May 23rd - August 23rd, 2014
Jamie Wright, Couch Skinning, Troon, video still, 2011. Image courtesy of the artist.
THE WORK OF DAVID DIVINEY AND JAMIE WRIGHT
By Alex King
Museums and galleries have long provided public spaces in which to explore nature. It is a peculiar quality of Western culture to wish to examine a hummingbird when stuffed, a moth pinned, or a storm when painted. In these historically loaded spaces visions of nature always reflect back: we collect, we interpret, we look. When we study the stuffed moose it is never singularly a deceased animal, but also a trophy, the embodiment of our desire to collect and learn. It tells us a story about our relationship with nature.
It seems appropriate not only that this relationship be of interest for contemporary artists, but that their makings are displayed in the place reserved for looking. David Diviney and Jamie Wright’s constructions explore meetings of art, man and nature. Their work plays with our attempts to converse with nature; our desire to physically engage with the outdoors, and our longing for natural interaction. Hunting – one juncture at which nature, man, and culture intersect – is a point of interest for both.
For David Diviney, the rural is a space in which his own personal history (having grown up in the Appalachian foothills) meets cultural and academic discourse. As important to many artists as the art supply retailer is the post-Duchampian playground of the hardware store. Diviney’s work is the stuff not only rural structures (sheds, barns, hunting blinds) are made of, but also much contemporary art and its mechanisms of display. Attracted by the overlooked, the found and the buyable, Diviney’s materials evoke the “backwoods constructs”1 and masculine DIY culture of the pastoral. By relating the two, his work makes it apparent that these built objects also share a formal language with art.
David Diviney, Blind (Diptych), cedar shingles, plywood, wood stain, taxidermy eyes, 12" x 12" x 5" ea., 2011. Image credit: Steve Farmer.
Pristine wood and boots that have never seen the outdoors lend an air of uncanny theatricality. All the ingredients are here for an al fresco weekend in the woods, but they remain unused, cartoonish set-pieces. Blind (2010), a strange parodic hunting blind, is stripped of its camouflage and function in favour of minimalist artifice. Instead, it embodies a visual pun that considers the double meaning of its title. Not far away, a hapless coyote hangs sightlessly, somehow caught in a toque (Snare (2005)). Eyes that peer out from faux drywall (in Blind (Dry Stone), 2011) and between shingles return the act of looking at art back at the viewer. To be unseen, to look and be looked at throws the audience into a diorama of Diviney’s – and the gallery’s - making. Appearing to mimic a sense of the watchful waiting of hunters, there is a sense that the joke may be on the audience, the typical holders of gaze. Such disquieting theatricality, complete with a cast of hidden characters, suggests surreal narratives, and that, perhaps, to view art is a performance in which audience and object play multiple roles.
Diviney also points out that the rural focus of his work extends to broader ideas about “the balance of past and present values, wilderness and civilization, community and self-reliance”2. In this sense it is pertinent that the work comes to Estevan, a small-town city that struggles with its own rapid transition from rural community to booming energy city. Here, infrastructure is constantly playing catch-up with an evolving community.
Jamie Wright, Saskatchewan Coyote Trophy, gouache and ink on pleather, 2011.
Across time, place and social class, men have got their kicks hunting and gathering. Landscapes of the hunt range from the landlord’s estate to plains, jungles and backwoods. Its participants sportsmen, landed gentry, conservationists, museologists, artists, taxidermists and everyday folk. We could speculate that the practice is embedded in colonialism, playing a role in understanding or claiming new territories for settlers. But it always boasts macho thrills, the promise of victory and sometimes, a take-home souvenir. The kind of sport typified as specifically white and North American provides the backdrop for Jamie Wright’s work.
Wright’s work explores both the practice of hunting and its material rewards. To collect his materials, stalking is required, but the wilds are replaced by garage sale websites and urban backlanes in search of his prize: pleather-clad furniture. There is risk, yes, but fending off bedbugs make for less grandiose tales. Once selected, the objects prove easy prey. The video Couch Skinning (2013), documents Wright’s skinning process, demonstrating his clean, swift and skillful methodology. Cushions are flayed one-by-one, their spongy innards folding outwards.
The products of Wright’s hunt, reworked and embellished, then become gallery trophies. Gouache drawings on pleather canvases depict coyotes, bears, foxes and deer. His Beaver and Bear Skin Rug (both 2014) transform upholstery into taxidermy. This neatly acknowledges the practice of the nineteenth-century taxidermist to borrow techniques from upholstery3. And in a sense, once they’ve made it into the gentleman’s club, the hipster’s living room, the household den or the lowdown watering hole, stuffed beasts are – like Wright’s pleather forms – little more than décor.
David Diviney, Blind, Plywood, cedar shingles, misc. wood stains, rubber boots, fluorescent lighting
96” x 96” x 10”, 2010.
Nonetheless, the material objects of hunting are axes for debates about environmentalism, death, and man vs. nature. Wright’s reuse of discarded junk and parody of hunting inert objects might point to an eco-politic, but it’s perhaps… a red herring. Rather Wright’s politics critique our own skewed sense of environmentalism. The paradoxical desire to hunt in the name of preservation doesn’t elude him, but seems somehow (perhaps unintentionally) honest about human behavior. Rather it is the irony in our noble attempts at ecological preservation that deny our ongoing destructive desires. And in attempting dominion over land and beast such thinking loses sight of the fact that we are in and of it. So while he uses by-products of our fast materialism, it is clear from the video work that there is still much to be wasted. It neither celebrates nor denigrates, but attempts to strip bare our aspirations of decency.
The subtle critique about human behavior extends to the use of the pleather skins as canvas. Saskatchewan Coyote Trophy (2011), Baer Trophy (2011), Fox Trophy (2012) and Deer Trophy (2012) demonstrate Wright’s skill as a draughtsman with embellished fragments of beautifully-rendered gouache beasts. But he also positions himself as just another white guy appropriating traditions associated with Aboriginal art. And on top of that, they act as a reminder of the colonial desire to mark and claim things that belong to others.
Wright’s use of parody to subvert continues in using the language of hunting to underscore its own theatre. The videos depict settings of a forest, frozen lake and beach. However, they are merely dioramas. The locations were selected for their ‘realness’ and the objects were largely placed there by the artist. The objects presented in Hide are mischievous, to be sure.
David Diviney notes that his interest in the rural lies in its position as a “…point of transition between the man-made and natural worlds - a somewhat abstract space.”4 The grandfather of the contemporary gallery – the museum – was founded on principles of collection, curiosity and learning about the natural world, and its trophies are touchstones for interpreting that abstract space. When viewing the work of David Diviney and Jamie Wright, parallels can be drawn between the acts of artmaking, hunting, and gallery/museum display. Evocative plotlines about claiming and collecting, whiteness and masculinity, performance and theatre, spectacle, and looking and watching, repeat again and again. The desire to play with nature, be it outside in the rural, inside the museum bell jar, on the wall of a drinking den, or in the imagination of a contemporary artist, speaks of a longing to find or deposit human traces within nature, and vice versa.
Armstrong, John, and Diviney, David. Hollow : David Diviney. Vancouver: Helen Pitt Gallery, 2006
Diviney, David. Artist Statement, 2014
Poliquin, Rachel. The Breathless Zoo: Taxidermy and the Cultures of Longing. Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2012
Wright, Jamie. Artist Statement, 2014
1 Diviney, 2014
2 Armstrong and Diviney, 2006
3 Poliquin, 2012, p. 22
4 Diviney, 2014