DON MAYNARD’S “FRANKEN FOREST” LET LOOSE ON AN AGHAST PUBLIC AND THE CONSEQUENCES ARE CHILLING. The two-page spread you now hold in your hands comes courtesy of Syphon,
a publication of Modern Fuel Artist-Run Centre in Kingston, Ontario. This special insert is the first result of an exchange undertaken by the creative teams at Front and Syphon. It announces the upcoming theme of the next issue of Syphon, “Art and the Economy,” which will also feature a special insert from Front magazine. Watch out for it later this year.
a special insert published in
collaboration with front magazine.
By Michael Davidge ll over North America, municipalities are embracing the idea of the “creative economy” and the “creative class,” as popularized by Richard Florida, in a bid to find a means for urban regeneration as the manufacturing base of the economy atrophies. Artists could potentially benefit from this shift in perspective. Artists are a kind of knowledge worker, perhaps the first of the kind, and may now take a central or essential role in the burgeoning knowledge or information economy. Unfortunately, artists trade in a kind of knowledge that is often arcane, occult, dark, and irrational, which may not go down so easily in an economy predicated on utility, convenience, and the sense of entitlement of the consumer. It is as if the possession of this knowledge comes with a curse, not unlike the Greek myth’s Cassandra, who suffered from the fact that no one believed in her powerful gift of prophecy. Nevertheless, successful artists are able to trade in this knowledge by performing a kind of alchemy that transubstantiates mere material dross into cultural gold. If, as Toronto-based artist Scott Lyall has quipped, art has two destinies, either to be picked up by an art collector or the garbage collector, then successful artists are those who can magically conjure up a fetish or totem that will be spirited to a storehouse for posterity. Some artists bear the possession of this magical knowledge well. There are those who happily profit from it, but there are also those whose conscience gets the better of them.
finish nails. One had faux-finish bark in encaustic. In another, blocks of scuffed and chipped glass were threaded through with a rusted-out spine. A scored and twisted log pasted with band-aids rose crooked from the floor like a dismembered limb’s last gesture before rigor mortis set in. Within the blasted, infernal stump that acted as a kind of centrepiece, a video of baby starlings screeching for food was nested. The whole of the installation represents a kind of travesty of nature, a counterfeit, cobbled together stand-in that is abhorrent, like Frankenstein’s monster in Mary Shelly’s novel. A link to the Frankenstein story, the monstrous and cautionary tale of science meddling with the forces of nature, is explicit in Maynard’s title for the piece. One must remember that, in the subtitle to the novel, Frankenstein is the Modern Prometheus, also a mythic figure whose transmission of knowledge was more of a curse than a blessing. Remember, after Prometheus gave the gift of fire to the human race, Zeus punished him by tying him to a rock and letting an eagle feast on his liver everyday. As the artist who has crafted these malignant artifices, Maynard seems to position himself somewhere between a Post-Modern Prometheus and a Cassandra: He makes ruinous predictions at the same time that he is implicated in the outcome. While considering the implications, it will be important to note an undercurrent of humour in the work that keeps its dreadful weightiness afloat.
From the evidence offered by a recent exhibition of his works, the Kingston-based artist Don Maynard makes a show of the latter, unhappy conscience. The exhibition, entitled Franken Forest, traveled from the Agnes Etherington Art Centre in Kingston to the Robert McLaughlin Gallery in Oshawa over the course of the year 2010. Curated by Jan Allen and Linda Jansma, respective curators of contemporary art for the two centres, the exhibition brought together a number of Maynard’s most recent works. Each work raises a question about the role of the artist and its material implications.
The Franken Forest exhibition, as it was installed from May to August, 2010 at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre in Kingston, Ontario, opened on a disquieting note. Even before you were inside the gallery, you could see Bird in the House (2010), a mixed media sculptural installation with electronics, through the glass of the doors at the entrance. Dim and foreboding, the work established at the outset the chill of a passing shadow. Once inside, an ominous soundscape of roaring wind and emphatic birdcalls filled the air, and though only about three feet tall, Bird in the House immediately loomed within your field of vision. A simple form of a house made with fabric and a wooden frame, it was illuminated from within, the only light source for the piece, which cast a shadow on its exterior of a mechanized bird silhouette careening within its enclosed walls, like a malevolent magic lantern. The muffled sound of an injured bird unable to take flight emanated from within, like the workings of a dilapidated contraption. In old superstitions, a bird in the house is an omen of death, so the piece, though light in its material simplicity, also manifests a baleful edge, not only evoking the childhood realm of folklore, but also myths for more mature audiences. The rustling of the confined bird, trapped in its circuit brings to mind once again the cursed figure of a Cassandra, now rasping after having lost her voice, her dire predictions still unheeded. In the next room one entered the Franken Forest proper, a mixed media installation with video, which resembled a mad scientist’s lab of genetically modified monsters as much as it did a clearing in the woods. Distorted and deformed trunks and limbs gathered in a circle above which hovered a video canopy, a portal about six feet in diameter that presented an unstable sky, clear blue but not calm, agitated by stop-motion animation, time-lapse, cloud movements, air currents and hectic, swirling camera movements. Eight “Franken-trees” stood at an array of heights from a stump down low to a slender trunk that reached the ceiling. One tree bristled with screws, another, painted and gored, resembled a rotten birch. One was strangulated with an excess of strung Christmas lights. One was scorched and cobbled together with discs of cast glass. One’s smooth albino surface was prickled with fine
Artists may not necessarily be evil, but generally they are guilty as charged. Before drawing any conclusions, a final piece in the exhibition remains to be considered, and it is entitled Flock (2009). From a distance, what looks to be a swarm of evanescent metallic moths hovers and covers the farthest and longest wall in the next gallery. It is as if they are pinned to the wall’s surface by the light projected on it, instead of drawn to the light’s source. Upon closer examination one finds that each of the over one hundred shimmering items is a tabloid-sized sheet of aluminum, folded into the form of a child’s paper airplane, the nose of each piercing the wall. Here Maynard’s roguish playfulness, like a bookie with the house advantage, is more fully revealed. Flock captures at once a sense of force, velocity, stasis, and lightness, in its feathery refractions and modest means, like the formation of a flock of birds frozen in mid swoop. The sleight of hand in operation in this work reveals Maynard’s most common stock-in-trade: the transformation and transportation of common industrial materials into the rarified realm of art. Examples of his previous works include Tidal Mass (2007), a massively minimalist sculptural wave that incorporated thousands of eight-foot fluorescent tubes that were discarded in Eastern Ontario, and Looks Like Rain (2009), largely an effect of light that was generated by a giant pile of similarly abandoned pyrex rods. Maybe Maynard should more fittingly be referred to as the Post-Industrial Prometheus. In the light of his work one can descry a general economy that cannot deny, even relishes, huge expenditures of energy and waste vilified by the precepts of a thrifty, restrictive economy. The “Accursed Share” of a “general economy” as defined by the theorist and pornographer Georges Battaille is that surplus part of the economic system that is vertiginously outside of human control, one that artists touch upon in their illusions. Artists can access this part, Bataille argues, because they know all about evil. Artists may not necessarily be evil, but generally they are guilty as charged.
Franken Forest, 2008 Cedar logs, drywall screws, nails, Christmas lights, glass, wax, paper, steel photo by chris miner
don maynard is a Kingston based artist working in mixed media and has exhibited across Canada and the U.S., and his work is in the collection of The Department of Foreign Affairs, University of Toronto and the Canada Council Art Bank. Maynard’s practice frequently involves utilizing the detritus of the modern world where he transforms the cast-off material of society into work that makes reference to nature and natural phenomena.
...art has two destinies, either to be picked up by an art collector or the garbage collector... Flock, 2009 Aluminium photo by don maynard
Bird in the House, 2010 Wood, cloth, record player, lightbulb, aluminium, ipod, speakers photo by chantal rousseau
Tidal Mass, 2007 2200 used 8’ florescent lights, 220 mini florescent lights, 3/8 steel rod, hardware photo by chris miner
michael davidge is currently the Artistic Director of Modern Fuel Artist-Run Centre in Kingston, Ontario. He is a curator, an artist, and a writer. His writing on art and culture has appeared in Parachute, Matrix, and BlackFlash magazine, among other publications. vincent perez is a designer, letterpress printer and artist living in Kingston, Ontario. He is the art director and co-editor of Syphon, Modern Fuel ARC’s arts publication. If you’re interested in contributing content or subscribing to Syphon, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit us online at www.modernfuel.org/syphon.
Published on Mar 1, 2011
An article by Michael Davidge about Don Maynard's Frankenforest exhibit at the Agnes Etherington Art Gallery and the McLaughlin Gallery.