Big Game Art

By hunting for society’s discards, such as cushion stuffing and gutted upholstery, a sculptor builds a new ecology

Bryan Christiansen: Trophy Hunter seems tailor-made for the Big Springs Gallery at the Springs Preserve, even though it wasn’t. The show, which migrated from the Nevada Museum of Art in Reno, addresses what we use and discard, what we value, and what is valuable. Both look at the natural world and how it intersects with human ecology.

While the kids enjoy the Sustainability Gallery interactives at the Preserve, such as the film at the Garbage Truck Theater that “shows the difference between trash and treasure,” the adults can fully appreciate Trophy Hunter for giving us a glimpse of the afterlife of couches and La-Z-Boys (the central trophies of any family room in America). It makes “sofa art” smart.

Christiansen toys with the culture and traditions of hunting, which used to be necessary but is now a sport. His deer sculptures and wall-hung “pelts” are made from derelict couches, recliners, ottomans or mattresses that litter the urban/suburban landscape of Reno. The artist’s prey are castoffs—scavenged rather than stalked. However, he applies the hunter’s ethos by cleverly incorporating every last bit of found material into the pieces on display, such as preserving scraps in decorative glass containers.

Sculpted deer “trophies” have bones, antlers and hides. They’re made from a patchwork of fussy floral upholstery, lining, stuffing and swaths of yellowed cushioning that is fitted over an armature of wood, wire springs and metal reclining chair mechanisms. The gathers, tucks and topstitching that hold the skin together are prominent, giving the pieces a crafty, homespun look, like an innocuous hobby horse for sale at a church bazaar. However, the artist deftly defies the conventions of both kitsch and taxidermy by omitting the cloying, cuddly personalities of children’s toys and the life-like creepiness of real deer trophy heads. Fittingly, his deer have no eyes with which to lock your gaze, and the stitched fabric that forms their snouts makes them appear muzzled. The effect is vaguely unsettling.

In contrast to the deer sculptures, the curved walls of the canyon-like gallery space are hung with flayed, sofa “pelts” that loom, enigmatically and shaman-like, over the assembled herd. Simultaneously more literal and more abstract than the sculpted deer, the flayed pelts are flattened, geometric compositions that invite you in for a closer look at the exhausted surface.

Since you can only see Trophy Hunter by buying full admission to the Springs Preserve (admission is $10 for an adult with Nevada I.D, $19 without), it’s best to make a full day of it. In fact, looking at Trophy Hunter in terms of the entire museum complex is the best way to understand the art exhibit. And you just may come away with a better understanding of our corner of the Mojave Desert, and how we might preserve it as a living trophy.