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Ed Varney, Espace 64 Sculpture (Summer 2003)


 Artists aren't told what to do, they have to figure it out for themselves. Sure, other artists, gallery owners, critics and family and friends all have opinions but most artists seem determined to go their own way and create objects and ideas which well up out of their individual obsessions and which they themselves only partially understand. Perhaps it is this central ambiguity which makes it art - a transaction between the artist and the viewer that can't be summed up by words or "meaning", a phenomenological experience that only comes out of direct apprehension of the work.

Angus Bungay's sculpture asks a lot more questions than it answers. Ambiguity and contradiction coax the viewer to allow their own prejudices to surface and to recognize that their response to the work is totally the result of what they bring to it, not what is latent in it. Like a psychoanalyst, these sculptures use extremely subtle devices to allow our deepest emotions to bubble up to where we can turn them over in our psyches and examine them.

Bungay's sculpture has centered on life size representation of the male human head and, occasionally, the torso and arms. He often covers them with irregularly sized pieces of black leather, meticulously attached with small brass nails and he uses various found objects to suggest bizarre experiments, restraints, archaic medical apparatus, and prosthetic devices. The faces themselves are disturbingly unemotional, placid, despite what might seem to be painful manipulations and interventions. Are these the faces of madmen, who have to be contained and and caged to control them or are they the faces of saints who, despite mutilation and torture, endure with an inner peace?

Bungay, a British expatriate who has lived in Vancouver for the past ten years, is a warm and gentle man. His sculpture, for the most part, seems to emanate from a somewhat morbid sensibility but closer examination reveals that it is we, the viewers, who project our own interpretations onto the works. The cast faces are calm, caught in a peaceful and contemplative mode. There are various objects, such as household items, cones, horns, etc., attached to the heads with leather straps, harnesses, and chains. Although black leather and chains suggest punk and biker culture, bondage and sado-masochistic rituals, and electro shock and other medical restraints from the 1800s, this range of possible associations itself points to the multiplicity of interpretations of the work.

"Hammer Man" (from the 1997 series Leathered Heads) presents a head and torso, clad in what looks like leather protective armor, standing in a sea of nails and holding a hammer. His face is covered with black leather as well and there are various objects, which could be read as tools of torture, attached to the armor. He presents an ambiguous figure - is his muscular stance threatening or is he contemplating a job well done? Is the leather outfit some sort of protective restraint which keeps him focused on his objective or is it really armor which conceals a latent violence?

Some of the works in this series features allusions to the senses. A completely leather covered head sports a giant 'ear' in "Confessional" (1997). This megaphone-like contrivance is strapped to the head. It is as if all the other senses were covered and deadened to support this primitive but effective device for the amplification of hearing. But the question remains - who is doing the confessing? "Discipline" (1997) presents a painted head balancing a heavy medical dictionary. The closed eyes betray a steadfastness and a tangible sense of the control needed to accomplish this task.

"Cross" (from the 1999 series At Arm's Length) incorporates an eight foot life size aluminum cross with leather forearm and calve bindings. At first this piece looks like a piece of quasi-religious bondage apparatus but the viewer soon sees that there are castings of the exposed hands and feet in the leather bonds, you can't use this apparatus because someone, who is for the most part invisible, is already there.

Bungay's approach changed in 2001. Although he still uses life sized plaster casts of the head (he has also done an ongoing series of smaller maquettes as well), the character of the clown entered his work. "Leathered Clown" (from the 2001 series Head Games) uses the leather to define the oversized down turned mouth, red nose, and exaggerated face painting of a clown. It is as if the dichotomy between inward and outward, happy and sad, tortured and placid has become more overt. And for the first time, color has appeared in his work.

Up to this point, Bungay had used found objects as part of the stimulus for the development of a specific work. The object would suggest an idea, the nature of the object and its range of associations would play an important role in the direction of the work. With the Head Games series, Bungay began to make drawings of a potential work and then seek out or fabricate the objects that had appeared in the drawing. A yellow duck, for instance, a found object, ended up in several drawings but the sculptor realized that he had to make the multiple ducks the drawing called for. "Shooting Ducks" (2001) is a good example. The initial idea surfaced in a small working sketch derived from exploration of the theme of carnival or midway games. The idea was further developed in a large three foot by four foot drawing. Bungay then created a whole shooting gallery of ducks, fabricated an aluminum mask, and found an appropriate gun to complete the work.

These later works, because they depend more on artist fabricated apparatus (rather than found objects) seem slicker and more finely crafted than some of his earlier works. The net result, however, is equally compelling. Bungay's sculptural works are unique, direct, and powerful - yet at the same time psychologically ambiguous and mysterious - demonstrating a rare and original fusion of idea and execution.


Ed Varney, Vancouver, 2003 .



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