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Arni Runar Haraldsson

Ron Huebner: What You Don't Know Won't Hurt You
Contemporary Art Gallery, Vancouver

C Magazine #14, June 1987.
[ 701 words ]


Ron Huebner's installation, entitled What You Don't Know Won't Hurt You, is poetic in nature, juxtaposing and combining elements that are otherwise opposed with the intent of installing a sense of uncertainty in the viewer, leading one to question certain commonly held assumptions as to our notion of comfort, security, and basic survival. This 'placing in doubt' is achieved by way of metaphorical, rather than analogical, associations, utilizing a most practical economy of materials and space.

Two identical photo-silkscreened canvasses, depicting a pack of wolves rummaging in a forest, face each other from opposite walls. One is in positive and the other is in negative. Scattered across the gallery floor are an assortment of animal bones interspersed with exacting, stainless-steel copies. Also on the floor, mid-way between the two canvasses, stands what appears to be a box-like, heat generating contraption concealing a speaker emitting the sound of wind whistling across a barren landscape. Huebner has also designed a book to accompany this minimal setting of debris. Essentially an artist's book, it is devoid of text other than its rhetorical cover-title: 'Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf.' Inside, the image of the wolves goes through a sequence of subtle alterations from positive to negative.

The images of the wolves, combined with the presence of the bones, relates to a theme of life and death in nature. The copied stainless-steel bones, along with the synthetic 'tape' sound, draws in the man-made industry. Here the act of creating is seen as being at odds with nature — the already-created. The real bones represent and partake of reality, but it is an entirely other reality that is in direct opposition to that which stainless-steel represents. The eventual decomposition of the natural may be said to be determined, whereas the life-span of its copy, in this case, is not — it will 'live on' as it were. The real bones contain a truth that only gives rise to a condition of doubt and, within this setting, becomes one simulacrum among others.

Although lacking narrative, Huebner's bookwork nevertheless suggests a sequential reading — however, one that remains a mystery for the reader to unravel from the clues given by its repetition and manipulation. Taken together, its details defy any one single reading while creating an eerie mood. By way of repetition, Huebner directs our eyes from light to darkness; instead of bringing the image to life he brings it towards death. The recognizable wolf is gradually transformed into a dark beast with hollow, penetrating eyes that, like the historical wolf, induces fear by staring down its assailant while striking at the heart of the unconscious.

As the image regresses into its negative, the background upon which it rests (approximately one-eighth of each page) simultaneously changes from dark to light as its blotches of dots become less dense. This framing device acts as a means of concretizing the image as image, and suggests that the unknown is simply a product of the imagination, that there is nothing to fear but fear itself.

It would seem that Huebner wishes us to link our organic, instinctive feeling powers to our thinking powers, as our vision of the world must be extended to encompass the invisible energies derived from nature with which we have lost contact. What You Don't Know... conveys more the sense of an indication or suggestion than a cohesive reading. There is a 'more' here whose aim is to appeal to more than what interpretation or understanding might offer. We are left with rather distant traces which are only the perceptible edges of something other: the setting as a whole has only the character of a hint. And as such its objects fail to transfer a message but they may move the viewer. Remaining 'open' in its reference(s), What You Don't Know...evokes associated memories that are motivated less by the qualities of its objects than by the subject of their reception.


C Magazine #14, June 1987.

Text: © Arni Runar Haraldsson. All rights reserved.

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