TRANSFORMATIVE DESTRUCTION: BRIAN JUNGEN

TRANSFORMATIVE DESTRUCTION: BRIAN JUNGEN

Brian Jungen is a Vancouver based artist who creates traditional sculptures by deconstructing and reassembling found objects. In his series Prototypes of New Understanding he created twenty-three sculptural masks from Nike Air Jordan shoes meant to resemble the wooden masks of his own Pacific Northwest First Nations heritage. The masks are displayed on thin metal stands, arranged as though they were an Indigenous display in a museum. At first glance they almost appear to be “authentic” First Nation masks, as the use of black, white, and red is quite traditional; as well many of the shapes strongly resemble the figures that adorn totem poles along our coast. The imagery almost creates a boundary that Western observers may not want to cross; immediately I feel reluctant to inspect and critique the series. Yet, taking a closer look exposes a cultural connection that I can identify with- commodity. The shoes have been deconstructed strategically, and most of the masks display both the ‘Air Jordan’ and ‘Nike’ logos prominently. The use of Native imagery with highly prized consumerist items creates a tension which adds various layers of meaning and incites discourse.

One of the masks that I found the most aesthetically pleasing and efficient at communicating the concept of this series is Prototype for New Understanding #8 (figure 1.1). While some of the other masks may have had a clearer connection to Native imagery, such the strong resemblance between Prototype for New Understanding #16 (figure 1.2) and the traditionally used raven, I found #8 to have an effective balance between the consumerist artefact (the shoe) and the cultural artefact (the mask). This juxtaposition between the contemporary and the traditional is what makes these works so ripe with meaning. The iconic imagery of the Air Jordan’s alludes to the commodification of Western culture, as well as the fetish that surrounds items associated…