Last night I finally got around to seeing the Brian Jungen show here, just a few days before it closes. Jungen’s a local boy made good, but I had worried somewhat that I wouldn’t like the exhibition, thinking him perhaps just a one-trick pony. And indeed he is. But what a trick.
And the “Prototype for New Understanding” series, all 23 of which were in the show, is justly renowned. Here, Jungen takes Nike Air Jordans, cutting them up and reshaping them to resemble indigenous masks. From a distance, they could very easily be taken for “authentic” native art. From close up, the doubletake.
Jungen has added human hair to some of these pieces, in order to enhance the illusion. And some are more complex than others. But I liked best the simplest, the ones that were still recognizeable as a basketball boot, albeit topologically transformed, soles cut away, other incisions made, and reshaped. For what you realize is just how odd these shoes actually are. The decor, the little gnarls and buttons, the swoosh, the stitching. They are of course in their own way totems of contemporary consumer culture.
Implicit in [Jungen’s] Prototypes is a crucial sociological observations: shoes (and particularly designer trainers) are the contemporary consumer’s mask, a tool for the Western ritual of impersonation [. . .]. That shoes are a shamanic tool of sort can be easily attested by advertisements, which usually portray them as quasi-magically transforming their user, fusing the phantasm of the sport’s idol with the consumer. (34)