Liz Shannon opens her eyes to effluence in Kenny Hunter’s witty urban wasteland
People who live in cities are dishearteningly used to stepping over piles of rubbish from split bin bags and negotiating street obstacles such as piles of old furniture and abandoned televisions. This phenomenon is international, and is becoming ever more widespread as developing nations industrialise and become capitalist consumer societies, where products are designed to quickly become obsolete and everything is disposable.
Kenny Hunter’s new exhibition, A Shout in the Street, takes this overly-familiar urban issue as one of its starting points. Using Tramway’s smaller, relatively new space, Hunter has filled the gallery with sculptures that echo the piles of urban detritus we see (and usually try to ignore) on a daily basis, elevating our society’s seemingly endless creation of consumer waste, and the animals that live on it, to the status of fine art. These sculptural pieces exhibit Hunter’s familiar style, particularly in the moulding of the animals: uniformly smooth, unthreatening, almost cartoon-like creatures, without sharp edges or individual characteristics.
The works cleave to Hunter’s recurring conceptual starting point: that of challenging the conceit of classical, monumental sculptural hierarchies, often through subtle subversion. There is no monumental scale here: a cast of a rolled piece of carpet leaning flaccidly against the wall is entitled ‘Broken Column’, while the urban animals imbued with this elevated sculptural status are just life-size (although the pigeons are rather fat, healthy-looking specimens – there are no one-legged, broken-winged urban fowl to be found here). Three poster works featuring text cribbed from works by defining figures of modernity such as Marx and Baudelaire are designed to echo classical inscriptions. ‘Civic digestion/white goods’ features a cat strolling along the top of a carefully stacked ‘plinth’ consisting of a real fridge, microwave and miscellaneous white boxes, in a witty, small scale take-off of equestrian statuary. In another piece a fox sits atop a plinth of DIY furniture, while ‘The Wasteland’ features a pigeon perched on an oil drum placed upon a real tire. This integration of cast and real objects adds an additional level of interest, as though Hunter has been scouring the streets for appropriate urban debris to include in his work.
The use of the Tramway 5 space is intriguing, as, unlike Tramway’s main space, it has large windows that look directly out onto the street. While the wall is not ‘dematerialised’, it does give the viewer the sense that the boundary between the gallery and the street is a fragile one, thus reinforcing the concept behind the work. In addition, as part of the show’s impact is created through the works exhibition in a public gallery, it is interesting to consider how their meaning might be skewed if they were shown in a commercial, rather than public, context. Nevertheless, Hunter’s miniature high-rise blocks of pizza boxes, split bin bags and abandoned televisions, unified by their pleasantly muted colour schemes, succeed in encouraging a worn-down urban populace to look again at the very things that they so often avoid.
Kenny Hunter, A Shout in the Street, Tramway, Glasgow, until Sat 23 Aug