World Sculpture News (volume 5 number 4) Autumn 1999

Angus Bungay at Third Avenue Gallery

by Paula Gustafson



Angus Bungay's anatomical sculptures play fast and loose with our deep-seated anxieties about bondage, imprisonment, and scientifically sanctioned mutilation. Situated somewhere between 19th century prosthetic devices and medieval methods for inflicting torture, Bungay's leather and metal sculptures suggest bizarre practices - of the most painful kind.

The British-born artist insists his motivations are provocative, not sinister. He says he knows his sculptures are disturbing, and some viewers were upset or intimidated by the weaponry held in the clenched fists of Gun, Sickle, and Knife, three of his "armatures" in his recent exhibition. But constructing the lifelike arms and their buckled harnesses was a labor of love for Bungay - a genuine commitment to fine craftsmanship - as well as an exploration of the ambiguities latent in the human psyche. They question where we draw the line between violence and beauty, between terror and protection.

Tapping into our instinctive fears, Bungay's deadly instruments challenge our civilized sensibilities. Surely they must be the product of some mad imagination, some horrific 'other'. Yet we know barbaric acts are not the stuff of history books. Brutal deaths and unspeakable crimes appear daily on the evening news. Recoiling, we remind ourselves that his wall mounted sculptures are exquisite replicas: they are works of art, and therefore not real. But Bungay's exquisite fabrications cannot be dismissed as harmless objects. These disembodied limbs wielding dangerous implements and manifestations of the thin veneer separating the peace-loving human spirit from its primal urges.

Bungay's At Arms Length series (1999) of wall-mounted sculptures are preceded by two previous series, For External Use Only (1996) and Leathered Heads (1997), both of which featured three-dimensional modeled human figures pinioned by metal-and-leather shackles or macabre cage-like devices. The impassive expressions on the figures' faces leave viewers uncertain whether the bodies are of prisoners undergoing inquisitional torture or of patients submitting to some strange scientific procedure.

Writing about Bungay's For External Use Only, Vancouver artist and critic Ed Varney noted: "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. 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 are these the faces of madmen who have to be contained and caged control them or are they the faces of saints, who, despite mutilation and torture, shine with an inner peace and placidity?"

But perhaps the real question is not whether Bungay's sculptures portray martyrs or victims, enforcers or protectors, but the depth of our ability to accommodate, rationalize, and even justify physical violence.


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