John Armstrong

David Diviney
Helen Pitt Gallery, Vancouver


A row of rubber boots and hip waders, large, perhaps size 12, poke out from under a wall of cedar shingles that leans against the gallery wall. Kamloops artist David Diviney could have purchased all of the elements for Blind, this 2006 sculpture, at his local Rona or Home Depot. He built the wall and shingled it himself, but it looks like it could be a new (but somewhat rarefied) modular component.

Shopping for sculpture has a well-established pedigree in Marcel Duchamp’s 1914 purchase of a bottle rack from the Parisian department store BHV. It is a testimony to the French reverence for all things traditional — and an indication of their penchant for sticking with good design — that you can still go to the BHV in Paris and purchase that self same bottle rack. Some French consumers still wash out, dry and recycle their wine bottles. Prescient of Duchamp to have chosen such an enduring object for what would turn out to be the artist’s first “unassisted” readymade. Duchamp later claimed that the original function of the objects designated by him as readymades was of little importance once he placed them in the aesthetic realm: he was, for example, quite keen on the bottle rack’s abstract formal qualities, its biaxial symmetry. But I suspect that Duchamp was far too much of a French cultural gadfly and designer in his own right to be completely oblivious to his designated objects’ cultural resonance.

Unlike Duchamp, Diviney openly celebrates the cultural resonance of his palette of found materials. Rubber boots, are the stock-in-trade of rural, North American DIY culture, of the resourceful, self-sufficient male, be he hunter, homebuilder or spinner of tall tales — the kind of guy, that were he to be French, might well wash out and recycle his bottles of out-of-the-barrel vin de table. The aesthetic realm certainly exists for Diviney, and might be best characterized as post-minimalism in conversation with the home handyman/prankster.

Blind, essentially a 4x6-foot piece of shingled plywood propped up against the wall, playfully quotes the American minimalist John McCracken’s leaning lacquered slabs of the 1960s. McCracken, a native of California, was also a proponent of the guy culture of his time: his artwork adopted surfboards’ construction and finishing. But Diviney’s most pointed reference is to a hunting blind, something hunters cobble together in the woods or by a lake to hide behind while waiting for their prey. Hunting blinds are never anywhere near as pristine as what Diviney has fashioned: this is the Platonic blind, or pure theatre—with all of Diviney’s characteristic dog-on-a-bicycle charm. Several eye or peep holes are cut through the shingles, fluorescent light creeps out from around the toes of the boots beneath the sculpture, and the sculpture casts a melodramatic shadow onto the wall in the form of another piece of plywood that has been painted black and that also has a set of peep holes in it. We are being observed by the owners of the three-and-a-half pairs of boots, the putative builders of both the blind and by implication all of the sculpture in the exhibition. This is not a readymade, but rather a collaboration with several fictional characters.

What have our hunters wrought? Well, another hiding place in a recumbent log ingeniously made of a Sonotube covered in bark made of coloured latex caulking. Again we have drilled-out eyes and an internal light source: a utility light’s orange cord conspicuously threads out of the open end of the log. Hiding is a recurring motif here. Several of the sculptures are suspended from the ceiling in another allusion to stagecraft. The opposing buckets in Untitled (Diptych) (2006) hang just above the floor, magically suspended, like the sculpture’s cartoon dripping water made of a carved blue plastic bucket. Snare (2006) is the rear half of a standing taxidermy coyote with a tuque covering its severed mid section. Snare is supported by a cord that travels to a pulley on the ceiling and then on to a cement block on the floor, its counterweight. The spoils of the hunt come rather precariously to life here. Another bit of anatomy is suggested by the sock pulled over a protruding section of an unpainted chipboard block that has been attached to the wall at about chest height. A cord out of the bottom of the sock playfully anchors the sculpture to the floor.

What does all of this transparent trickery signal? Whimsy and nonsense were no strangers to Duchamp, nor was the notion of a fictional auteur: Duchamp displayed the signature of R. Mutt, an actual sign painter, on his 1917 Fountain, another of his readymades. Diviney is mindful of this tradition, his hapless hunter/builders extemporize on the high-minded sobriety of art seen in the white-box exhibition space: Diviney’s installations would simply not maintain their ironic theatricality if exhibited out-of-doors or in the setting of an industrial space. These are parenthetical models of the twentieth-century art practice: part Dada, part formalism—and part exasperation. The tragic-comedy here is a paradigm for what we are able to do or effect, as artists, as participants in contemporary consumer culture. Diviney’s hunter-gatherer makers, lurk about waiting for the kill. Their prizes are water made of plastic, a truncated and stuffed dog (man’s best friend), and even, in the sock and the tuque, bits of themselves. DIY culture has us take a measure of control, ameliorate our immediate (often domestic) environment. But to what end? Interestingly, Diviney has taken the hunting blind as his central motif here. He has had to design it himself, as there is no off-the–shelf version to be purchased. It is one of the things in the exhibition that he couldn’t go out and buy.

Addendum: The epicentre for serious study of Duchamp is the very impressive Arensberg Collection at Philadelphia Museum of Art. Duchamp himself assisted in the installation of his artwork there in 1954. Diviney grew up in Pennsylvania, and was certainly familiar with the museum and its collection. In his 1995 performance and intervention, Divine Intervention, which took place during John Cage’s Rolywholyover, Diviney managed to convince a museum guard to assist him in temporarily altering various works in the permanent collection.  Diviney went from sculpture to sculpture placing a thrift shop Bhudda for twenty minutes on iconic works such as Old Mole (1985) by Martin Puryear, Three Brillo Boxes (1964) by Andy Warhol, and Bottlerack (1961 replica of 1914 original) by Marcel Duchamp.

David Diviney: Hollow. Vancouver, British Columbia: Helen Pitt Gallery, 2007.