By Christine Leonard
CALGARY — There’s an old saying that goes “Speak softly and carry a big stick.” True to that adage, violence has rarely received such careful treatment as it has at the hands of Albertan artists Sandra Bromley and Wallis Kendal. Spurred to examine the objects of humanity’s self-inflicted wounds, the pair spent five years collecting the over 7,000 firearms that comprise their latest work. Simply entitled Gun Sculpture, the resultant metallic structure weighs in at a whopping 20,000 pounds — an ominous physical manifestation that gave curators at Calgary’s Glenbow Museum pause to consider the architectural and psychological demands of installing such a weighty piece.
“Most of the guns were acquired through governments, police services and peace keeping groups that the artists met-up with around the world,” says Jenny Conway Fisher, Glenbow Museum’s manager of marketing and communications. “They worked through some crazy legalities in order to import the weapons. After that they met with the RCMP to go about the process of rendering them unusable in a weapon destruction lab. Melting-down and welding each gun and bullet proved to be a very intense experience for them and influenced how they decided to build it. The structure itself exists as a room tomb or walled-prison and arrives in sections that the technicians then have to put together. We actually had to get an engineer to certify that our gallery could sustain the mass of the final piece.”
A world-traveller and morbid millennial project, Gun Sculpture has been displayed at the United Nation’s headquarters in New York as well as appearing at exhibitions held in Vienna and South Korea. Ensconced in the more intimate setting of the Glenbow, the imposing fortification is informed and contrasted by accompanying images of survivors of gun violence. A counterpoint Conway Fisher believes will resonate deeply with those who encounter the impactful piece.
“The artists felt it was important to not contribute to aestheticization of the gun,” she explains. “Our culture does tend to romanticise firearms. Hollywood has made them an object of lust, yet so few of us encounter gun violence in our real lives as ordinary people. There’s a strange energy and power to be dealt with in that each gun of the guns being handled here contains the story of its own sordid past. Rather than contribute to that idolatry where weapons are fetishized, Bromley and Kendal have opted to show the human side of the equation. As well, there will be a message board where people can record and communicate their reactions to the piece. We look forward to observing and documenting this refreshing social interaction between viewers.”
Interpretive interaction is not limited Glenbow’s flesh and blood clientele, the Museum’s planners delight in the opportunity to draw from the institution’s archival collections and bring those treasures to life by placing them in a new context alongside complimentary and antithetical exhibitions. Drawing on the political overtones of Gun Sculpture’s AK-47 assisted architecture, the newly-mounted From Our Collection: Political Satire in Alberta exhibition invites visitors to consider the political power that comes from the barrel of pen.
“These cartoon artists are like political satirists who just can’t turn it off,” says Conway Fisher. “Our Cultural History Technician, Aimee Benoit, has selected some 60 illustrations from our huge collection of political cartoons going back 100 years to the classic Eyeopener newspaper. It’s funny, it’s dry and it’s surprisingly contemporary. Looking back at these illustrations you can observe the cycle of political and social values in our province. It’s interesting to see the history of satirical provocation. These artists were so clever in the way that their simple yet eloquent black and white drawings encapsulated the larger issues. You don’t have to know the context to appreciate the skillful skewering of these deserving figureheads.”
Gun Sculpture & From Our Collection: Political Satire in Alberta runs May 23 to September 27, 2015.
Hooked: Fish, Water and Angling in Art
With a multimedia approach that features paintings, prints, photography and sculpture in clay, glass and bronze, Hooked depicts the Western Canadian (Southern Alberta and British Columbia, to be exact) culture and experience of fishing. Co-curated by Canadian art dealer and avid fisher Douglas Maclean, the exhibit explores the beauty, patience and majesty of this serene, patient and challenging style of hunting. Hooked runs from May 30th until October 4th.
Myth Making: The Art of John Brocke
Born and raised in Edmonton, John Brocke was trained at ACAD where he would eventually teach. His photo-realistic, yet bizarrely obscure and often playful paintings, became renowned for their metaphorical and imaginative integrations. Whether he depicted people (more accurately, “personalities”) or places, his large scale works where extremely detailed and strikingly beautiful. Myth Making compiles many of his works and runs at Glenbow from June 6th until September 13th.AB, Alberta, fishing, Glenbow Museum, guns, John Broke, political cartoons