Brian Jungen

Brian Jungen (b. British Columbia, Canada, 1970) is part of a generation of Vancouver-based artists currently bursting onto the international stage. Born to a Swiss-Canadian father and First Nations mother and raised in the Dane-zaa nation, his drawings, sculptures and installations explore elements of his own hybrid cultural identity. Yet, his approach transcends questions of ethnicity to explore the complex exchanges of goods and ideas in our globalized world. Jungen first came to public attention with his Prototypes for New Understanding (1998-2005), a selection of Nike Air Jordan trainers that he dissected and reassembled to resemble Northwest Coast Indian masks. Conflating the transformative power of ceremonial masks with Nike consumers’ desire to emulate or become sport stars by wearing a particular brand of trainers, Jungen plays with economic and cultural values, revealing the power of contemporary ‘idols’ and linking colonial history with today’s Third World sweatshop labor. Works such as Talking Sticks (2005) – baseball bats carved with the words ‘collective unconscious’ and ‘First Nation Second Nature’ that formally resemble totem poles – embody the way in which First Nations’ myths have been co-opted by contemporary North American sport culture: think of teams such as the Chicago Blackhawks or the Atlanta Braves. Jungen’s reputation was secured by his magnificent whale ‘skeletons’ (such as Cetology, 2002), large suspended sculptures made from cheap plastic deckchairs. His rendering of rare and endangered whale species in non-biodegradable mass-produced objects also refers to current debates about whaling practices in Canada. Representing the postmodern, postcolonial world with a wry sense of humor, Jungen collapses stereotypes and embraces change, flux and instability. Offering new ways of thinking about multiculturalism at a time when the famous model of Dutch ‘tolerance’ is under close scrutiny, his practice approaches cultural difference as an unstable, reciprocal notion, using it as a starting point for creativity and critical reflection.

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