text and photos by Paolo Vergara
Since graduating from the University of the Philippines Diliman College of Fine Arts in 1982, Pete Jimenez has made a name for himself as part of a loose collective – not yet a movement – of Filipino sculptors defying the common conventions of the genre.
Jimenez’s most recent solo show, “Oh Baby Baby It’s A Wide World,” ran from June 28 to July 22, 2019 in the Finale Art File gallery in Makati. Here, he unveiled a series of pieces once again upcycling discarded materials. One piece in particular, Hands on, is a first for the artist, in his own words. Accustomed to working with metal, this was the first time Jimenez used rubber gloves as a medium.
During his regular visits to junk shops and stockyards, he came across a pair that once belonged to a Manila Electric Company (Meralco) lineman.
Where traditionally, the training is to have a finished image in mind, Jimenez works backwards, letting his chosen medium determine what comes out.
It’s a spontaneous movement, especially when the material is not what’s commonly associated with fine art sculpting. His isn’t a palate of plaster nor marble nor cement, but of scrap metal, corrugated steel, and other industrial refuse. Is it safe to say Jimenez is pursuing the found objects or arte povera genre? Perhaps. For this creator, it’s more of an intuitive process than a purely academic choice. There is some deliberation, but also whimsy, and with welding torches ablaze and hammers a-clang, there is rigor, but also playfulness.
In a way, one could call Jimenez a radical recycler.
Meralco eventually acquired the work. During its unveiling in the company’s recently-refurbished linemen training center last September 26, one of the executives shared a story about debating whether the piece was an appropriate display in the building.Glancing around the room, I saw a faint smile curling across Jimenez’s face as this anecdote was related.
The gloves are worn and torn, frayed and greyed, dirty, with faint odors of sweat, smoke, and electric singeing
still wafting from them: a subtly-told tale of a day in the life of a lineman. The executive continued: upon deeper reflection, he realized it was apt, after all, given the location’s history.
“It’s really for the workers,” the artist would tell me later, as we both stood in front of (or behind, it’s hard to tell) the piece after most of the photo ops had ended.
Emmanuel Domingo, a lead man or lineman team leader, who was present at the unveiling, tells me more: always on-call, linemen would brave rain and withstand sun if an emergency occurred, birthdays and holidays be damned. Self-defense lessons were also taught, as reactions to them removing illegal connections were often violent. A close look at the gloves reveals tears in recurring places: across the palms and on the thumb areas. According to Domingo, linemen don’t only climb posts, but dig them in, too.
Another worker told me that gloves, once issued, last from one to two weeks. Domingo quips that they’d last for a month … if unused.
Under the leadership of a new CEO, Ray C. Espinosa, Meralco aims to further support the arts. The refurbished training center, now christened the Meralco Power Tech is an expression of this, expanding its scope to include design training and innovation development, and the planned acquisition of more art pieces. The iconic Meralco theater, a short drive away from Power Tech, is also a popular venue for large-scale productions.
In light of these developments, Meralco has commissioned Jimenez to work on another piece along the theme of Hands on, also utilizing worker’s gloves. Before parting ways, the artist tells me, “normally, I don’t have any explicit commentary or story in my work, I leave that to viewers. But sometimes, I do.”
From above, below, and on four sides, Hands On, and likely, its younger sibling in-the-making, serves as that commentary, with literally many sides to a story with details that recur, and sometimes, stand out.