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Introducing Kenny Hunter

Scottish artist Kenny Hunter (b.1962) uses sculpture to question the contemporary world and its values. He adopts the forms and techniques of traditional sculpture, but his unconventional choice of subject makes us think about what sculpture is and who or what it should depict.

In this video, Kenny Hunter describes his approach to making sculpture and his interest in using and questioning traditional forms of sculpture. He also introduces two recent graduates of Edinburgh College of Art who engage with traditional and conventional materials and processes to make their sculptures.

Explore Kenny Hunter’s sculptures on Art UK

Visit Kenny Hunter’s website

Discussion: first thoughts

Many of Kenny Hunter's sculptures explore our complex relationship with animals: how we see them, how we live with them, how we treat them and what they symbolise.

Look at these two photographs of the sculpture Yield Brother with your class.

Ask your students about their first impressions of Yield Brother. Use these nudge questions to help get the discussion going:

  • Do you think the sculpture is finished?
  • What is the expression on the ape's face? (Is it smiling? Is it angry?...)
  • How would you react to the sculpture if you saw it in an art gallery?
  • The title of the sculpture is 'Yield Brother' – what does 'yield' mean? Does the title provide any clues as to what the artwork is about?

About Yield Brother

The sculpture Yield Brother raises lots of questions and is not quite what it seems.

Is it finished?

It looks half-finished as if Kenny Hunter has started to carve the ape's face from a block of marble or plaster but has not finished the rest of the head (and perhaps the rest of the ape!). We can see the tool marks around the edge of the block.

In fact, the sculpture is finished and Hunter has tricked us. The sculpture is not carved but is made from acrylic resin, cast to suggest a half-carved block of marble or plaster. This photograph shows an art technician unpacking the sculpture for the school workshop and revealing the sculpture as a hollow resin shell, not a solid block.

Kenny Hunter's sculpture 'Yield Brother' being unpacked for a school workshop

Kenny Hunter's sculpture 'Yield Brother' being unpacked for a school workshop

What is it about?

Like all of Kenny Hunter’s sculptures, the subject is ambiguous. It is difficult to say whether the ape is grimacing or smiling. The title too is ambiguous. The word 'brother' suggests our evolutionary link to the ape, but what does he mean by 'yield'?

There are two definitions of 'yield': to produce or provide (as used in agriculture, for example, 'a good yield of a crop'); and to buckle or give in under pressure.

  • Who is doing the yielding – us or the ape?
  • Or does Hunter use 'yield' to suggest something provided – perhaps suggesting our debt to our primate ancestors.

There are no clear interpretations or right answers, just ambiguous clues and hints – and trickery!

 

Discussion: questioning sculpture

Look at another sculpture by Kenny Hunter with your class. Again the artist presents us with a puzzle. It is a large-scale public sculpture, over two metres high and cast in iron. (You may need to explain to your students that a public sculpture is a sculpture that is made for a public place.)

Monument to a Mouse

Monument to a Mouse

National Trust for Scotland, Robert Burns Birthplace Museum

Discuss the sculpture as a class using these nudge questions if helpful:

  • What are your first reactions to the sculpture?
  • The sculpture is bigger than a person, what would you think or feel if you encountered it?
  • Does the sculpture show something you would expect to see, celebrated in this way?
  • What do you think the artist was trying to say with the sculpture?
  • The sculpture is located in the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum – does this provide any clues as to the sculpture's meaning?

What should public sculpture represent?

There are many large public sculptures dotted around our towns and cities. These sculptures usually represent rich or important people and were commissioned to pay tribute to them. This sculpture shows a mouse – a tiny creature that is generally considered a pest.

By using a form of sculpture usually reserved for wealthy or important people to depict the mouse, Hunter subverts our expectations about who or what should be commemorated in sculpture. He makes us question what we are looking at – perhaps inviting us to see the humble mouse in a new light. The title of the sculpture is Monument to a Mouse, suggesting that he intends the sculpture as a tribute to, or celebration of, the mouse.

'Wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim'rous beastie'

Monument to a Mouse is located at the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Ayr, Scotland. It was inspired by Robert Burns's poem To a Mouse, written in 1785. The poem describes Burns's remorse at destroying the nest of a field mouse while ploughing and reflects on man's domination of, and destructive relationship with, nature. It goes on to reflect on the injustices that many poor people suffer.

Kenny Hunter's sculpture does not depict the 'Wee, sleekit, cowrin, tim'rous beastie' described by Burns, however. The mouse is huge and powerful looking. Hunter has humorously reversed our relationship with it – so perhaps we become the 'wee cowering beasties' as we look at the massive mouse!

 

Activity: us and them – what do you think?

'We exploit them, worship them, breed them and sacrifice them. Depending on where you live in the world animals can be considered as either pets, food, vermin or symbols of national identity or used as a metaphor in language.' – Kenny Hunter

Before leading his workshop at Forrester High School in Edinburgh, Kenny Hunter asked the students to think about our complicated, and often conflicted, relationship with animals by responding to a series of questions.

Task your students with thinking about these questions. This could be a whole class activity or students could consider the questions individually and then share their responses as a class.

  • Can you think of three animals people live with as pets?
  • Can you think of three animals people eat?
  • Can you think of three animals people consider pests or vermin?
  • Can you think of three animals considered as emblems for nations or other groups, such as companies, sports clubs, etc.?
  • Can you think of three animals used in language to express a human quality? Such as 'brave as a...'
  • Lastly, do any of the animals you have thought of perform more than one of these roles?

Activity: make a clay animal sculpture – with meaning!

Task your students with making a clay sculpture of an animal, inspired by Kenny Hunter’s sculpture Yield Brother, and by the ideas and questions explored in this resource.

It may be helpful for students to prepare for the activity in advance by collecting images of the animal they would like to sculpt, for reference.

Materials

Students will need:

  • Clay
  • Clay tools
  • Paper and a pencil (to sketch and note down ideas)
  • Photographs of animals as source material

 

Activity instructions

These activity instructions are written for students to follow.

Step 1. Research ideas

Think about the ideas you have explored in discussing Kenny Hunter's sculptures. Decide on the animal that your sculpture will represent.

Believe Me, I Know Best

Believe Me, I Know Best

Ferens Art Gallery

  • It could be an animal that humans have a relationship with – such as a pet.
  • It could be an animal that is used as an emblem for a country or a football team.
  • It could be an animal that we associate with a human attribute such as bravery or stubbornness or determination.

Browse artworks that depict animals on Art UK's website for ideas

Step 2. Plan your sculpture

Using your research ideas and any photographs you have collected as source material, plan your sculpture. It might help to sketch some ideas first.

A Seated Cat*

A Seated Cat*

Valence House Museum

Think about how you want your animal to come across:

  • what qualities does the animal have, and how do we as humans see these qualities?
  • is it an animal we are scared of or dislike? Is it an animal we admire or see as brave? etc.
  • how would you show these qualities?
  • perhaps you could question or overturn our ideas about the animal, as Kenny Hunter did with his Monument to a Mouse

Tip! As your sculpture will be made from clay, avoid thin legs, long necks or horns that might break. (Crocodiles good – storks bad!) Plan to depict your animal lying down, or if you are sculpting a bird, tuck its wings in.

Have a look at these sculptures of animals for inspiration – not a spindly leg or long neck in sight!

Step 3. Sculpt your animal

Sculpt your animal in clay using clay tools. Start by forming the basic body shape...

Student sculpting the form of an elephant in clay

Student sculpting the form of an elephant in clay

... then add details to your animal.

  • You could use clay tools to make marks to suggest fur.
  • You could add tiny flat bits of clay to suggest scales or feathers. (Stick them to your sculpture using a bit of water – if you scratch the back of the 'scale' first it will stick better!)

4. Enjoy your hard work!

You now need to leave your clay animal to dry before it can be fired in the kiln. As a class, discuss the sculptures you have made.

  • What relationship do the sculpted animals have with humans?
  • How have the characteristics and features of the animals been suggested in clay?

Animal sculptures made by students at Forester High School in Edinburgh

Animal sculptures made by students at Forester High School in Edinburgh

Extension activity

Explore public sculpture with your students. Kenny Hunter is often commissioned to produce public sculptures. He uses traditional forms and techniques but chooses subjects that question who should be on the pedestal. His bronze sculpture Girl with a Rucksack, which is mounted on a tall column in New Gorbals in Glasgow, shows a young woman with a backpack hanging from one shoulder and a bag at her feet. (She looks as if she is waiting for a bus...)

  • Research public sculptures in your area with your students.
  • Task them with designing a public sculpture depicting who they think should be on a pedestal.

You can find lots of public sculpture on Art UK's website. Use the map view feature to discover public sculpture in your area

Use these Art UK learning resources to explore public sculpture and find some sculpture design tips!

Telling stories through sculpture

Animate public sculpture

Henry Moore and Harlow

 


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