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 tip.
"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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