Village to make a series of vessels similar to those illustrated in the 1880 Whitall, Tatum and Co. catalog in the Museum of American Glass.
However, Sarmiento is most occupied with his future. He plans to move to Denmark almost immediately following his residency and is studying Danish intensively. By chance, Sarmiento met his Danish girlfriend through an earlier CGCA fellow, Danish installation artist Maria Sparre-Peterson, with whom he has collaborated in the past and with whom he may eventually share a glass studio in Denmark.
This very contemporary conjunction of Filipino roots, American history, and Danish language and customs produced a heady–intellectually and emotionally–cultural brew and the sense of being a cosmopolitan Voyager happily partaking of much but perhaps not truly embedded in any one environment. A recent trip to Denmark gave Sarmiento his first experience of being “in a truly foreign culture.” His earlier work as a graduate student at the Rhode Island School of Design was drawn from his parents’ experiences as immigrants. Now he says, “I enjoy Denmark. I ‘orientalized’ it in a way,” he admits, referring to Edward Said’s critique of European cliches about Asian culture. “I found it exotic in every way from food to language.” He is silk-screening the Danish word orientals (orientalism) on glass pieces cast from old factory molds.
Sarmiento is enthusiastic about Danish glass tradition which links all worlds of design. While the American studio movement is only 30 years old, Sarmiento says Danish design is more far-reaching and the glass tradition is older. Unika, a Danish word meaning craft-based art, has no real parallel in the US he believes. He has adopted this understanding of object-making which is simultaneously functional and artful. “I’ve made the decision to approach with small issues piece by piece. It’s what’s of the moment.”
Danish books occupy a prominent position in his studio. He’s amused by children’s stories and an old bilingual tourist publications which claim, “Women are naturally the country’s most prominent attraction.”
Preparing for his move to Denmark, Sarmiento using his study of Danish as a central theme in his work at CGCA. In general, he approaches his practice with the idea that language of one sort or another underlies all artful expression. “The most foreign thing about Danish is mouth position,” he explains, displaying instructional photographs in language manuals. Entertained by observing the reflections of his mouth as he imitates the photographs while pronouncing “strange diphthongs and glottal stops,” he is making a series of direct casts of his lips and tongue.
These life size images become rather mysterious when placed at the peak of small paper weight-size mounds. The flat base will be etched or engraved with a Eurail map and lit from below. The layering of photographic imagery is characteristic of Natives, an earlier work juxtaposing pictures of a Filipino American family and “colorful” semi-clad Filipino men in the Philippines. “Who are the natives?” the work seems to ask.
In his more recent work, Sarmiento hopes to use lenses opening to words and casts of his own tongue to “bridge the gap between vessel-making and language learning.” Although almost every object he makes is a vessel, not one has a functional purpose. Sarmiento will screen the word Undenlandsk (foreign) on one of a series of 16 large tubes which he is casting from historic molds. An entire series of white vessels has to do with a “grammar lesson.” Phrases like Sdan siger man de p dansk (This is how one says in Danish) are written in black on the white surfaces He’s considering calling it Blaeksrutte or inkwell which is also the word for octopus or squid in Danish. Perhaps because of his interest in printed and written language, Sarmiento prefers to work in white glass or clear glass with white.
“I’m anti-macho,” Sarmiento reveals. “I don’t like macho glass” Nevertheless, he takes care that each work is produced with optimum skill. At CGCA, he located facilities for silk-screening photographs onto glass “In glass, you have to be very good in the time it takes to make the piece with your timing and your hands and the heat.”
By adding a demanding yet playful cultural component to his craft accomplishment, Sarmiento engages his intellectual skills as completely as his physical craft skills and presents the viewer with a dense, elegantly wrought puzzle.