Our material culture holds meaning. Our relationship to the objects in our everyday life is often highly charged because the objects are linked to roles, personal relationships or family histories; therefore, things don't have stable universal meanings. Instead, meaning develops through social interpretations, uses and, eventually, reuses. And though some objects harbor cherished memories or happy feelings, others serve as cautionary models against overconsumption and waste.
In "El Teddy," diminutive flying figures made out of the tin and wire from champagne bottles memorialize a friend who died in a parachute accident. Warren collected the champagne tin and wire from a club where he worked. Bar tabs there regularly ran in the thousands of dollars, and every morning the place was strewn with this detritus of wealth and overconsumption. Through this recycling and regenerating, Warren turns something distasteful into a fond commemoration.
"The idea of consumption has always been a very powerful subject for me to wrestle with," he writes in an e-mail. "We are very wasteful people and have fallen prey to the idea of 'the next generation,' 'this year's model is faster.' ... I found myself stuck in a situation where I really oppose the norms of consumption but I too had become a consumer." His response, he says, was to "gather and collect and let things, objects, sit around until something resonates between us." It's the transformation that interests him. "The thing must have a life of its own."
"BW No. 1" is one of the most lyrical pieces in the show. This isn't surprising, given that it's made from the keyboard of an upright piano Warren found in a garbage bin. The keys, reinstalled in varying heights in an undulating arc, suggest the music they once generated. But the piece is also abstract and formalist now that these objects have been reconfigured and removed from their original intention.
Warren understands the nostalgia and tenderness that some objects may suggest — even objects that, in their original state, meant something entirely different.
Both "Irish Jackhammer" and "Transformation" suggest the significance that objects hold as a hedge against death and loss. Using phone books — which become, in a way, lists of the dead — Warren constructs a life-affirming portrait of his aging father. "Transformation" is a tender reminder of Warren's dog, whom he had to put down. After working with dozens of photos of his dog, Warren began to make stencils and hand-cut silhouettes. By repeating a few photos of similar poses over and over and hand-cutting them in matchbook covers, he has given the piece an odd, animated quality, like a flip book. Warren's obsessive imaging of the dog becomes its own language of loss and memory. Like someone repeating the same word until it loses its meaning but gains a new significance that is often pleasurable, Warren has created a memorial that ameliorates loss and recycles it into something new and perhaps not painful but satisfying.
Warren's exhibition reminds us that objects are never stable sites of meaning. They're always changeable.