After decades of scientific and technological development hurtling us ever faster forward, we know that science fiction can be close to science fact.
Science fiction scenarios are often played out by way of horror stories that become engrained in the popular consciousness. Childhood nightmares from reading The Day of the Triffids or 1984, for example, remain with us as adults in the shadows, warning of the dangers that come with genetic modification or surveillance by unseen forces.
Playing with these shadows, Brit Bunkley’s art explores the tension between nature and culture – something increasingly mediated through computers. Working digitally, Bunkley plays unsettlingly with the quicksand material that is nature manipulated, altered and industrialised. He gives nature a shunting, mechanistic sheen: things aren’t quite right; there is a ghost in the machine. There is also the sense that nature just might bite back: take for example, the giant computer-rendered Avondale Spider to be found rampaging through an industrial zone, as if in a B-Horror movie, in his video installation The Huntsman.
In Bunkley’s work you sense an apocalyptic raincloud hanging over the New Zealand landscape. As an apparition it is like a modern memento mori – the grim reaper in the shape of a fighter plane. And yet Bunkley doesn’t just evoke horror or protest environmental degradation. There is beauty and wit. He celebrates our landscapes and popular culture as much as he tunnels down under their heavily marketed, glossy surfaces. The gnomes and angels that sometimes appear in his work remind us of the preciousness of nature and humanity, and the delicate fabric that holds the human, natural and spiritual worlds in balance. Like the shimmying shadows of dancers in Bunkley’s Downbreak on 1, Upbeat on 2 there is beauty in the push and pull of nature and culture’s dance.
Whether video, public object or a drawing of a 3D wireframe model, Bunkley’s work is all in essence sculpture: how material and the shapes it might take express our relationship to the world. Natural or synthetic, he is concerned with the construction of things, how a material’s potential might be extended, and how everything is ultimately made from a series of building blocks or pixels.
Bunkley’s background has bearing on the distinctiveness of his practice. He moved from the United States to Whanganui in 1995, bringing with him a rich public sculpture practice just as the digital revolution was upon us. Now surrounded by green, undulating chemically-altered farmland, Bunkley had shifted contexts dramatically, but this step away provides him a keen eye on militaristic attitudes towards our environment.
Bunkley’s work seems to suggest that the way we engage with our environment here in New Zealand might not be so different in its aggression to the way his former homeland engages as a superpower within the world. On the other hand, in his study of insects and landscapes, Bunkley is also celebrating the combative resistance nature itself asserts.
With this much drama embedded in our landscape, who needs horror movies?
By Mark Amery