Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Cayetano Ferrer

Although Ferrer uses ink jet prints and not a form of stenciling or silk screening, I thought his process of manipulating how we interact with the everyday environment was unique and worth thinking about. His art functions effectively because it blends into the environment as opposed to contrasting with it. -Kristen Cavanaugh

UR Magazine Article
Saturday, August 5, 2006 5:31 PM
UR Chicago Magazine, August 2006
In early spring of 2004, Chicago drivers trying to determine if a stretch of empty curb doubled as legal parking were confronted with a strange phenomenon. The street signs were invisible. Cayetano Ferrer, then in the midst of BFA studies at the School of the Art Institute, deployed a classic optical illusion on the modern urban landscape, erasing "No Parking" signs not through removal, but by covering each sign with an image of the precise scenery it blocked. Seen from the right angle, the red-and-white squares of metal became part of a seamless vista of sky and tree branches.
"I am interested in site specificity because I feel like it's easy to get lost in repetition," says Ferrer, a Las Vegas native who graduated a few months ago. "Those 'No Parking' signs are everywhere, and that kind of attracted me to using them as a way to frame these places in the city."
Named for the words that remain visible on the reclaimed parking signs, the "City of Chicago" series shares an attitude with Ferrer's more recent work. Earlier in the summer, he recreated a store aisle on Division using empty packages, the molded plastic shells outlining the items they used to contain. He's crammed everything he owns into a crate and put it up for auction on eBay, the reserve price set to the amount of his student loans.
"It's less about the disparity among people's belongings than trying to realize what convinced me, and others, that I needed so much," Ferrer explains. "I'm not trying to make a global statement about how people should live, but I personally want to experiment in alternatives. I think that if you've come to the conclusion that you don't really need much to be happy, then all of a sudden, you become rich."
For Ferrer, things don't just take up space so much as organize our impressions of the world, which means that they don't even have to be present, so long as traces of them remain -- just enough to get the point across. Ferrer is as much a minimalist as anyone can be without embracing the minimalist aesthetic.
"Situated against minimalist sculpture that has this pure materiality, [my work] is kind of the opposite, being filled with an array of objects which, for me, have these detailed histories," Ferrer says.
Like minimalists, Ferrer is about stripping away, but instead of removing formal elements -- a minimalist impulse that has been criticized as cold -- his philosophy is minimalist while his technique is not. Ferrer is intensely personal, wrenching things away from their relational significance to himself, only to yoke them back together in unexpected ways: "Once you get over yourself, it allows for good introspection about something you made to happen," Ferrer says of "Everything I Own" (the eBay piece). "This was definitely intended to be a kind of cleanse. I have been interested in representing emptiness, or (in) creating voids by erasing things."
Not that there aren't things worth owning. Ferrer emphasizes that usefulness is a personal thing, and that objects have value in their immediate usefulness -- a strangely rigid, utilitarian idea coming from an artist. What, after all, is the use of art? When "Everything I Own" didn't find a high bidder online, Ferrer set up "The Demolition Sale" in a condemned building in East Village on Hermitage and sold his stuff, piece by piece, over the course of a week.
"I think all things are worth having at the right time to the right person," he says. "I don't personally see myself hanging on to anything forever, but I guess tools are the most important for me."
For now, those tools are a wallet with a bottle opener and a tape recorder, and Ferrer says he would like a leatherman. "I can't really say what the balance is -- I'm still trying to find it myself," he says. "I feel like I might be on the other side of an imbalance where I freak out when I have more than I can carry in my backpack."
He'll be taking that backpack to Argentina in the winter, and while his work might seem to be limited by a particularly American understanding of surplus, Ferrer argues that his travels might reveal the universality of his work.
"I think people in poor countries probably have a better idea of it than we do, since most of the production is done on their land," he says. "I'm fully aware that it's because of the excess of others that I can live without so much. I would like to think that there are spaces for personal utopias within the cracks of the grand scheme. I'm trying to find those spaces and maybe expand them."
words: Suzanne Wu

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