- Gravity Fed and Endless
Wood, glass, rubber and steel, beer
Beer has always been central to the game of hockey in Canada. Hockey’s biggest corporate sponsors are the brewing companies and in-game commercials show fans at home, in the arena or local bar with their eyes on the game – or a nearby attractive girl – and a beer in hand. In fact, beer is so central to the whole experience of hockey that the flow and momentum of the game may be constantly interrupted by beer commercials with no fan revolt and nothing apparently being lost in the process. In making these observations, I am not merely taking the part of a critical observer. In many ways, I think they’ve – we’ve got it right. After all, is it not one of life’s great pleasures to kick back, watch a game and have a beer.
Formally speaking, these works are a distinct departure from my earlier hockey sticks which were somewhat sedate and traditionally iconic. They are in a phrase, more fun! Taken as a whole, they comprise a flamboyant pre-emption of the gallery space – installation as constructed painting if you like.
I see Gravity Fed and Endless as pieces of furniture designed with the armchair hockey fan in mind. Constructed of local maple, they intend to functionality. In Gravity Fed, three suspended quart bottles of Canadian brand beer empty into plastic surgical tubes that feed the hockey sticks below. The arrangement is such that the beer appears to keep on flowing — effortlessly, a hockey fan’s dream. This piece closely resembles medical equipment, especially the IV setups used in a hospital setting to feed patients who are too sick to eat solid food. The beer itself resembles urine confirming on one hand what every drinker knows, that beer goes in one end and out the other really fast. But, is this beer/urine being collected for another reason, for steroidal or other performance enhancing drugs testing perhaps? There is no doubt that Gravity Fed has a Newtonian feeling about it where everything, every substance is subject to the imperative of gravitational pull. The beer flows systematically drop by drop down and out of the bottles into the sticks waiting below, the piece comprising one massive consuming body.
Endless is not only beautifully made hockey furniture in the manner of Memphis designers like Ettore Sottsass, but also a nod to Brancusi’s many Endless Columns and his interest in the vernacular furniture of Roumania . As in Gravity Fed, Canadian brand beer flows from suspended bottles through surgical tubing and down to the hockey sticks below. In this case, the sticks are placed diagonally to each other as in a mock face-off in the tradition of hockey displays in museum cases. Again, the beer appears to flow downward — endlessly, a gift from above to those waiting below. The piece points to the constant desire for needs fulfillment and endless capacity for consumption on the part of hockey fans in the form of beer and entertainment. It also shows the art in sport and the potential for hockey to be a high form of creative and cultural expression.
- Playmaker and Offside
Wood, found balls, hockey sticks and pucks
These works evolved out of my Toronto Island studio production and, therefore, out of my beachcombing tendencies. The amount of flotsam and jetsam that finds itself on the waterfront near my home is staggering. As the last of the snow and ice melts away in the spring and then later in the fall when the tourists leave the Island, I have my pick of every kind of ball that has been manufactured in the last 50 years. I bring the best ones home and it is a selection of these prime finds that have made their way into Playmaker and Offside. The hockey sticks are from my own personal collection and were once used by me.
I am lucky to know a master cabinetmaker who is also a sculptor and who delights in using wood in innovative ways. For these pieces, Alastair Dickson’s expertise was invaluable. We started the construction process with a rudimentary plan which evolved as we went. The object was, on one hand, to showcase each of the balls and sticks as interesting objects in and of themselves and also to create sculptural furniture inspired by the idea that game playing is an artform.
Playmaker relies on differences in colour, scale and the placement of balls as well as precise wood construction for its magic. As the eye sweeps over the piece from left to right the balls appear to play with the construction. What starts out as a simple shelving unit for ball storage gradually bends and twists from the implied action of the ball playing. Our eyes take part in this process encouraging the disruption, anticipating the collapse of the unit. And yet, it remains standing — somehow, and the joke is on us.
Offside is somewhat different. In a sense, it is more traditional in that it recalls fine furniture that incorporates disparate often decorative elements in its design, lion’s heads, eagle’s talons, spiraling foliage etc. while still maintaining the classic serviceable form of a chair or table. In this work, the pucks, balls and hockey sticks become parts of the supporting legs of a shelving unit. At times they seem to determine the shape of the construction, at times they appear decorative, perhaps useless. The one element that is completely at odds with the structure is the hockey stick that refuses to play the game, projecting as it does at an odd, painful angle from the top shelf of the unit and requiring its own custom-made elbow to attach it to the piece. It seems to collapse on the shelf playing out the feelings of fragility and imminent collapse that pervade the piece even as it stands upright.