Dane-zaa, b. 1970
Rubbermaid step stools, filing cabinets
Courtesy of the artist and Catriona Jeffries, Vancouver
Brian Jungen’s sculpture Tombstone (2019) is composed of white plastic Rubbermaid step stools, cut up and reassembled into the shape of a turtle’s shell which rests atop a plinth composed of 32 black metal filing cabinets. Throughout his practice, Jungen has produced several works that depict a turtle shell, such as his Carapace series made from 2009 to 2011, a reference to “Turtle Island,” a name for North America used by many Indigenous communities and nations. By placing this particular carapace on the filing cabinets, Jungen creates an allusion to the colonial bureaucracy that Canadian and American governments have afflicted upon Indigenous peoples through copious broken treaties, violent land grabs and false promises of sovereignty. By titling the work Tombstone, Jungen instrumentalizes monuments and markers—marking the devastating history of colonialism against Indigenous peoples in North America and the abuses of power by dominant culture, often through bureaucratic means. An additional aspect to this work, and much of Jungen’s practice as a whole, is his use of commonplace items as material for his sculptural objects. “I like using things people can recognize—that they see around them every day,” Jungen has said of his work, which is evident in Tombstone. At first glance, the white plastic stools that constitute this carapace are unrecognizable; but upon more careful viewing, one can recognize their shape. Jungen has left clues, as he calls them, to the original state of the object. In doing such, he engages with 20th century themes from the Western art historical canon, such as ready-made and found objects, in which an artist takes a commonplace/mass-produced object and alters its state to create a new work while at the same time calling into reference easily accessible materials.
Brian Jungen is a conceptual sculptural artist known for creating fantastical works from mass-produced consumer goods. By reworking items like plastic chairs, garbage bins, golf bags, and Nike Air Jordan shoes into sculptural objects referencing Northwest Coast visuality as well as animal forms, he comments on the commodification of Indigenous cultures, landscapes, and non-human beings. Jungen attended the Emily Carr University of Art + Design, where he earned a BFA in 1992. Jungen has received numerous awards and residencies including the Gershon Iskowitz Prize at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Sobey Art Award, and the Banff Centre for the Arts residency. He has had major exhibitions at the Art Gallery of Ontario, documenta, the Shanghai Bienniale, the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, the Sydney Biennale, Musée d’art Contemporain de Montréal, Tate Modern, the New Museum, and the Vienna Secession.