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The Resurgence of Memory

Jimmy Centeno's sculptural and installation art at the LA Art Core gallery within the Brewery Annex

By Nadia L. Castro
Published on LatinoLA: March 17, 2015


The Resurgence of Memory


Working in iron rusted forms with unfinished textured surfaces,Jimmy Centeno, one of Los Angeles contemporaray exhibiting Latin American artists, delves into the idea of cultural identity and remembrance. Centeno's sculptural and installational artworks invoke the grit and force of downtown urban landscapes and local communities. Displayed this past month at the LA Art Core gallery within the Brewery Annex, itself an urban center that embodies the persistence of downtown's emerging art scene, Centeno's assemblage resonates with the surrounding communities' struggles for identity and the resilience of collective memory amidst upheaval and transition.

Capturing the essence of the oxidized palette -- also found in Richard Serra's steel works and Bernar Venet's " Arcs"ÔÇô Centeno's compilation of forms alludes to fire and rust. A sense of weathered strength and durability in the face of brutal forces comes forward in dynamic minimalist forms held in ironclad space. Through a small mass of welded rusted shards and discarded rusted shapes, forms arise suggestive of things such as a winged creature in flight, titled "Ave De Largo Viaje", and, more specifically, a quetzal, a bird found in Mexico and Central America (including on Guatemalan currency) and known for its divine association with the feathered serpent god Quetzalcoatl.

From another corner arises a standing piece composed of rusted gears and with keys attached titled "Matigari: Keeper of Memory". The work, inspired by the de- and post-colonial writing of Ngugi wa Thiong'o, suggest clockworks at a standstill, assembled in rudimentary fashion yet locked in a single moment. The constancy of earthy colored browns evokes a continuous thread, the passage of time, but also implies the permanence of a collective cultural memory conserved beneath rustic layers yet persistently resurfacing in our landscape.

The centerpiece of Centeno's series, an installation titled "Dreaming Between Fences", relates how the memory is political as well as individual, and hence psychological. The rusted framework of a bed sits seemingly abandoned but surrounded with the normal accoutrements of a bedroom (bedstand, bedframe etc..). However, instead of a mattress a woven nest rests on the bed, alluding to home and family. Headboards and footboards are made of the oxidized wire fencing mesh, giving a sense of extended repression and restraint.

All of this exudes a nostalgic barrenness, in a sense a metaphor for the lonely journey of the immigrant whose origins and identity are transformed into a haunting memory.

Centeno appropriates other household objects and modifies them into poignant statements: a wooden fold-up chair in which a ghostly picture appears through a missing slat; the picture is of a landscape of Ciudad Juarez. According to Centeno the piece is an homage to and remembrance of the women who lost their lives in the northern Mexican city's recent wave of femicides. Overall, these objects present us with domestic and commonplace conditions infused with nostalgia tragedy, giving rise to a subtle but constant politicized indignation.

The use of rescued materials becomes a vital element in Centeno's art. In particular, the presence of oxidized locks and keys recurs throughout this sculptural series, creating a sense of liminal space that invites viewers to meditate on the ideas of boundaries, of that which is locked away and out of reach or, conversely, that can be unlocked if the key is there.

These recycled objects were recovered from the surrounding communities, and they take on an organic, living quality in that they have their own history. "Umbral: Candado Desobediente" (" Threshold: Disobedient Lock") sits atop a shipping crate labeled "fragile." It speaks of liminality and the slippage of use and meaning that occurs at thresholds or doorways inviting us to cross through almost against our will.

Topped with a rusted earth-toned sphere with a defiant lock that cannot close due to oxidation, "Umbral" serves to signify a natural welcome into a global society, a society defined as a human community rather than a culturally-constructed political and socio-economic series of barriers that limit our relationships with one another. Throughout, the pervasive "flavor" of oxidization gives the insistent sense of a collective memory, one that stands the test of time and space even within passages of transition.

Despite changing tides in history and the overtures of cultural diversity, Jimmy Centeno reminds us through his art how cultural and political memory always resurfaces, forging our identities through pervasive metaphors found in everyday life and objects.

Jimmy Centeno's has also recently exhibited at UCR Riverside and will be presenting more works at Deleage gallery spce within Casa 101, more information at http://www.casa0101.org/mission-statement.

About Nadia L. Castro:
Art Historian, Freelance Researcher and Writer




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