Big Time

Major Works by Scott Eady


At a glance, the photograph looks like a snapshot of the archetypal nut-scratching, wolf-whistling construction worker, a staunch bloke bearing a belt laden with tools of the trade. But the blank whiteness of the studio backdrop, the carefully orchestrated lighting, and the strategic centrality of the subject, prompt the conclusion that this scene is the product of artful masquerade. In fact, the jocular photograph, executed by Hamish MacDonald, is a portrait of the sculptor, Scott Eady. Eady's wry grin and mercurial gaze emphasise that the image is tongue-in-cheek, that these suggestively phallocentric tools are donned in a self-reflexive spirit. The portrait also constitutes an eloquent visual expression of Eady's concerns: a deconstructive exploration of New Zealand's masculinist culture, laced with a playful affection for the accoutrements, processes, and artefacts of the construction worker and the handyman.

Scott Eady 1999
Colour photograph

Eady's dialogue with masculinist culture has been the central focus of his work since the mid-1990s.(1) In his 1997 Big Time show, he constructed vastly over-scaled models of a chainsaw, nail gun and bolt-cutters.(2) The massive amplification of these objects' forms, and their loss of functionality, suggest that masculinist culture's intimacy with tools is a relationship defined by something larger than their utility value. Since then, Eady has elaborated his inquiry into the boundaries, tenants, and contradictions of masculinist culture, with a series of works that blend incisive commentary with wit and fun. His major projects have included two interrelated sculptures, The Desert Fox (1999-2000) and Scotties: Deckhouse and Trailer (1998), where fraught expressions of masculinist fantasy and desire are brought to centre stage.

The Desert Fox is a product of inauspicious pedigree; beneath the immaculate minimalist shell lie the chassis, suspension, and mechanics of a Mitsubishi L200. In its finished state the vehicle has not only escaped from its origins as a banal Japanese ute, it has also taken on a form emancipated from conventional automotive design, functionality, and marketability: absent are such fixtures and fittings as the wind-screen wipers, side-vision mirrors, and door handles; and even more radically, the headlights, windscreen, and doors are barely signified within the mould of the truck itself. In terms of scale, The Desert Fox has the aura of the real, but things are not quite what or where they should be. Fantasy, it seems, has overtaken function.

The stylistic cues are polymorphous and promiscuous: but for the archetypal tyre-kicker, The Desert Fox's contours, minimal specifications, and meaty running-boards would almost certainly evoke the most revered of macho muscle trucks, the classic Ford and Chevy pick-ups. A number of the sculpture's chunky forms, and the simplification of its various components, hint at an association with that favoured plaything for lads of Eady's generation, Lego. Viewed head-on, the aggressive fenders and the imposing prow make The Desert Fox look like a de-accessioned artefact from that celluloid celebration of machismo, Battle Truck (1982).

The Desert Fox 1999-2000
Mitsubishi L200 running gear
and chassis, steel &
painted fibreglass
5280 x 1855 x 1775mm.

Yet, for all its masculinist pedigree and butch bravado, The Desert Fox is lacquered in a soft sheen of pink, a colour that renders it a potential candidate for a litany of abuse. It is not hard to imagine a Friday night traffic-light scene with an assortment of less than loquacious Westie ruffians in a beaten-up Holden chastising The Desert Fox as a faggy-poofter-girl's-blousy heap of crap. A truckie assigned to transport The Desert Fox to the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery for the Drive: Power>Progress>Desire exhibition(3) was more than a little anxious about having a pink truck mounting his own: after all, what would his mates think? The point that the truck's masterful synthesis of camp and butch so eloquently makes concerns the very awkward relationship between masculinity and its modes of display. Real men are not meant to be concerned with, or even know about colour; traditional masculinist mythology would contend that such decisions are the domain of the wife. To be concerned with colour would be to risk being seen as something less than a real man. Yet, paradoxically, many hues are off-limits for men, and any hint of male chromatic transgression is likely to be met with contempt from the very same men who, in any other context, would strenuously deny any knowledge about colour signification. The incompatibility of these positions is symptomatic of the general incoherence of gender stereotypes. Any contemplation of the dynamics of its display threatens to call into question the naturalism of traditional masculinist ideology, and in The Desert Fox, the cacophony of clashing gender signifiers brings this tension to the surface.

Eady's cognisance of the pitfalls of male posturing can also be seen in the dialogue his work cultivates with the masculinist strategies and desires of modernist abstraction. Certainly, the elimination of extraneous detail-the impulse to abstract-is everywhere apparent in The Desert Fox. Yet, this is not an example of modernist necrophilia; Eady is not staging a wholesale resurrection of an unsustainable formalist rhetoric. When The Desert Fox was nearing completion, Eady turned over the paint job-that sacred locus of formalist methodology-to the professionals, PPG Paints (World Leaders in Automotive Finishes) so as to get the perfect surface. Such a strategy, alongside Eady's obvious attentiveness to gender dynamics, marks out his distance from the macho posturing, heroic claims, and transcendental concerns synonymous with the intersection of masculinist culture and Modernism.

An artistic precedent for The Desert Fox is Kenneth Anger's sardonic short film Kustom Kar Kommandos (1965). At the centre of Anger's film is a young man who-with the aid of a powder puff-lovingly fondles, strokes, and ultimately turns on his pristine hot rod. In both Kustom Kar Kommandos and The Desert Fox the theme of men's auto-eroticism is palpable, although Anger's incorporation of a homoerotic gaze (as the camera dwells suggestively on the crotch and butt of his car aficionado) has no correlative in Eady's sculpture. In comparison, Eady's practice is suggestive of an empathy for, and proximity to, the world of the petrol-head, whereas Anger remains the strategically detached queer voyeur.

As Anger's work observes, relations between men and machines often operate within the discursive framework of a heterosexual romance. While the nomenclature of custom car culture's ultimate object, the hot rod, is suggestive of phallic fantasy, such vehicles are consistently characterised as female. But to bring a vehicle to the point where it would be worthy of the 'she's-a-beauty-mate' accolade, a myriad of modifications are necessary. In custom car culture every element of a chosen vehicle, whether functional or cosmetic, is a possible site of manipulation, mutation, or restoration; from big-bore exhausts, racing stripes, and mag-wheels, to lowered suspensions, uprated engines, and interior refits, the whole shebang is potentially modifiable. The very limitlessness of car-customization consigns those who operate under the regime of its logic to the insatiable pursuit of an unattainable goal; the practice itself is an exemplary form of fetishism. In synchronicity with these conditions, The Desert Fox emanates elements of hollowness and lack: despite the fact that it was a year in the making and everything is in perfect working order, the truck is not designed to cruise along the highways and byways of New Zealand. Yet this is not so much a compromised truck-building project as it is a witty encapsulation of the shortfalls and concessions inherent in any such scheme. The ultimate truck is always unattainable.

But not only does The Desert Fox draw attention to unattainability as it plays out in masculinist car culture, it also wreaks havoc with the affections of any truck-lovin bloke. While in Anger's film the aroused young man gets to enter the hot rod and rev its potent engine, The Desert Fox permits no such conquest; there is no obvious point of access, let alone a cab to occupy. Given its status as female, The Desert Fox's attraction and refusal of congress, proposes it as an object of that misogynist's favoured term of abuse, a cock-tease. In its provocation of this rhetoric, the truck conjures up an obsessive craving for access, compliance, and subservience; these are, the work would seem to suggest, characteristic of masculinist culture's desired relations with the wider world. Eady's project marks the impossibility of the fulfilment of such desire, particularly where it is constructed in masculinist terms and articulated through unabated voyeurism, fetishism, and idolatry. Yet, even though The Desert Fox doesn't give it up to her suitor, there is never any doubt about her hypnotic allure.

A closely related and similarly insightful work is Eady's superbly finished peripatetic shed, Scotties (Deckhouse and Trailer). This sculpture focuses on the relationship between sheds and the men who use them. In endeavouring to fathom this phenomenon, the populist book Blokes & Sheds (1998) proffers a useful testimonial as to the cultural stature and sociological functioning of the New Zealand shed.(4) Touted as 'a unique portrait of life in New Zealand's masculine heartland',(5) many of the Blokes & Sheds men use their buildings to nurture what, particularly in economic or technological terms, are generally defined as anachronistic or obsolete skills, practices, or machines. In the context of the book, the shed represents not only a private realm dedicated to the expression of men's beliefs, fantasies and desires, but also a site of resistance to (what is perceived as) an unjustifiable or misguided displacement of the traditional forms, activities, and values of masculine culture.(6)

Scotties [Interior] 1998
Mixed media, 3800 x 2200 x 2400 mm.

As with the affairs of many of the Blokes & Sheds men, Eady's shed, and his renovation of it, exude an aura of historical consciousness and revivalism. The structure came to Eady with a century of history, and an etymology imbued with the memories of generations of men whose activities and obsessions were suggested through layers of stains and detritus. Originally, the building served as the deckhouse for a scow,(7) providing the working and living quarters for a solitary seafarer. After a number of years of service the deckhouse was decapitated from its scow, immobilised and re-commissioned as a suburban shed. Over time it was furnished with a lining of tinfoil and jerry-rigged lights, marking its metamorphosis into a clinically controlled hothouse for an old man's marijuana cultivation and consumption. Then, in possibly its most inauspicious incarnation, the structure became home to 'a man's best friend', acquiring a fetid patina of dog shit along the way. In its present state, however, the building's antecedent roles have been fastidiously effaced.

The building's lengthy history, its incremental d├ęclassement, and Eady's reversal of this pattern of decline, are all pertinent factors in the work's relations with masculinist culture. First, the building's facilitation of so many roles underscored by men's needs and desires, demonstrates that it passes a critical litmus test of the hyper-masculine: it is a jack-of-all-trades. The focus on a space so richly inscribed with a masculinist past, the return-to-origins element of the restoration, and the effacement of the residues derived from the building's years of adversity, also align Scotties with masculinist ideology. These circumstances seem to register a desire for a restitution of the good old days where masculine authority was comparatively unchecked. From the facade at least, the conservative restoration also imbues the structure with that venerated quality of masculinist restraint; while Scotties is a shed with a past, its renovation process functions as a strategy not only of renewal, but also masculinist repression. The chromatic conformity of the exterior-with its pale yellow walls and bottle green roof-also serves as a reminder of masculinist culture's prohibition of decorative spectacle and excessive display, preferring instead a facade of stoicism and sameness, a discreet blending into the crowd. The pristine finish and functionalism of Scotties reference masculinist culture too: these qualities are indicative of the artist's aptitude for and conversance with the handyman's methods, and they also serve to authenticate this piece as the work of an insider. The fact that this structure is mounted on a Land Transport Safety Authority registered and warranted trailer, reiterates that this is the work of a man intimate with masculinist culture, a guy for whom functionalism is imperative.

Scotties [Exterior] 1998
Mixed media, 3800 x 2200 x 2400 mm.

Prior to the discursive exploration of Scotties' interior it is prudent to return for a moment to the Blokes & Sheds book, for a further primer on the symbolic and psychological functions of the New Zealand shed. The project posits the New Zealand shed as the last bastion of machismo and uncontested male control, or at least the space in which this aspiration is made manifest. One of the sheddies encapsulates this view in his claim that: 'Nothing happens in here unless I want it to happen'.(9) The shed is also demarcated, first, as a sanctuary necessary for the sustenance of marital or familial stability, and second, as a place of immunity from prying eyes, criticism, and surveillance. As another of the Blokes & Sheds men confides: 'When it's too rough inside, you go out to the shed. You get left in peace. No nagging, no kids, no wife-they just get in the way.' Sheds, it would seem, mediate their occupants' otherwise dysfunctional, unacceptable, or unsatisfactory relations to the world. In a claim that might serve as an emblem for so much of the Blokes & Sheds project, one avid sheddie concludes: 'You don't have to be politically correct in a shed.'(10)

The notion of a cordoned-off, politically reactionary and ambivalent masculinist culture confined to the shed provides a useful context in which to read Scotties' interior, in that it prepares us for an encounter with something slightly dodgy, private and obsessive. To cross the threshold of Eady's shed is to be confronted with a space that confirms these expectations. What is at first apparent is an environment that is illuminated and defined by the intensive radiance of the pink neon sign. Pristine and provocative, the shed's interior is fitted-out with a single-berth upholstered in a lurid candy-pink vinyl, and a personal entertainment centre; the suggestion of scopic pleasure is amplified by the stash of video tapes anonymously housed in identical pink covers. Penetration of the interior carries with it the expectation that the shed will reveal its purpose, but Scotties stops well short of a full confession. The pink tape-covers are unlabelled and they remain securely padlocked in an open-slat cupboard, rendering them visible but out of reach. The lack of disclosure as to the content of the tapes, and their presence as an inaccessible but tantalisingly conspicuous secret, leaves the viewer to cogitate about the images they might contain. Their mysterious content activates a desire for disclosure, an epidemic frenzy of mobilisation, into which every accoutrement of the work is drawn. Although the tapes refuse to confess, every other aspect of the interior yields clues as to their contents, and their intended audience. An initial hint comes from the space's gender designation, which is explicitly articulated through the Scotties logo; this sign, a commercialised metamorphosis of the artist's first name, reminds us of that age old initiation ritual of male-bonding, the transposition of a man's name into an informal vernacular. Thus, the sign's impregnating rays would seem to read as a coded welcome to other men. The light cast by the sign illuminates an interior that is rife with allusions to the sex industry's trade in private viewing cubicles, which serves to reiterate that this is a space for and about men's desires. Scotties' claustrophobic synthesis of the tawdry tonal excesses of theses cubicles' favoured decors is at once apparent. The wash'n'wear vinyl upholstery of the single bed-aptly rendered in a gaudy come-fuck-me pink-seems to acknowledge and accommodate sex industry specifications, in that it is a surface made for the easy removal of emissions and secretions.

I Saw You Saw 1997
Macrocarpa, coach bolts and screws,
6000 x 1500 x 1500 mm.
(Collection of James Wallace
Charitable Art Trust)

In a somewhat different register, sexual metaphor saturates the other immaculate surfaces of the interior; even the truth-to-materials component of Eady's work, which is made manifest in the tongue and groove walls and the freshly stained timber frames, is not immune. The vigorous stripping, rubbing, and stroking that the restoration demanded are suggestive of a handyman's frottage. Indeed, the term 'handyman' takes on a whole new meaning in this context, and skilled manual labour reads as fetishistic ritual. In view of the age of the shed itself, one might think too of the legacy and residues of other literal or metaphoric onanistic acts committed in this space by preceding generations of male inhabitants. Allusions of obsession, excess, and fetishistic male pleasure also accrue from the abundant suggestions of over-investment, not only in sexual but also in commodity terms. The economic outlays associated with this renovation support such a reading, for they would seem to exceed the market value of the building, and are further evidence of a cultivated aura of fanaticism.

The activation of these multiple significations of obsessive and unattainable desire point to the work's central commentary on an over-determined investment in masculinity in New Zealand. Not only does Scotties evoke ideas of masculinist repression and internalisation (the man who keeps it all under-wraps), it also suggests that at the core of this masculinist enterprise one finds the configuration of an unfulfillable desire. The desire-where desire is understood as a registration of lack-suggested by Scotties is a longing for a state of indisputable masculinist hegemony. Operating under the guidance of such desire, the archetypal New Zealand male is relegated to a space of incertitude, circumscribed pleasure, and frustration-precisely the spot where Scotties puts the viewer.

1. In his most recent work, which was exhibited at the Ivan Anthony Gallery, Auckland, Eady displayed a dummy of a pre-pubescent boy clasping at a rope attached to a boat made of New Zealand lamb's wool.
2. The Big Time show was held at Artis Gallery, Parnell, Auckland in 1997.
3. Drive: Power>Progress>Desire was held at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth in 2000.
4. Jim Hopkins, Blokes & Sheds, HarperCollins, Auckland 1998. The book also spawned a television documentary, Blokes 'n Sheds (TaylorMade Productions 1999) which was screened on 10 May 1999, as part of the TV1 Documentary New Zealand series.
5. Jim Hopkins, Blokes & Sheds 1998, unpaginated dust-jacket blurb.
6. For instance, Arthur, one of the book's sheddies reflects: 'Today a guy hits a button, a machine gives a fart and out comes a kitchen. He gets the money but what satisfaction? There's nothing to cherish. A tradesman makes two people happy.' (Arthur, Blokes & Sheds, p. 112). Sheds such as Arthur's-where over 5000 antique and obsolescent tools are housed-reflect this opposition to the encroachment of new technologies, and the desire to cherish and preserve the past.
7. The term scow refers to a type of boat that featured a flat-bottom and was commonly used for freighting in New Zealand in the late nineteenth century.
8. Henry, Blokes & Sheds, p. 116.
9. Jim Hopkins, unattributed quotation, 'Introduction', Blokes & Sheds, p. 10.
10. Lindsey, Blokes & Sheds, p. 94.