Huge Brian Jungen Art Installation at Art Gallery of Alberta

By Clint Buehler

AGAJungen-CarapaceEDMONTON – There’s a huge turtle shell on display at the Art Gallery of Alberta (AGA) . . . a huge turtle shell made out of trash bins. It’s “Carapace,” the latest creation of artist Brian Jungen.

Carapace, was first created in 2009 for an exhibition at the FRAC des Pays de la Loire (France) and completely reconfigured for an exhibition at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian (Washington, D.C.) later that year. Throughout the month of January, Jungen worked on site at the AGA to develop a third, new, unique configuration for this immense work. Inspired by the geometries of the geodesic dome and the turtle shell, Carapace unites Jungen’s interest in modernist architecture with his ongoing engagement with animal imagery.

Jungen has built a stellar career that has gained him international recognition with his adaptation of ordinary objects.

He first startled the art world by creating Northwest Coast-style masks using parts of Nike Air Jordan footwear for an exhibition called “Prototypes of New Understanding,”. Jungen wrote of that body of work: “It was interesting to see how by simply manipulating the Air Jordan shoes you could evoke specific cultural traditions while simultaneously amplifying the process of cultural corruption and assimilation. The Nike mask sculptures seemed to articulate a paradoxical relationship between a consumerist artefact and an ‘authentic’ Native artifact.”

The AGA exhibition also includes two earlier massive works, “Shapeshifter” (2000) and “Cetology” (2002) formed using cut, deconstructed and reassembled white lawn chairs, hanging from the ceiling in a display style typical of natural history museums.

Jungen was born on a family farm near Fort St. John, BC in 1970. His father was a Swiss immigrant who came to Canada with his family when he was three. Jungen’s mother was a member of the Dane-zaa First Nation. Both parents died in a fire when Brian was seven and he was raised by a paternal aunt and uncle.

His art education began with a four-year Diploma of Visual Art from the Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design in Vancouver, following which he spent time in Montreal and New York City before returning to Vancouver.

It was during a self-directed residency at the Banff Centre for the Arts that he began creating his Air Jordan masks, which led to exploring his interest in sports by creating sculptures from other sports equipment: catchers mitts, baseball bats and basketball jerseys, partially motivated by the sports world’s appropriation of Aboriginal culture for team names such the Chiefs, Indians, Redskins and Braves.

Brian Jungen has exhibited extensively nationally and internationally, and his work has been included in many publications and museum collections. In 2006, the Vancouver Art Gallery organized a major survey exhibition of Jungen’s work which toured to the New Museum of Contemporary Art (New York) and Musée d’art Contemporain (Montreal). Additional solo exhibitions have been organized by the Tate Modern (London), Museum Villa Stuck, Munich (2007) and the Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, Rotterdam (2007). Jungen’s work have also been featured in the Sydney Biennale of Contemporary Art, Australia (2008), Lyon Biennial, France (2007) and Gwangju Biennale, Korea (2004). Jungen is the first living Native American artist to exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., with the exhibition Strange Comfort (that was on display from October 16, 2009 – August 8, 2010).

In 2002, Brian Jungen received the inaugural Sobey Art Award, and was awarded the Gershon Iskowitz Prize for Visual Arts by the Art Gallery of Ontario in 2010.