Scott August: If I Had a Rocket Lawnchair

Dysfunctional Chairs series
August 1 to November 1, 2009

A great topic for conversation when relaxing with friends, or even strangers (while stuck on an elevator, or in a traffic jam?) is things we used to think as children, and later discovered were errors. One old friend of mine said that her family of origin actually called these items “used-to-thinks,” when sharing them. One that comes readily to my mind was a little boy who used to think that the line “Sleep in heavenly peace” in the Christmas song Silent Night was “Sleep in Heaven leap-ees,” some really magical pair of pyjamas. My own younger brother “used to think” that the city streets in Winnipeg where we grew up, moved around all the time like wiggling organisms and he was amazed at my father’s skill at the wheel of the car, finding his way to places like my grandmother’s house for Sunday dinner, so unerringly.

And so we come to the new work commissioned from Kelowna-based artist Scott August for our Dysfunctional Chairs series, which he titles: If I Had a Rocket Lawnchair, his own childhood mis-hearing – and along with his brother, thinking it sounded so cool! – of the famous Bruce Cockburn song If I Had a Rocket Launcher. (Cockburn was responding with anger to the 1984 bombing by the Guatemalan army of Guatemalan refugee camps located in Mexico.) Motivated to create a work of art that would embody the feeling and capabilities of his childhood vision, August has modified a common metal lawnchair with rocket blasters. Emitting smoke, the chair hovers above the ground, as though it is blasting off.

Although this piece is a response to the commission for this series of chairs that no one can sit on, the rocket lawnchair is not too far removed from the range of activity that make up this artist’s usual practice. The same kind of border blur at work in August’s Dysfunctional Chairs piece is a strong component running through his other activities as a rock drummer, his running of an art-reproduction business, his sound and performative works, and his more-or-less straightforward visual art. In the past for one photographic piece, for example, he dressed in a red fabric lobster outfit. In another instance, for an exhibition, he created a twenty-five-foot-high blown-up image of himself dressed as a cowboy. Recently he began an ongoing series of work called Great Roadside Attractions, the first of which was staged in the fall of 2008 just outside of the BC interior town of Keremeos: a twenty-two-foot-high image of himself as a cowboy hugging a bear billboard.

Visitors to the Kelowna Art Gallery might recall his solo show from 2007 titled Pinecone Junction and Other Favourites. This was an eight-by-sixteen foot sized relief construction of montaged digital images, which had an interactive aspect: a series of motion detectors caused lightbulbs to come on when viewers passed in front of the piece. As with the If I Had a Rocket Lawnchair, the overall mood was one of lighthearted hokum, with a construction style steeped in hillbilly bricolage. Hopefully viewers will be prompted to recall some of their own private “used-to-thinks” when looking at August’s lawnchair. They may never be in a more conducive situation to do so, nor one in which their own childhood misunderstandings may not seem that far-fetched or embarrassing after all.

– Liz Wylie, Curator, Kelowna Art Gallery

For our Dysfunctional Chairs series, The Kelowna Art Gallery acknowledges the support of the Vancouver Foundation.

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