Brian Jun­gen and Keno­juak Ashe­vak

Keno­juak #1 and Preen­ing Owl

Inuit Art Quarterly - - CONTENTS - by Yas­min Nurm­ing-Por

The de­con­structed footwear, trimmed in crim­son and blue, bend and loop to form the graphic, teardrop-like plumage com­mon in many of Ashe­vak’s ren­der­ings of Arc­tic birds.

Born in Fort St. John, BC—the near North—in 1970, artist Brian Jun­gen rose to promi­nence in late 1990s with a se­ries of works ti­tled Pro­to­types for New Un­der­stand­ing (1998–2005) that re­pur­posed Nike Air Jor­dans into sculp­tures re­sem­bling North­west Coast Indige­nous masks. These early works were in­sti­gated by vis­its Jun­gen paid to the Amer­i­can Mu­seum of Nat­u­ral His­tory and the Nike store in New York City as a young artist, where he rec­og­nized the sim­i­lar­i­ties be­tween the dis­play of com­mer­cial com­modi­ties and the ethno­graphic in­stal­la­tions of First Na­tions cul­tures and ob­jects in mu­seum spa­ces. Since then, Jun­gen has es­tab­lished him­self as a skilled seer of the po­ten­tial for re­con­fig­u­ra­tion in every­day ob­jects from an Indige­nous per­spec­tive.

Sim­i­lar to the artist’s early Pro­to­types se­ries, the sculp­ture Keno­juak #1 (2016) is com­posed of re­assem­bled Nike Air Jor­dans and is dis­played on a tall plinth. This work, how­ever, strays from his pre­vi­ous use of coastal masks and, in­stead, ref­er­ences the pre­em­i­nent Inuit artist Keno­juak Ashe­vak, CC, ON, RCA (1927–2013), widely known for her prints and draw­ings. Keno­juak #1 be­gins with a flat bot­tom of red-rub­ber soles that soon erupts into a se­ries of curvi­lin­ear bands and shoe tongues that share tonal and for­mal sim­i­lar­i­ties to many works by the Kin­ngait (Cape Dorset), NU, artist.

The de­con­structed footwear, trimmed in crim­son and blue, bend and loop to form the graphic, teardrop-like plumage com­mon in many of Ashe­vak’s ren­der­ings of Arc­tic birds, such as the 1995 print Preen­ing Owl— re­leased as part of the An­nual Cape Dorset Print Col­lec­tion three years prior to the be­gin­ning of Jun­gen’s sculp­tural se­ries Pro­to­types.

In­ter­est­ingly, Keno­juak #1 (2016) of­fers a less im­me­di­ate read­ing of Indige­nous mo­tifs than Pro­to­types, re­quir­ing view­ers to look closer. From be­hind, the as­sem­bled ma­te­ri­als swirl in a com­po­si­tion that is not quite the mir­ror of the other side—a twist on the bi­lat­eral sym­me­try in the com­po­si­tions of many of Ashe­vak’s print. For me, Jun­gen’s po­si­tion­ing of a set of cir­cu­lar eyes lo­cated at a pro­por­tional height to nu­mer­ous Ashe­vak owl works, pro­vided the vis­ual an­chor for re­veal­ing the plumage ref­er­ence.

As a young artist, Jun­gen largely cre­ated draw­ings but made a marked shift to­wards sculp­ture af­ter 1998. He would later re­turn to work­ing in two di­men­sions in 2011 when he cre­ated Five Year Uni­verse— a se­ries of hide prints on black foam, his first foray into print­mak­ing—mo­ti­vated by an in­ter­est in trad­ing prints with other Indige­nous artists. In Keno­juak #1, Jun­gen cre­ates space and ac­knowl­edges the im­por­tance of Ashe­vak’s in­flu­ence on his in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized con­tem­po­rary art prac­tice—a realm from which Inuit artists have of­ten been ex­cluded. Her pres­ence is of­ten more sub­tle than in this di­rect ref­er­ence. It is merely sug­gested in the ac­com­pa­ny­ing sculp­ture Owl

Drugs (2016), which shares strik­ing for­mal sim­i­lar­i­ties to Keno­juak #1 and nodds to Ashe­vak’s pro­cliv­ity for owls.

To me, it re­mains in­ter­est­ing that Jun­gen would choose this spe­cific form of sculp­ture to com­mem­o­rate Ashe­vak, three years af­ter her death. “I got in­ter­ested in print­mak­ing largely out of the Inuit tra­di­tion,” Jun­gen has said, not­ing the par tic­u­lar em­pha­sis on sym­met­ri­cal com­po­si­tions that at­tempt to rec­on­cile how to present both sides of a sub­ject in a two-di­men­sional space. Pro­vided Jun­gen’s pen­chant for work­ing in se­ries, fre­quent re­turn to ma­te­ri­als and the num­bered ti­tle of this piece, per­haps these works will con­tinue to grow.


Keno­juak Ashe­vak (1927–2013 Kin­ngait) — Preen­ing Owl1995 Stone­cut50.7 × 66 cm

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