Review: Jeffrey Sarmiento – Constructions (National Glass Centre, Sunderland)

5 October 2013 – 5 January 2014

Premiering at the National Glass Centre, Constructions is a mid-career solo exhibition of new work by Jeffrey Sarmiento, supported by a new publication and an International tour. Sarmiento’s sculptures utilise both ancient and more modern glassmaking technologies to explore the issue of cultural identity.

“Encyclopedia” is a three part installation. Sarmiento has condensed 150 different images of information into a large ceramic display, repeating this in a trilogy of works, each time broken down into more manageable chapters. The content of these works (such as medical journals written by his father and personal photographs) become clearer as the pieces break apart – reflected by the other works he has submitted to the gallery.

Having a good friend from Bergen, Norway, I was pleasantly surprised to see such a strong connection between this remote Norwegian location (where Sarmiento performed a recent residency) and North East England. One such piece, “Centre”, focuses on elevating otherwise mundane and dull tower blocks into jigsaw’s of elegance and colour. Using a specialised device, known as a water jet cutter, Sarmiento created these unique pieces celebrating the architectural similarities of our buildings. With her having recently come to Newcastle for a visit I’m ashamed to say I was unaware of such a fantastic link between the two locations to capitalize on showing her.

You’re taken back by the emptiness of the room in which the pieces are displayed in comparison to the artwork on show. The echo of footsteps as you walk through the space allow for complete submersion into the world of the art – no distractions present themselves as you move from piece to piece.

My personal favourite work has to be “Slither”. This simple image of a snake on glass appears on the surface to be both representative of the artists traditional cultural heritage in conflict to his current social surroundings. While this may well be true, it is the ability of the snake (traditionally seen as an animal to be feared or even despised) to “shape shift” as the viewer approaches it – literally blurring the subject of vision – that calls in a rather strange juxtaposition on the relationship we share with those of a different race. At first our traditional xenophobia presents a number of reasons why turning and walking the opposite direction is the most advisable thing to do – until we realise that bonds can be formed.

One interpretation that lent itself to this reviewer after observing the work was that it was a metaphor for how we might observe strangers in a new land – dangerous and to be feared – until we bring ourselves closer and see harmlessness.

According to Sarmiento “Constructions challenges the viewer to reconsider identity and how it might be expressed through the image and object”. This hope has been achieved.