Pennies From Heaven, 2016
May 3, 2016 – May 31, 2016
An improvised live performance and symbolic offering of a penny mosaic
Saturday May 7, 14, 21 & 28, 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm
“Pennies From Heaven” is a site-specific installation of a penny mosaic on the floor of Marcus Garvey Park. The piece itself becomes a kind of improvised live performance, changing the physical landscape in real time. The work is intended as a symbolic offering envisaged as a healing ritual, in the vein of Navaho sand paintings. The pennies will be placed using no adhesive. In this way, it is an impermanent temporal piece subject to interaction by the public. This points to an idea that runs though Jose’s practice. It is not the object itself that promotes change in the world. The object is secondary and incidental. The real “work” of art is in the effort, the underlying intent, the sheer output of energy; that is the real agent of transformation in the imagined landscapes we inhabit. This essentially magical aspect is often overlooked, getting lost in the materiality, the form and texture of the piece– the collectible product, as it were. Art is too often reduced to the material realm when really there is much more to the work than meets the eye. It’s often been said that, “change is the only unchanging thing in the universe.” This year’s theme, “Changing Landscapes,” presented as all public art, offers an opportunity to assert to the community that we ourselves– as artists, as creative people or simply as human beings whether we realize it or not– are the quintessential agents of that change apart from natural forces, and that we can direct that change in a more equitable direction.
As a native son of East Harlem, born and nurtured in this very neighborhood, the current theme touches a deep chord with me. Over six decades I’ve witnessed many changes in the landscape and fabric of this community on many levels: economic, demographic, cultural, educational, and housing, to name a few. These changes sometimes come as a detriment to the very residents who have in some cases lived here for generations. As a lifelong member of this community I have seen both sides. I’ve been both a victim and a harbinger of this changing landscape. My travels around the world have further changed the landscape of my own sense of identity, my life and work. This native son is back to be part of a new chapter of change.
Each Saturday throughout May, “Pennies from Heaven” will be re-improvised, designed from 1,000s of pennies. Donations welcome. The piece is intended to be ephemeral. The dimensions are variable and site specific.
Born In New York City in 1956 of Cuban and Puerto Rican parents, Jose Rodriguez works in several different media. In 2010 he was awarded an MFA from UW-Madison. In 2013-14, three beaded sculptural works by Rodriguez were included exhibited in “Robert Wilson/Living Rooms” at the Musee du Louvre in Paris, France. In 1998-2000 Rodriguez’ work was featured in the UCLA Fowler Museum of Cultural History’s landmark show “Beads, Body and Soul: Art and Life in the Yoruba Universe,” which toured the US to such venues as the Michael C. Carlos Museum, Emory University, Atlanta; the Miami Art Museum; the Chazen Museum of Art, UW-Madison; and the Studio Museum in Harlem. His work, “Adenla Obatala” (The Great Crown of the King of White Cloth), commissioned by the Fowler Museum for their permanent collection, is represented on the front cover of the 288-page exhibition catalog. In 1977, Rodriguez completed his undergraduate studio work at Parsons School of Design. He then opted out of the BFA program there for a chance to study abroad through Friends World College, which offered a unique university-without-walls program, earning a BA in Cultural Anthropology in 1981. Through FWC Rodriguez spent one year living in Guatemala, studying traditional techniques of woodcarving, basketry and back-strap weaving among the indigenous Kakchikels of San Antonio Aguas Calientes. The following year he traveled to Kyoto, Japan, where he spent nearly two years researching the philosophy and techniques of Japanese Mingei and classical traditional art. During these three years in Latin America and East Asia the artist gained a firm aesthetic foundation in the practice and philosophy of various traditional arts that carries through to his current work.
Rodriguez spent many years in New York’s inner-city communities, working as an AIE consultant through various organizations such as El Museo del Barrio, the Henry Street Settlement, the Guggenheim, the Studio Museum, the Caribbean Cultural Center and others in partnership with the New York City Board of Education. He provided hands-on K-12 and teacher-training workshops, gallery tours and artist talks. Rodriguez has held residencies in New York at El Taller Boricua, The Association of Hispanic Arts, El Museo del Barrio, and the Henry Street Settlement, as well as in Okinawa, Japan at the Okinawa Prefectural Industrial Arts Center and Kanzeiku Matayoshi, where he studied traditional woodworking and silver smithing techniques. Rodriguez’ work has been published in various publications including: African Arts Magazine. UCLA, Winter 1998; The Yoruba Artist. Rowland Abiodun, Henry j. Drewal, and John Pemberton III Smithsonian Institution Press, 1994; and Who’s Knocking On My Floor?: Esu Arts in the Americas, John Mason, Yoruba Theological Archministry, 2003 to name a few. Jose Rodriguez currently lives and works in New York City, where he maintains a studio in East Harlem. Rodriguez views his work not only as a contemporary artist in an increasingly global era, but also as a traditional practitioner who creates ritual objects and ceremonial regalia. He constantly strives to merge an authentic traditional aesthetic with his contemporary urban experience, at the same time reaching towards the universal in human experience and culture.