Animal Flow

9 August 2020 – That’s where it starts. Sheer visual reference.

I see Paige Bowman’s canine prowling a street corner opposite Jonathan Rogers Park.

It flips my mind back to Brian Jungen’s whale, which I saw last week at the VAG (Vancouver Art Gallery) …

and farther back than that, back to 2013, when Ai Weiwei’s snake coiled across the ceiling at the AGO.

Three works, connected by subject matter — an animal — but, above all, by flow.

Flow. The sheer pulsing energy that the artist has infused into each element of each creature.

The rib cage & attendant structures …

the head …

the vertebrae.

But the flow transcends physical form, as I realize when I look up Paige Bowman and re-acquaint myself with these specific works by Brian Jungen and Ai Weiwei.

The works, like the artists, also flow across identity, voice, appropriation and meaning.

Paige Bowman is a Vancouver illustrator who self-identifies as “human dog,” chooses the pronoun references of “they/them,” and — like the art they create, lives “on the unceded territory of the musqueam, squamish and tseil-watuth, or so called vancouver.”

Brian Jungen, born in northern BC of Swiss/ Dane-Zaa heritage, has built up a rich body of work in which he repurposes running shoes, golf bags, hockey masks, car fenders and plastic chairs into representations of indigenous masks and war bonnets, furniture, and ┬áliving creatures. Cetology, shown here, a complete whale skeleton created from patio chairs, is owned by the VAG and was on loan last year to the AGO for its 2019 retrospective of Jungen’s work, “Friendship Centre.” Jungen has cheerfully pointed out how suitable it is that he appropriate sports equipment for his sculptures, given how freely sports organizations have appropriated native terminology for team names. (A practice that now appears to be in sharp reversal, at least here in North America.)

In Snake Ceiling, Ai Weiwei uses a favourite Jungen material, backpacks, to give voice to those literally buried by the 2008 Sichuan earthquake and buried again by Chinese official silence about the disaster. Some 5,000 of the est. 90,000 victims were schoolchildren, killed when their shoddy schools collapsed around them. Each segment of that snake is a child’s backpack: as an AGO volunteer at the time, I watched visiting schoolchildren listen to the story, their faces changing from polite semi-attention to focused shock and empathy. Every element of that exhibition (“Ai Weiwei: According to What?”) flowed across the boundaries of its material; told stories; pulsed its connection with a viewer willing to flow with it, and connect.

Shape-shifting works, shape-shifting concepts, in our shape-shifting times.

 

 

 

 

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