Empowering the walker
Sculptor Brad Nunn’s Machine Gun Walker looks like a surreal piece of futuristic weaponry, able to withstand attacks by extra terrestrials. Soaring within the foyer of RMIT Gallery, a cross between a mammoth walking frame and Vickers machine gun, it in fact only weighs 30 kilos.
Its secret is in the material used – what looks like metal is in fact light weight wood. And the reason for the construction method is also the key to the work itself – both go back to Nunn’s own interest in the future of the human and technology.
That in turn goes back to Nunn’s own brush with the loss of his future. He suffered a major stroke in 1993, which affected his ability to use his body in a way we take for granted. One day he woke up and fell over and spent the next four months in the head injuries ward in hospital and another three months in a wheel hair.
After brain surgery he discovered he was completely paralysed and although he has regained much of his movement, he has remained reliant on what he calls his ‘boomerang’ a special device that allows him to hold down objects with his ‘bad’ hand and allows him the freedom of relatively unrestricted movement. It also allowed him to work as an artist again.
“I became interested in how disabled people have special tools and use technology to help themselves adapt to then world,” Nunn said.
“These are tools that allow then to become empowered. They can be very simple, yet have a huge impact.
“My own special tool – a knife that allows me to cut even with one hand that doesn’t work properly – is very empowering. It’s a device that is so important to my life, just like a walker is to people with mobility problems.”
While Nunn recovered enough to return to university and do his doctorate, his interest in the future of the body and how people reply on technology found its way into his art work. His artistic practice focuses on two prevailing narratives of prosthetics – as compensation for those with disabilities and an enhancement of the ‘normal’ body.
Nunn works slowly still, putting each individual wooden plywood piece which makes up an object like Machine Gun Walker – some 600 pieces in total – into a clamp and the cutting around it. Nunn wanted the work to be over scale, large and imposing. He said he only works with objects above or below the expected scale, to challenge people’s perceptions.
“I can’t use a hammer and chisel or even a hammer and nail, so I have to work out different ways of construction,” Nunn said.
“I have learnt to draw for laser cutting and then get 300 pieces back from the factory in what could be the world’s biggest jigsaw. With this work I lined all the pieces up and glued them into place, then painted them with a metallic finish.”
Nunn said he was always fascinated by his grandfather, a World War 1 light horseman.
“I remember visiting him in the 1970s, when age had stolen the male legend,” Nunn said.
“I made this piece as a fantasy for him. By working on a large scale, and attaching a representation of the Vickers machine gun used by Australian troops in WW, WW11 and the Korean War, I have empowered the walker.
“I remembered my grandfather using a walker, not the machine gun. But creating this fantasy piece – the Machine Gun Walker – I am able to recapture some of traits of heroism and strength.”
For media enquiries, photos and interviews with artists, contact RMIT Gallery Media Coordinator Evelyn Tsitas at RMIT Gallery
Tel: +61 3 9925 1716