Exhibitions from the Archives | Brian Jungen
As our second throwback this summer for Exhibitions from the Archives, we return to Brian Jungen’s exhibition, which took place both in the interior and on the exterior of the gallery from July 28 to September 23, 2001.
Now a well-known artist and currently showing in the UK as part of the Liverpool Biennale, Brian Jungen was just beginning to exhibit internationally in 2001. Just after the show he went on to win the prestigious Sobey Award for emerging artists in 2002 and has since become acclaimed for works including 30-foot-long whale skeletons made from plastic lawn chairs or reassembled Nike footwear that appear like Indigenous masks.
For his exhibition at the Contemporary Art Gallery, Jungen built a construction hoarding against the façade, mimicking those seen around downtown Vancouver as buildings are redeveloped and updated, and the heritage landscape of the city is constantly changed. The title of the work, Unlimited Growth Increases the Divide was taken from the public artwork by Kathryn Walter, written in copper across the heritage building at 555 Hamilton Street which houses the Del Mar Hotel and was also the previous location of CAG. The words were a collaboration between the artist and the building owner, George Riste, after his battle with BC Hydro and his refusal to sell his small hotel to make way for their office tower.
Committed to supplying clean housing to low-income residents and supporting the local vulnerable community, the work stands as a fierce statement against the gentrification that downtown residents faced. It continues to be an increasingly urgent issue in Vancouver as low-income residents are made to leave their homes and communities, displaced from their neighbourhoods as home prices soar and businesses take over. Jungen’s intervention at CAG continued this conversation; where viewing holes are normally used to look into the construction site and see progress being made, the artist instead cut windows into the wood to turn the perspective outwards. These viewpoints in Jungen’s sculpture allowed us to view the older Yaletown buildings across the street, as though they were next in line to be developed. Indeed, today these buildings are gone entirely, replaced by condominiums.
Inside the gallery, a work that ostensibly appeared to be a stack of wooden pallets also spoke to the capitalist notions of a city, while acknowledging the traditions of Indigenous carving and woodwork. Pallets are a common sight in many cities. They are cheaply made, temporary and disposable: after serving their purpose of shipping goods, they are discarded or burned. Ironically, throughout this transaction they remain as a small connection to natural materials and craftsmanship. Building on this irony and in line with his ‘handmade readymades’, Jungen’s pallets were skillfully crafted from the finest red cedar—the ‘tree of life’ for west coast Indigenous peoples— and were pegged together instead of nailed, their surface highly finished. The ten pallets were stacked in a tower, echoing minimalist sculptures of the 60s and 70s, but intentionally rekindling a sense of craft and artisan-ship over the machine aesthetic of much Minimalist work.
As Scott Watson wrote in the publication accompanying the exhibition, both works were “interested in deploying formal and conceptual problems endemic to sculpture and its institutional sites”. Brian Jungen was as much concerned with the objects themselves and the conventions they operate within and without, as he was about the systems surrounding them, whether it be the gallery emblematic of its own institutional implication, the manufacturing and transportation of goods to a city to be bought and sold, or the changing faces of the very buildings that house this culture while displacing others.
This post was written by Tianna Barton with research and images taken from the Contemporary Art Gallery archive.