Engines of Anxiety

“Engines of Anxiety,” a solo exhibition by John Scott, offered up a fascinating insight into both geographically and generationally specific policing and deviation. It proposed a revelation of contemporary social structure as one of raw power, of human nature as red in tooth and claw, a dialectic of the hunter and the hunted, militaristic policing and deviations therefrom. This duality was expressed through a taxonomy of style and subject peculiar to Scott, where crudely scrawled angry-bunny-men, highly finished Detroit muscle cars, nuclear bombers, guns, roses, skulls, tattoos and apocalyptic biblical texts pile up willy-nilly.

The first major work, Black Sun, is also the most recent (1997), and the only one made specifically for the show: a styrofoam re-presentation of a B-2 Stealth Bomber balanced precariously on a lectern, facing a landscape blackly doodled by Scott directly onto the gallery wall. The model, with a wingspan of ten metres, is papered over in the Koine (a Mediterranean dialect, and the original language of the bible) version of the biblical Book of Revelations, a favoured harbinger of apocalypse by evangelist and heavy metal denizen alike. Through its choices of arcane language and postindustrial technological object, Black Sun moves backwards and forwards from an earlier and more successful work by Scott, TransAm Apocalypse #2 (1993), which for the duration of the exhibition was displayed at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. As a quintessential North American muscle car, the TransAm materializes a particular masculine aggression: when combined with that alternately visionary and paranoid rant, the Book of Revelations, gouged graffiti-like into the surface of the car’s body, Scott affects a reductive distillation of suprapersonal menace and visionary excess.

One of the more effective decisions made by curator David Liss was to paper an alcove with Scott’s smaller, undated, unsigned drawings, a choice which reinforces the artist’s propensity towards excess. The works are arrayed in messy profusion on the walls and the floor, creating an overall environment of staring faces, bodies and more war machines. The figure which repeatedly emerges from the hectic disarray of line, broad paint-splashes is the angry bunny. In a 1982 article in Toronto Life, Gary Michael Dault describes their trajectory. The rabbits evolved out of thousands of doodles of “wet little dramas” involving men with hearts for heads. Gradually, the hearts became attenuated and metamorphosed into people with cones for heads. Over time, the cones grew pointy ears and the rabbit people were born. “The rabbits are always getting pushed around,” Scott pointed out to Dault. “Always raped, getting raped, it’s terrible the things that happen to them.” The inevitable question becomes whether Scott himself is invested in industrial/postindustrial technological destruction or does he identify with the rabbit-men that are always getting raped? Is he the top or the bottom? The political paradigm we are invited to utilize to interpret the iconography leads the audience to identify with the bottom, which is reinforced by claims that the artist’s own blood forms part of the media used to execute these drawings. The spilling of fluid functions as a marker of authenticity, via the interpellation of the artist’s body.

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