If I was limited to a one-word description of Angus Bungay's sculptural devices that word would be "ominous". Yet after talking with the expatriate British artist just prior to his 'For External Use Only' exhibition at the Third Avenue Gallery, I have to admit that what I interpret as menacing or threatening in his leather-harnessed body parts is really my own imagination at work. Bungay says he doesn't build his sculptures to intimidate anyone.
In fact, he says his, constructions are just an extension of the fun he had making things with Meccano and model kits when he was a boy. His favourite found objects back then were the bits of plastic and metal left over after he had punched out the model kit parts. Now he searches through the rubble of demolished houses and garage sales for brass gears and wing nuts.
While Bungay's motivation may be ingenious, his sculptures play fast and loose with our deep-seated anxieties about bondage, imprisonment, and scientifically-sanctioned mutilation.
Writing about Bungay's sculptures, Vancouver artist Ed Varney conjectures that "on the surface, his images are disturbing because they suggest both bizarre medical experiments and prosthetic devices that might have been used for surgical reconstruction of the faces of accident victims...but are they real or are they fabrications? Do they come from some more primitive time in our medical history where the reshaping of human physiognomy into an appearance of normality by brute force was common...or are they machines spun out of the artist's imagination to coax out and illuminate the inner person? Are these the faces of madmen who have to be confined and caged to control them or are they the faces of saints who, despite mutilation and torture, shine with inner peace and placidity?"
The answers, of course, rest with the show's viewers. Just as some gallery goers read phallic implications into a painter's firm, vertical brushstrokes, viewers of 'For External Use Only' can if they choose - focus on the straitjacket-like bindings that shackle Bungay's anatomical casts. But the expressions on the faces pinioned under his torturous gear are stoic, without any indication of pain or suffering. Tapping in to our instinctive fear of being taken captive, Bungay's disembodied devices give permission to look at the form and shape of our irrational nightmares.
November 1996, Out in the City.
article illustrated with 'Conduction' 1996
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