Fuerte’s installation consists of three miniature handmade coffins, each placed on a slender black pedestal. These coffins rest below the eye level of the viewers, so that they are invited to peer inside. The caskets remain open, and inside the coffins lay blue Bic pens. This slightly comical aspect to the piece is enhanced by the fact that the pens are “dressed” in tuxedos and what appears to be a wedding dress. The coffin on the left contains a “male” pen as it is covered with a tuxedo, the pen cap being its head. The middle coffin is understood to be female, since it is wearing a white satin dress. The coffin on the right is another male pen wearing a tuxedo.The caps of the pens create the heads of the “people.” The caps are all blue, which means the pen’s ink is blue. The “body” of each pen is clear – the kind that would allow you to see its ink level. The caps on the “male” pens are all mangled; they appear to have been chewed. The cap of the “female” pen, however, remains unscathed and pristine. The caskets that hold each pen appear to be constructed from wood molding, cut to resemble the size and shape of a coffin and painted with a shiny black paint lacquer. This gives each coffin the appearance of sleek metal. The handles on each casket are ordinary drawer pulls from Ikea, yet the simple stainless steel shape is somehow transformed into something used by pallbearers to transport the object. The interior of each casket is decorated with satin cushioning and decorative trim, both of which are white. Attention to detail is clearly something Fuertes had in mind while creating the piece. This accuracy makes the objects seem realistic, strengthening the intended meaning when juxtaposed against the objects absurdly secured inside.
The caskets are only one part of Fuertes’ installation; behind and centered above them, mounted on the wall are three sheets of white paper with blue ink scrawled over virtually the entire surface. The images are placed so that the bottom of the paper lines up with the top of the coffin, joining visually the disparate aspects of the piece. From a distance, it is not easy to discern what has been drawn or written on the paper because nearly all of the free (white) space has been subjected to the pen’s ink. Upon closer inspection, the left paper is completely covered with the word “no” and a repetitive series of vicious scratches and mark makings. The middle panel is a collection of tallies of different sizes and directions. From a distance, this panel reads as some type of design, creating a quasi-landscape in the eyes of the viewer much like a field of crops or a range of mountains might appear. The right panel contrasts the first one, as the word “yes” is repeated in size and direction across the paper.The personification of ordinary everyday objects such as a cheap plastic Bic pen allows closer examination without being dissuaded by the coffins (typically a heavy subject because they symbolize death and loss). Although only the top stem part of the pen can be seen, if one were to remove the articles of clothing from the pens, they would discover that the ink has been drained from them, much like the draining of blood from a lifeless body. To work as it is intended, a pen needs ink to function and perform. Likewise, a human body needs blood to sustain life and carry out tasks. Because the pens lack ink, they are no longer allowed to work and are thus rendered useless. Anyone who has used a disposable pen has at one point surely exclaimed, “this pen is dead” or “my pen just died,” after discovering their actions have drained the remaining drops of ink – and thus, life, from the pen.
The effect of the three wall-mounted images is dizzying, creating a feeling of anxiety within the viewer. The “yes” and “no” commands are confusing, especially when paired with the pens below them, as both of their caps are mangled. Obviously their work on the paper had to do with the state of their death. The middle picture of the tallies is just as intriguing. We normally use tallies as a visible and easy way to keep count, yet the collage of tallies scattered in random patterns and directions about the paper make it virtually impossible to figure out the actual count. Thus, the exercise has been futile; no meaning can be derived from it without a massive amount of effort. The only meaning that exists is in the action of the exercise itself.Feeding off of this aspect, Fuerte furthers the themes of usefulness and useless by displaying the inked paper behind the coffins. This links the two parts of the installation – the viewer can deduce that from the blue cap of the pen and the blue ink on the paper that the pens must have been used to create the images. Clearly, much ink must have been used. Judging by the pens in the coffins, it is clear that this task meant the disappearance of the ink and subsequently the death of the pens. The pens in effect become martyrs, the testament to their life’s work evident behind them. In this way, Fuerte has “Made Gods out of Garbage,” as he states in the first part of the title of his work. Pens that would ordinarily be thrown away are placed in an elaborate casket and put on display for the world to see. Even in their death, the pens are being memorialized, a testament to their toil.
Fuerte displays the six separate pieces as a group, which would indicate that the pieces work together. While it is clear that the paper corresponds to the pens in the coffins, one is left to wonder whether the pieces of paper and pens have any correlation on their own. Is there a relationship between the two male pens and the female pen? Do the words “yes” and “no” have anything to do with this? It seems as though the tallies on the middle sheet of paper are linked to the “yes” and “no” papers to either side. Perhaps the tallies represent how many times the words “yes” and “no” were written on either sheet. If this is the case, the process would have been so painstakingly tedious that the pens were driven to their eventual death, done in by their own “hand.” Perhaps that is why the “female” pen remains unscathed while the two “male” pens look like they have had a tragic death – for surely, writing out the words “yes” and “no” would be much more of a chore than drawing lines for tallies.
The long-winded title Fuerte gives his artwork adds to the meaning of the piece and is effective in getting the viewer to think. Questioning the meaning of the title allows us to easily and openly explore the meaning of the artwork. The viewer is drawn in by the title, and because it is slightly confusing, it causes us to reflect upon what Fuerte is trying to say and how that is applied to his artwork. How important is our disregard for things that are no longer useful to us? Should we pay more attention to things like used-up pens? Or should we place more importance on the fruits of their labor – the paper?
Eric Fuertes explores a number of questions in his work “Making Gods out of Garbage: An Introspective Exercise on the Futility of Being Futile and the Relevance of Disregard” and allows the viewer to ponder their meaning through a playful display of objects. Engaging viewers through multiple levels and created narratives, Fuerte alters the original concept of ordinary objects and mundane routines and allows them to become something extraordinary.
~"Making Gods out of Garbage: An Introspective Exercise on the Futility of Being Futile and the Relevance of Disregard" was up as part of Fifth Appendage, exhibiting contemporary sculpture and prints by Danielle Barton, Maribeth Coffey-Sears, Eric Fuertes, Peter Kenar and Anna Kenar in March 2009.