The Westender, Vancouver B.C. July 1999
Shows theme's ambiguity, not violence
by Mary Frances Hill
.................. ... .... .......
............The thing about leather, says Angus Bungay is that it's
gotten such a bad rap......... ....................................
"It's always been associated with doing things that are very
evil," the Vancouver sculptor says.
Those assumptions offer Bungay a problem and an invitation.
The fact that viewers find his leather bound work disturbing discourages
him, but doesn't surprise. But their initial intrigue around his materials
- leather, brass wingnuts, nails and many found objects, all collected
in two-dimensional sculptures - often leads them to peer closer. And this
is a good thing, says Bungay, a British expatriate artist who'll show his
work with Toronto artist Erik Mohr in Lock and Load, an exhibit
showing at the Third Avenue Gallery, 1725 West Third Ave., from Saturday
(July 3) to July 31.
Bungay remembers being fascinated by old medical books
his grandmother had given him, filled with photographs of hospital settings,
in which medical staff do their tasks with blank, inexpressive stares.
It was an image that struck him all the more by its ambiguity. On the onset
it looked mighty sinister; but the figures were engaged in the work of
helping to improve another's health. "I was blown away by it. If they
had been frowning it would have been different, more obvious."
Since then, Bungay has embraced ambiguity and incongruity.
Working regularly in animation, he admits to going through a stage of "putting
(images of) babies in very awkward places." In his own home, Bungay
displays much of his own work in a series of six-foot-tall pedestals with
heads in three dimensions; one shows a thick leather cone-hat sitting on
his head like a dunce cap; on top is an egg cup and silver egg, and a spoon
attached to a chain hanging from the face - like a sinister figure inviting
the viewer to play. On another, the leather cone is turned onto the figure's
face and nose area - a deliberate image that Bungay took from his readings
of the Black Plague of Europe. During the Black Plague, he read, doctors
treating stricken patients wore cones with flowers placed inside the nose
"They thought if they were continually smelling
sweet flowers they would be protected ."
The sculpture is a good example of the double edged
nature of everything he sees: danger and beauty, terror and protection,
constriction and freedom, all in the same sculpture.
"A lot of people approach my work with one set
thing in their mind," says Bungay, referring to their presumption
that leather and nails are all about sadomasochism, evil and danger. "I
want to extend these devices, keep it as ambiguous as possible, and let
people decide if it's good or bad or both."
The same could be said of the collection of prosthetic
sculptures to be shown in Lock and Load. In a small series, originally
titled At Arm's Length, Bungay offers the strong possibility that
these figures are less intimidating than they may appear. He provides the
option that what may look like captivity and oppression, can be interpreted,
at closer glance, as a detached protection and a sense of nurturing.
On one, a suede set of forearms burst out of an aluminum
frame, positioned tightly in a vulnerable, pleading prayer position. But
down where the elbows should be, there's some heavy-duty leather and chain
prisoner's cuffs. On another, a tough-looking prosthetic arm sticks out
in a soldierly position, holding what looks on one end like a riding crop.
On the tip, however, is a hoe. It's a weapon of domination on one hand,
a tool for massaging the earth on the other.
"People say to me, where's the blood?" says
Bungay. The question often surprises him. Despite the title of the shared
exhibit, Bungay insists his work is not about violence, but ambiguity.
One piece he knows will attract a lot of attention
during the show is the eight-foot-high aluminum crucifix, decorated with
hands and feet attached. The hands and feet, bound in long, hard leather
coverings, belong to no specific body - they just hang there, attached
as if in a sacred animated suspension.
If it causes a fuss, that's his duty, Bungay says -
to inspire talk, to get people who may recoil from the work at first, to
ask questions ........."I have upset
people with these pieces, even when it's not my intentions to," he
says. "But I do like making them think."
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