Brian Jungen: Bright Light
Brian Jungen was born in Fort St. John British Columbia, Canada, in 1970. He is part of a new generation of Vancouver-based artists exhibiting internationally. He was born to a Swiss-Canadian father and First Nations mother and raised in the Dane-zaa nation in the Peace River country. He graduated from Emily Carr University of Art and Design in 1992.
Brian draws, sculpts and constructs installations that explore and challenge elements of his mixed cultural identity and heritage. His unique approach demands that we as the audience question ethnicity and challenge the complex exchanges of material goods and ideas in this our modern globalized village. His work falls under the category of ‘found art’- where everyday objects are found and reused, but made to look like something else. Jungen’s work follows the tradition of Andy Warhol and Marcel Duchamp. Looking at his art, it is often difficult to tell what the objects used to be, or used to be used for. Once you know, the brilliance of his idea shines through. Who else would use a pair of Nike running shoes and make them into a traditional First Nations mask?
For example: Prototypes for New Understanding (1998-2005), is a selection of Nike Air Jordan trainers that he dissected and reassembled to look life Northwest Coast Indian masks. Jungen plays brilliantly with economic and cultural values, revealing the power of corporate logos, branding and our cultural obsession of ‘keeping up with the Jones’.
Brian says this about this work: “I wanted to address commercialism and the fetishization of trainers and aboriginal art. I also wanted to address the division of labour, the production of goods and the relationship between the First and Third Worlds. There is a developing world within the First World on First Nations reserves.”
Another piece that has garnered international attention is Talking Sticks (2005) in which is baseball bats carved with the words ‘collective unconscious’ and ‘First Nation Second Nature’ and are made look like totem poles . This work embodies traditional myths that have been copied by modern North American sports teams: another glaring example of this ruthless appropriation of First Nations culture for North American gain: the Chicago Blackhawks name and logo or the Atlanta Braves name and logo.
Jungen’s international reputation was secured in 2002 by his magnificent whale skeletons, Cetology, which were large suspended sculptures of whales that were made from white plastic deckchairs. The ironic rendering of endangered whale species in non-biodegradable mass-produced objects was impossible to miss.
Brian’s work has been shown at the Vancouver Art Gallery, the Tate Modern in London, Le Museé D’Art Contemporian de Montréal and the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian.
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By Melissa Montgomery