Artist Brit Bunkley reckons creating giant spiders and rats might help us overcome our phobias. Linda Herrick begs to differ

An enormous Avondale spider scuttles along Jervois Rd in Herne Bay. Drivers on the other side and joggers puffing by don't give it a second glance. Despite its size, they can't actually see it.

But you may have seen this giant spider before, back in March, when artist Brit Bunkley corralled a bunch of "techno-arachnids" inside a shipping container as part of the Auckland Arts Festival's Rosebank Artwalk in Avondale. Bunkley enjoys his "spiders" - based on the huntsman family, which forage for food at night rather than trap prey with a web - so much he has brought them back as part of a new show at Sanderson Gallery in Herne Bay.

The exhibition, titled No Phobia, also shows other creatures which inspire fear: a giant rat bestriding a Landsat map of Siberia, and still images of a snake, a rat, a scorpion and an ugly mutated fly, each resting on a chair.

"It is meant to be humorous," explains Bunkley, who teaches sculpture and video art at Whanganui's UCOL (Universal College of Learning). "When I was doing this whole spider thing I watched all kinds of B-rated movies with spiders and giant bugs in them. They all got big either from atomic explosions or some sort of toxic waste. And also Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis, when a man wakes up and finds he is a giant cockroach. I feel like that some mornings."


The videos of the spider charging along Rosebank Rd and Jervois Rd is a continuation of Bunkley's 3D print-making practice. "I spent all summer making 3D prints of each spider on a tiny printer. Each spider is made up of 22 pieces welded together with acetone. I film them in a 3D studio with virtual green screens so the shadow of the spider doesn't key out. And I had this little green screen set up in my studio and I bring bugs in and video them. It's not easy to do."

The rat on the chair is a freak, measuring 1.25m, including its tail. "The chair began as a way of scaling the work," he says. "They represent paranoia - most people have some sort of phobia about spiders or rats. I do, to be honest, but it's got much less as I have made these. But they are not quite my friends."

Perhaps a more appropriate name for the show would be Phobia, rather than No Phobia. Bunkley disagrees. "I like the idea of getting over phobias. There is this Hobbesian trap of fear - everyone has fears about certain kinds of things and sometimes they are irrational, like racism, fear of the 'others', something you are not really proud of and try to get over."

Bunkley, a New Yorker who moved to New Zealand in 1995 to take up the job at what was then Whanganui Polytechnic, has an international profile, with work showing as far afield as Moscow, San Paulo, Paris, Rome and Berlin. From this week, one of his videos, Paradox of Plenty (2011), is rotating on a giant screen at Oslo Central Station over the next month (plus videos by two other artists), following its earlier success at the Oslo Screen Festival. Paradox of Plenty also won third prize in an award ceremony last year at the Moscow Museum of Modern Art.

"They sent me the prize money via Western Union," he laughs. "I felt like a spy."

Paradox of Plenty features mirror images of architecture, mostly towers, floating around in space, combined with Landsat images. The final clips are a model of The Simpsons morphing into an eery Landsat depiction of the American mid-west in winter which, he says, "looked really creepy so I loved it".

21 Sep, 2013 2:00pm
5 minutes to read

Bunkley credits the mood of his video work to film-makers such as Andrei Tarkovsky and David Lynch, with a sense of foreboding injected into everyday scenes "but a little more benign, a little bit more cornball".

As a member of the Green Party, there is also a political sensibility underpinning his work. "All the work has some sort of anxiety that involves global events that could be nuclear or apocalyptic, something that affects people's lives. But I'm an optimist and I feel it is possible to overcome those things. I grew up during the Cold War near a military base and I was always terrified."

But, going back to the subject of his giant spiders, does he seriously think people would want to have a huge huntsman peering down at them from their lounge walls? "Of course they would," he hoots. It's just a little matter of overcoming a phobia.

But then there's another image, emailed by Brinkley, that seems like a much more human reaction. It's a still from an old B-grade movie - a woman screaming her head off as the huge spider advances ...

What: No Phobia, by Brit Bunkley
Where and when: Sanderson Gallery, 122 Jervois Rd, Herne Bay, to October 12