Human figures begging you to take a ‘Stand’

Special to Western News

Take a stroll by the McIntosh Gallery one of these days. Perhaps you’ve already walked by and wondered about the six sculptures standing – quite literally, akimbo – to its side.

The six figures are part of an interactive outdoor sculpture installation, Last Stand. The exhibit is based on the Muk Yan Jong – or wooden man post – used for training in the Wing Chun form of Kung Fu. You’re meant to wonder about them, to look at them, to interact with them, said McIntosh Director and Chief Curator James Patten. That’s the whole point.

As an abstraction of the human body, Muk Yan Jong by centuries predate similar modernist sculptures, which they resemble.

“These wooden dummies are used in Kung Fu (practice) and they’re really well-known in Asia. People have them in their backyards, in playgrounds,” Patten said, adding local artist Ross Bell approached the gallery with a desire to work on this installation on campus.

“The idea is, you practice all your (Kung Fu) moves using this human figure made of wood. But it’s very abstract. If you look at the human figure, there’s just a leg, and two sort-of arms,” he added.

The figure is very much central to a lot of Asian cultures, Patten continued, and Bell thought it would be fun to do the installation on Western’s campus because the student body is so diverse, he added. Those who walk by will either recognize the figures or will wonder about them. The installation is meant to be interactive.

Bell, who does large-scale sculptures in wood, constructed the dummies outside of the gallery from local ash trees cut down because of the emerald ash borer, Patten explained. For Bell, the exhibit “evokes several tangential associations: the decimated ash trees of southwestern Ontario, a defensive military front, and the artist’s position as a maker of things in an increasingly virtual world.”

Born in Alberta, Bell lives in London. He has had exhibitions at DNA Artspace and Westland Gallery and has had works shown at the Art Gallery of Guelph and Chela Gallery, Baltimore. He is represented by Georgia Scherman Projects, in Toronto, where he has also exhibited at Propeller Centre for the Arts and the Toronto International Art Fair.

The exhibition runs through July 15, 2017, in the McIntosh Sculpture Garden.