Yesterday, John Preus was busy putting the finishing touches on “The Beast,” his giant sculpture of a bull that divides the gallery at Montserrat College of Art in Beverly, Massachusetts, in half. He had cobbled it together from three old boats donated by the Essex Shipbuilding Museum. The recycled hulls with their weathered paint, he says, give a “pathos to it. It has a social resonance along with being just a bunch of junk.” Now the sound of his nail gun cracked through the gallery as he erected an arch of 2x4s behind the bull façade.
It’s all for the Chicago artist’s exhibition “The Beast: Herd Mentality” at Montserrat, which opens with a reception from 5 to 8 p.m. tonight and continues through March 30. The sculpture, the school says, is meant to “serve as a community art space and a multidisciplinary platform for cultural activities. This temporary sculpture/performance pavilion will be a site for a wide range of cultural programs.”
“All my work is some ways is about the relationship between individuals and group activity, herd mentality,” Preus tells me. “Ethics is the space between animal and humanity that is beyond animal, consciousness. I think of this space as having a sculpture in the more traditional sense from the outside. But it’s also digesting us on this side. It’s sort of taking us in.”
The bull is a reference to the (bull) market. But also to the Minotaur. I think too of a Trojan horse (or Trojan bull) with people secreted inside. “There are a lot of reference points,” he says. “It’s one of the animals that show up in our earliest representations.”
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Life jackets adorn the walls. Sails have been recycled as covers for lamps. Metal hardware from the vessels has been turned into jewelry. The bow of one boat has become a swing you can sit in. A ladder allows you to climb up to a platform and poke your head out of the Beast. Preus says, “This is for rants, sermons, pronouncements that you can make to people outside the Beast or inside the Beast.”
“You can do whatever you want in it,” Preus explains. Montserrat has scheduled a workshop to plan a dance; seminars on the intersection of art, philosophy and class; a writing workshop; a conversation with poets; and a student production of Shakespeare’s “The Tragedy of Julius Caesar.” Video monitors inside the sculpture will screen animations and puppetry by Montserrat students.
“This will be a recording booth in here. Sort of like StoryCorps,” Preus says pointing to a spot at the far side of the gallery. “There will be conversations that can be recorded in there. … We’re framing it in terms of trying to cross political divides or social divides. Talk to somebody you don’t talk to all the time.”