Roland Brener

Plastic funnels and tubing, small radio speakers, steel armatures, and simple electronics are all incorporated in Roland Brener’s sculptures. In the two large works that are the focus of this exhibition, Brener uses rudimentary “basement workbench” technology to perform simple tasks that mimic human endeavors. A few tears falling from the eyes of a robot or a nearly subliminal computer-generated sound program suggesting the sounds of a forest incite reflections on human experience, rather than simply a meditation on the effects of technology.

Brener’s relationship with technology is that of the amateur who finds what he needs in hobby shops and hardware stores, and his works frequently evince use of a fast-paced, often caustic sense of humor. Mobile with Low-Flying Stereotypes, 1991, consists of an enormous superstructure hung with small painted plaster human figurines that rotate through the air to the sound of birds chirping and a chorus of applause. As the luridly painted figures, half man and half British-beer-mug caricature, float past, the audio melds with its sculptural elements, forming an amalgam of sound and movement.

Identical plaster bodies have different oversize heads attached to them (some are repeated): that of a Mexican gaucho, a Persian sultan, a turbaned Berber, and an aging Oriental, all 19th-century colonialist stereotypes. Here Brener is making a wry comment on the fact that many of our perceptions of the world begin from the stereotyped notion we hold of others. He is measuring time and marking space, as the circulating figures are slowly propelled by a single electric fan. With these acts of formal definition—by strictly controlling the objects’ movement in space—he avoids an unreflective aggrandizement of technology. Brener maintains that technology is a means to an end, and although it has remained a constant part of his vocabulary, one can only speculate that it’s the unexpected visual results of technology that keep drawing him back to these moving images.

Firmly anchored by a pedestal table stand, the seven-foot-high creature entitled Weeper, 1990–91, with its birdlike head, plume, and beak, has a striking presence in relation to the mobile. Small stereo speakers in each eye emit the sounds of the natural world. From these eyes drip a steady stream of tears. Although this piece is a near-static object, the slow dripping of water provokes an uncanny empathy. In many respects, Brener’s sculpture emphasizes the entertainment value of art, suggesting that staged emotions are really all we’re after. For an artist living on the west coast of Canada, however, where the destruction of the forests has become a central concern, the issue of the environment takes on political urgency. The tears Weeper cries serve as a highly effective environmental rallying cry.

Linda Genereux