As splintering news and entertainment media grow increasingly desperate to catch our attention, irrational fear of foes—real or imagined, threatening from within or without—is now a prevailing characteristic of the collective psyche in the west.
University of Ottawa MFA student Edwin Janzen takes a nostalgic look at that fear with Guys in Caves, his thesis exhibition aptly located at The Diefenbunker, the Cold War bunker-turned-museum and historic edifice of nuclear war paranoia.
The exhibition opened August 13 but the vernissage is slated for Tuesday, August 31, from 5 to 8 p.m.
Janzen’s multi-media and multi-sensory exhibition includes four installations on various levels of the museum, consisting of plastic and neon signage, video, audio, and an olfactory component.
“The show is called Guys In Caves in reference to the imagined mountain lair of Osama bin Laden,” explains Janzen.
“But we also live in a cave of sorts,” he continued, “a psychological and ethical cave of our obsession with security in which we conjure up enemies for ourselves and hide away from the world.”
In the “Inferno” installation, a small, darkened office space features a suspended neon sign displaying the word “Inferno” amidst strong smells of stale cigarette butts and whiskey—aromas that Janzen associates with “the macho office culture of the Cold War era.”
Other installations consist of ordinary-looking office signage that incorporates words and phrases from the war on terror of the past decade. In “Adversary,” the artist shows six looped video pieces on the old, ceiling-mounted TV monitors that are themselves artifacts of the museum.
The show is not all doom and gloom, however. In one humorous installation, "Gauntlet," a musical track plays in a narrow corridor on the bunker's bottom level—the theme song to the 1960s spy spoof TV show, Get Smart.
Janzen’s previous work has focused on political, military and Cold War themes, and he deliberately pursued The Diefenbunker as the venue before creating the exhibition.
“The Diefenbunker represents an unmatchable opportunity to work site-specifically,” Janzen said. “In visiting the space, I sought to pay attention to what one might call the ‘vocabulary’ of the space: the furnishings, the signage, objects, fixtures, smells and sounds. So, in a sense, the bunker itself was my guide.”
Since becoming a museum, The Diefenbunker has welcomed many artists to either exhibiting their work in the facility, or use it as their inspiration.
“In the past, we have welcomed a diverse array of visual artists, including Lynne Cohen, Adrian Göllner, Jana Sterbak, Marcia Lea, and many more,” says Eric Espig, the museum’s programs and public relations manager.
“These kinds of artistic interactions with The Diefenbunker’s unique environment help to enrich the way in which the public experiences the Cold War and its huge impact upon our history and society.”
To that end, Janzen aims to “draw links between modern fears and Cold War fears,” he said. “The objects of these fears are different, but fear is fear—it's always the same … I've constructed the exhibition as a descent into the underworld, which is also a metaphorical descent into the human mind in a defensive posture.”
Guys in Caves is on exhibit until Thursday, September 30.