Bruce Mahalski's bone guns initially put us in the mind of David Cronenberg's bizarrely capitalised eXistenZ. Only Bruce's are much better - at least in some small part because they weren't pulled together from a bowl of soup by Jude Law. Instead, Bruce puts his together from roadkill that he collects and field strips. We dropped him a line to find out more.
Hi Bruce, how are things in Wellington?
Things in Wellington are quite decent – you should pop down here sometime and get a proper flat white (Wellington is famous for its coffee).
You get a lot of your art materials (read: bones) from road kill. You seem to have learned quite a bit about collecting dead animals off the tarmac - what's the process from road surface to finished piece?
As I said in a recent article, I'm usually looking for dried out animal remains rather than fresh ones. They're heavy to carry, smelly and labour intensive to de-flesh. Often I'll only see one or two bones on the surface and have to dig for the rest in the roadside. Then I take them back to my studio, boil them outside and let them dry for a few days in the sun. Once the bones are clean I sort them into categories by type, size and sometimes species.
The sculptures start with a flat or sculpted base. I then apply bones using fillers, rods and glue. I’ve come to see bones like paint: there are undercoats and overcoats. It's the textural effect created by layering sizes and colours that I'm most interested in. Once the object itself is fully coated in bone, it's a matter of thinking of the best way to display it. Lately I've been learning to make cases and mounts for them.
I think you were already collecting bones before you started incorporating them into your art.
I've been collecting bones, shells and fossils for as long as I can remember. My parents were both scientists and they collected bones and other natural history material themselves. I started incorporating them into my work in 2005 for an exhibition called Full Spectrum Dominance, it attacked the war against Iraq and the proliferation of war toys in the local discount stores. I started buying toy guns and covering them in different materials, trying to purge them of their superficial negativity. One of the materials I chose was bone.
You could make plenty of things out of bones. Guns kind of remind me of that poster for Existenz. Why pistols?
I do make things other than guns, particularly works inspired by the sculptural traditions of the Pacific and North Africa. But guns have been part of my work since I started. Some people think of me as a gun nut, I've never actually owned one. As a man, and an artist, I can’t ignore their potent symbolism. It seems other people can’t either because the bone guns attract a lot more interest than photos of other works.
Originally, I wasn’t referencing either Giger or Cronenberg in my work. So many people assumed I was, I thought I'd better do it. The bone pistol set is a definite nod to eXistenZ and also to my father, he collects old militaria and objects connected with duelling.
I know there are no favourite children and all that, but what is your weapon of choice?
Probably the life size MP40, my favourite machine pistol. I recently sold it to New Zealand’s premier art collector and patron – Sir James Wallace.
If you weren't making art, what would be your preferred career?
Marine biologist or detective.
To see more of Bruce's work, visit mahalski.org