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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Call To Arms

Untitled, by Margaret Wagner

Untitled, by Margaret Wagner

Passersby taking an occasional glance into the window of the Harbor Gallery don’t bother to linger very often. Yet, the giant boot-covered wheel (Juggernaut) sitting atop the ramp and the limp penis-like fixtures (Short Arm Inspection) leaning against the wall have caused more than a few to stop short and, in some cases, point and laugh.

Welcome to “Stack Arms,” an exhibition to honor veterans, a collection of works all created by Ken Hruby, who is a veteran himself, having served 20 years in the U.S. military. Hruby has been to Korea, through the turbulence of Vietnam, only to come out an inspired artist composing and building pieces that skirt the outer edges of humor, sometimes riding over the line into dark irony. A Gloucester resident, teacher and graduate of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Hruby has experienced life as both an infantryman and a Ranger, besides being in command positions and finally settling into sculpture.

The two aforementioned pieces reside in front room. Juggernaut takes its name from the Hindi word for Vishnu, in his incarnation as Krishna. The Fourth Edition of the American Heritage Dictionary has two definitions for the word: (1.) “Something, such as a belief or institution, that elicits blind and destructive devotion or to which people are ruthlessly sacrificed or (2.) An overwhelming, advancing force that crushes or seems to crush everything in its path.”

A juggernaut was usually a large wheel that devotees of Vishnu would throw themselves under. However, in the military context, poised, as it is to begin rolling, one could imagine the imperious, eerie marching of thousands of pairs of feet, picking up speed as the war furor increased. In some ways, it can be seen as a metaphor for this country’s ongoing “War on Terror” and how certain people are, perhaps, willing to show unquestioning belief in the righteous honor of the military. The junior Juggernaut beside it is even darker and somewhat more ominous.

Short Arm Inspection is definitely a lighter piece, deriving from the military habit of inspecting genitalia for venereal diseases first thing in the morning. Not only was it an invasion of privacy but it was also a commentary on how people become commodities, owned body and soul by the institutions they were drafted into or signed up for. Short Arm Inspection is made up of the ends of bent rifle and gun barrel-heads with attached weights simulating testes.

Stack Arms, the work for which the exhibition was named, uses blue-dyed sticks huddled together in three bunches, mimicking rifles with their attached cocking levers. Hruby mentioned that the thought behind this piece was based on playing games with guns, in that he and the other young boys only had sticks to simulate weapons. “Stack arms” is army jargon for returning weapons once they are no longer in use.

The underlying threads tying together the various works in this exhibit have to do with masculinity and male roles that society thrusts most men into; they’re not allowed to cry, they have to earn the money, and aggression is encouraged. Even today, men who are willing to stay home with their children and emote are looked upon as effeminate and of being “less than a man.”

This is made especially clear in a mock-up of children’s toys, made for boys, called Boyz Toyz. Put out by the “MachoToyCo,” young men have their choice of demolition videos, revolvers, brass knuckles, and nun-chucks. You can earn varying amounts of macho points depending on the level of destruction one is capable of achieving in whichever toy one purchases. Hanging next to the fake toys are real toys such as water guns and action figures.

Replacement Parts is modeled upon the ability of the military to conjure up an appropriate prosthesis depending on how a person was injured. For example, a mechanic would be fitted with various hands capable of holding whichever tools were needed to make repairs. Silk-screened onto the boxes containing miscellaneous body parts are words such as “honor” or “courage” or even “humor.” It would seem to be a foreshadowing of things that are and are not replaceable.

Ken Hruby has successfully pulled together a collage of work that displays an impressive range of emotions captured in a variety of messages yet united in their themes, styles, and use of sharp, biting satire to make a point. For even the uneducated viewer, his work is easily comprehensible on some level that most contemporary artists are not capable of achieving with their audiences.

About the Contributor
MiMi Yeh served as arts editor for The Mass Media the following years: 2001-2002; *2002-2003; 2003-2004 *Evan Sicuranza served as arts editor for Fall 2002 Disclaimer: Years served is based on online database and may not detail entire service.