At Catriona Jeffries Gallery until May 26
A new face on totems of leisure and prestige.
Fifteen months ago, at the time of his acclaimed solo show at the Vancouver Art Gallery, Brian Jungen expressed concerns about being typecast as "the Nike guy". In an interview with the Straight, Jungen spoke about the now-iconic images that brought him, as a young artist, to the attention of the international art world: Nike trainers taken apart and resewn to resemble Kwakwaka'wakw ceremonial masks.
These works are so powerful–both eye-catching and mind-bending–and so appealing to local, national, and international media that the Vancouver-based artist has become indelibly identified with them. That's not such a terrible thing (think of Andy Warhol's soup cans), except that Jungen has since created a big, diverse, and attention-worthy body of sculptures and installations.
Still, some of the ideas and techniques behind the Nike masks persist in his new, untitled works currently on view at Catriona Jeffries Gallery. A floor sculpture comprises 18 cutout pieces of plywood, each piece covered with a veneer of red wool. The pieces are scale representations of First Nations reserves in the Lower Mainland, and they are arranged, with various overlaps, to look like a big map of British Columbia. References encoded here include trade blankets, games tables, and ongoing land-claims negotiations.
Also on view are five 4.5-metre-tall "totem poles". (They could have been taller: there is a sense here that the poles were truncated to fit beneath the gallery ceiling.) These works are made from reconfigured, new, brand-name golf bags, wrapped as a kind of skin around massive cardboard tubes used in the construction industry for casting concrete columns. Although the tubes are not visible, they serve as a subtext here, invoking Vancouver's voracious building boom and history-obliterating development.
As he has already proven with his Nike masks, Jungen possesses an unmatched ability to transform unremarkable consumer goods into provocative works of art. Original commodity and final product may seem, at first glance, far removed from each other, yet they are integrally linked. No element of Jungen's art-making process is incidental to any other.
Here, the tubular forms and the pouches, pockets, padding, zippers, lining, accessories, and embellishments of the golf bags are converted into the bodies, faces, wings, and claws of creatures associated with Northwest Coast First Nations cultures. Wolf, Raven, Thunderbird, Frog, and Salmon emerge out of arrangements of circles, ovoids, and form lines, the basic components of traditional Northwest Coast design– and of golf bags too, apparently.
Land use and the interface between Native and non-Native claims are prevailing themes in the show. The references to golf immediately call up Oka-style conflicts between the beliefs of aboriginal peoples and the interests of non-aboriginal developers and leisure seekers. Like Jungen's Nike masks, his poles allude to globalization, prestige commodities, economic disparities, and the disappearance of local and indigenous cultures into the maw of multinational corporations. (Most of the high-end golf bags used here were manufactured in Asia.) Perhaps Jungen's next identification will be as "the TaylorMade guy".