Career Opportunities

Career Opportunities is a large-scale piece I finished in 2003

It’s a complex piece, and takes a little explaining..

The main slideshow can be seen here

As is true with all sculptures, career opportunities is ill-served by photographic representation. You need to stand under it to fully appreciate the narrative involved. Seen from a distance, it is not recognizable as art. Standing twelve feet tall, it appears to be some giant industrial machine, with hydraulic rams, hinges, and hoses running all over it. Machines are only built to accomplish repetitive tasks, and hopefully, as a viewer, you are drawn closer, to figure out the purpose for this massive machine.

As you approach it, you see that the business end of the machine is equipped with six hydraulic arms, with steel pincers attached at the ends, stretching tight the giant dissected face of a snarling old man, cast in bronze, with chrome teeth and eyes, staring down at you from above.

In his shattered teeth, he bites down on a ring that holds a chain which hangs straight down toward you. The other characters in the piece are stationed along this chain at different levels.

Our second character is the salary man, wearing his suit and tie. His feet are shackled together, and from the shackles hang the rest of the chain. He is grasping a bar that is attached to the upper chain, with his hands behind his back, in a position called strappado or palestinian hanging that amounts to modern crucifixion. When the first gulf war started, I recall seeing pictures emerging from Iraq, with prisoners of war that had died from this torture. Strappado goes back to the renaissance, and probably before, and has been used by torturers ever since. The Nazis, NVA, turkish police, and even (allegedly) US interrogators at Abu Ghraib have used the strappado method in modern times.

In Career Opportunities, it is used to trap the subject, hanging slightly above eye level, his necktie tied around the handle of his open briefcase. The fact that he is holding on, rather than being tied by the wrists, indicates that however he got into this situation, he is fighting to maintain it, not to let go. The chain hanging from his feet, and the character it holds, will reveal why.

Finally, at the base of the chain, we have our Madonna / mother figure, with her infant child. That little arch in wooden crossbeam above her head is intended to mirror the archetypal Catholic halo (think blessed virgins bathed in glowing golden light and what-not….) She is barefoot and helplessly exposed, sitting on a swing, nursing her young child. This part of the sculpture hangs fairly low, about three feet above the ground, so to look closely at her, you must crouch down under the monstrous assemblage above you.

Interpretation of my work is always left a little open, and Career Opportunities has a lot going on, and many different translative outcomes. I tried to create a narrative structure, with different characters, that allows the viewer to access my meaning (meanings?) from a few different angles. Yes, I know I’m playing a little fast and loose with various stereotypes, and I realize that I’m being a little ham-fisted with my narrative. I see Career Opportunities as an attempt to communicate an emotional reality, that falls apart as impotent ranting or just plain whining when laid out in a verbal or prosaic form.

When I installed it in the courtyard of the Art Building at San Jose State University, I left a podium in front of the piece with this poem on it, and a small notebook for people to leave short notes: their reactions, questions, and thoughts on the piece. I see this blog as an extension of that mode of communication. Feel free to leave any comments, criticisms, or questions, and I’ll respond here as soon as I can.


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6 Responses to “Career Opportunities”

  1. sugarbear Says:

    Jon, a couple of thoughts in regards to Career Opportunities….as you know I have actually seen the piece at San Jose State and I think it is slightly more complex than you summarize. I agree there is the child, the mother, the provider/husband, but I think the mask is not part of the machine, he is a prisoner of the machine. He may have been climbing the ladder earlier in his career, but at some point he became so enmeshed that the machine trapped him and holds him prisoner. Unlike the wage earner, he is not able to escape. The machine, while not a humanoid–none the less acts upon the mask and holds him captive. So the machine like Darth Vader’s body both sustains and lives off of the mask. The other unseen entity is inside the black box which is labeled re$tricted acce$$. There is an elite group of people who have the keys to access this highly restricted black box that controls all. To me the restricted access secret keys are like the mystery of Wall Street. I would love to hear your thoughts….

  2. jon Says:

    I’ve always seen the face as an analogy for a person who has sublimated their will to a “system”, be it a bureaucrat that throws their hands up, and says “well this is just how we do things here” or a CFO who compromises his principles in order to meet shareholder earnings numbers. They can be fully aware that their actions contradict their conscience, but “the system” prevents them from being fully human. Thus, they are victims, but not innocent ones.
    The system (the machine) is an inanimate thing, that forms through the amalgamation of rule sets and conflicting desires, that should only have as much power over us as we allow it to have. Many different people have access to a part of the control over the system, but yes, i agree with you, there is an elite cla$$ that holds the most control in their hands. The desire for that control is the reason to climb the chain….

  3. Jesse tha Kid Says:

    The brilliance in your work is not overlooked, rather underseen. We need to make some films involving your work, share the inspired messages you create with.

  4. jon Says:

    thanks jesse…
    I think the website and the blog are kind of a step in that direction. I don’t know if I’m film worthy, though…
    I appreciate the comments…

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