Cartoon Physics

As in other cartoons, the Road Runner and the coyote follow the laws of cartoon physics. For example, the Road Runner has the ability to enter the painted image of a cave, while the coyote cannot (unless there is an opening through which he can fall). Sometimes the coyote is allowed to hang in midair until he realizes that he is about to plummet into a chasm (a process occasionally referred to elsewhere as Road-Runnering or a Wile E. Coyote moment). (1)

 

Known fact: Wile E. Coyote was the only apex predator in the badlands mail-ordering bombs from Acme. Perhaps he found the solution offered by instinct too base, its rate of failure too predictable; perhaps he felt suddenly driven to become an innovator in predator-prey relations. Regardless, as the traps he lays are beholden to cartoon physics, his achievements are refracted through cartoon expectations. IRL, we don't laud the scientist undertaking so many fatally flawed experiments. But Coyote, with his unwieldy assortment of surrealist weapons, is enduring for specifically that reason. He has failed repeatedly and with gusto. Success would not have nearly had been so memorable. 

 

The members of Maw Collective — Gabriel Baribeau, Jackson Darby, Max Evans, John Gunner, Craig Spence, and Simon Zaborski — have gamely pursued the ridiculous since meeting at Concordia University. Similar in manner to Coyote's Rube Goldberg trickery, Maw's endeavours are markedly convoluted. "Like writing a story backwards," Gunner says. "But when you've finished, the ending with which you started has already changed."(2)

 

Like the Acme-branded wreckage littering Coyote's home canyon, the illusory object is Maw's troublemaking calling card. It is employed as an exercise in self-defeat, or as a détournement of functional design; occasionally, as with the giant chicken leg in a recent exhibition at Parisian Laundry, we see it set as the bait for a literal trap. Much of Maw's sculptural output features a playland of Frankenstein objects become anthropomorphic in their own failure, such as the fallacy of the two-headed rake, contrasted against representations of things found in nature that have not passed through civilization unscathed. 

 

 Grimly faceless, Maw's menagerie shows not even an inkling of a willingness to represent life. It is not so much apocalyptic anxiety as it is an oracular acceptance of what's to come.

 

The animals appear in unlikely places and often as stand-ins for human figures (of which, barring the present audience, there are none). Nature re-intrudes on built environments, but not in the purifying sense of secondary succession. Instead, it returns fully grotesque: wearing on its hide the garbage that it can't escape from, adopting in its behaviour the human format. False foliage grows like a fungus on the outside of an office, pierced through with all manner of industrial foams and trash. There are stray dogs made of salvaged Audi seatcovers, deer sewn together out of drab workplace carpet, lambs stitched from of the same white leather that upholsters the chair that they rest upon. Grimly faceless, Maw's menagerie shows not even an inkling of a willingness to represent life. It is not so much apocalyptic anxiety as it is an oracular acceptance of what's to come.

 

Animate or inanimate, these characters wander through landscapes that are urban, occasionally suburban, and always in disrepair. At the centre of Maw's formal consistencies is spatial intervention. “We're always trying to disable it or make it do something it's not supposed to do; we're always assessing its flexibility,” Gunner says, specifically about architecture but seemingly about Maw's relationship to the object world in general. Populated by modified goods whose original uses are negated or distorted, their installations are suffused with a surrealist tic that is extended to the containing architecture of the gallery through haphazardly constructed antechambers, open dig sites, or dismantled false walls.

 

As their ill-functioning power tools and elusive bikini babes emasculate het-male culture, Maw's jocular misbehaviour thwarts expectations of success and productivity.

 

The primary beauty of Maw Collective lies in its function as a cohesive intelligence — one which supersedes the personae of its individual members. It's an operation insidious in recent cultural memory (think corporate brand identity) that has been overturned into a generative act. As their ill-functioning power tools and elusive bikini babes emasculate het-male culture, Maw's jocular misbehaviour thwarts expectations of success and productivity. But what may seem critical at first also acknowledges complicity. "Maybe wilfully taking the bait undermines the trap,” Baribeau says. "What is interpreted often as critique [also stems from] shameless content," derived from taking simultaneous pleasure in the power cultures that we often seek to dispossess. 

 

Maw's type of complicit resistance is symptomatic of a generation at large: one that is schooled in the harmful consequences of late capitalist culture but would reach for the sweatshop-sewn t-shirt without a third thought. The cartoonish, in-plain-view nature of their work — and it is work, replete with labour, trial, and failure — reveals the inherent contradiction in taking a stand for (or against) a particular tack. “It reveals our intentions,” Zaborski says. “It implicates us.”

 

/

 

(1) Wikipedia, Wile E. Coyote. 

(2) This interview was conducted over gchat with Zaborski, in Montreal, and Gunner, in the Yukon; and over e-mail with Baribeau in Toronto.