Regional Identity

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Parliamentary Desk Thumper
Alex Wyse, Wyse, sculpture,irony, nationalism, humour, satire, mixed media construction, political satire, 3D art, three-dimensional art, sculpture, Canadian flags, glove, machine, glass, wood, metal hardware, fabric, crayon, ink

“I love materials; be it wood, be it nails, be it copper, be it glass, be it paint, be it crayon, be it paper--[it’s] just the... mere process of working with my hands.”
        --Alex Wyse,

In keeping with his artistic strategy of adopting the terms and styles of a part of Canadian culture in order to question it, Alex Wyse brings us his Parliamentary Desk Thumper. With its Canadian flags and bilingualism, Wyse’s piece draws viewers into a context of Canadian nationalism and politics, a  contextThe varied circumstances in which a work of art is (or was) produced and interpreted. There are three arenas to these circumstances, each of them highly complex. The first pertains to the artist: attitudes, beliefs, interests, values, intentions and purposes, education and training, and biography (including psychology). The second is the setting in which the work was produced: the apparent function of the work (to adorn, beautify, express, illustrate, mediate, persuade, record, redefine reality, or redefine art), religious and philosophical convictions, sociopolitical and economic structures, and even climate and geography. Third is the field of the work's reception and interpretation: the traditions it is intended to serve, the mind-set it adheres to (ritualistic, perceptual, rational, and emotive), and, perhaps most importantly, the colour of the lenses through which the work is being scrutinized — i.e., the interpretive mode (artistic biography, psychological approaches, political criticism, feminism, cultural history, intellectual history, formalism, structuralism, semiotics, hermeneutics, post-structuralism and deconstruction, reception theory, concepts of periodicity [stylistic pendulum swinging], and other chronological and contextual considerations. Context is much more than the matter of the artist's circumstances alone. (  he eviscerates with a clever use of irony.

Shortly after his arrival in Ottawa, Alex had become fascinated with the absurdity of politics and the bureaucratic intrigues. He knew that he had arrived in the midst of the milieu which was to have a profound effect on his work. One aspect of the creative process involves giving substance to visions and in the PARLIAMENTARY DESK THUMPER Wyse manufactured a new state of reality from his imagination. This ingenious device is intended to capture the hot air expended by a Member of Parliament and, through an elaborate  seriesA number of things or events standing or succeeding in order, and connected by a like relation; sequence; order; course; a succession of things; as, a continuous series of calamitous events. (The Online Plain Text English Dictionary)  of events, convert the energy to power a steam-driven machine that causes an artificial arm to thump a desk in the form of Parliamentary applause." (Excerpted from ALEX WYSE, PRESENCE FROM THE PAST by Christopher Youngs)

The work resembles a cartoonish machine presumably for the production of something. Exactly what is to be produced here is uncertain, but as a  metaphorUsed in art as in speech. A term, regularly used for one object, is used for another and suggests a likeness between to the two.  - a complex contraption with no clear goal - it is a powerful  satireIrony, sarcasm, or derisive wit used to attack or expose vice, folly, or stupidity. Caricatures are commonly satirical whenever they are critical. (  of political life. Phrases like “M.P. FOR HE THAT SPEAKS NOT IS HEARD NOT” refer to powerlessness in a political system, while through the “HOT AIR COLLECTOR” on the left side of the machine and the “SMOKE SCREEN” generator inside, Wyse has turned political clichés into physical, sculptural objects.

Like many of Alex Wyse’s sculptural works, Parliamentary Desk Thumper has moving parts; viewers can manipulate the work by means of the glass doors in front, providing “access” to the scene contained within. However, given the context of the work (in a gallery- and museum-based exhibition where touching work is often not allowed) Wyse’s piece is not accessible in the physical sense of gallery visitors being able to move things around or touch the objects inside of it.

This limited form of interaction with Wyse’s work therefore also evokes the limited form of interaction in the political process; while the process is dependent upon the viewer or the citizen, the viewer has no influence over how that process functions, as his or her role is reduced to that of a mere observer. Close it away and seal it off, or open it up and do nothing with it, and either way it remains unaffected by you; these are the only options in Wyse’s work and, as his  satiricalThe use of humour as a way to ridicule the ignorance or vice of another person or group.  suggestion goes, in Canadian politics.


additional resources Things to Think About
  • What is another possible reading of Alex Wyse’s Parliamentary Desk Thumper? Is it actually about politics after all, or is it about something else?
Online Activity
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Using the Shapes button and the Select  ShapeAn element of art, it is an enclosed space defined and determined by other art elements such as line, colour, value, and texture. In painting and drawing, shapes may take on the appearance of a solid three-dimensional object even though they are limited to two dimensions — length and width. This two-dimensional character of shape distinguishes it from form, which has depth as well as length and width. Examples of shapes include: circle, oval, and oblong; polygons such as triangle, square, rectangle, rhombus, trapezium, trapezoid, pentagon, hexagon, heptagon, octagon, nonagon, decagon, undecagon, dodecagon, etc.; and such other kinds of shapes as amorphous, biomorphous, and concretion. (  button, select and connect different tubes and funnels to create your own Wyse-like sculpture.

Studio Activity

Alex Wyse uses aspects of theatre and staging in his humorous mixed  mediaAny material and technique used to produce a work of art (paint, glass, clay, fibre, video, sound, etc.). It may also refer to the liquid with which powdered pigments are mixed to make paint. Note that the plural form of “medium” is “media.”  constructions. This piece titled A Parliamentary Desk Thumper is made with wood, glass, metal, hardware, fabric,  oilSlow-drying paint made when pigments are mixed with an oil, linseed oil being most traditional. The oil dries with a hard film, and the brightness of the colours is protected. Oil paints are usually opaque and traditionally used on canvas. They can have a matte, semi-gloss, or glossy finish. To look at examples of works in oil paints, see the articles under the names of every period from the Renaissance onward. (  paint,  inkLiquid or paste media containing pigment(s) and used for writing, pen and brush drawing, and printing. Writing inks, even blacks, are rarely sufficiently permanent to be used for art purposes. Black drawing ink, known as India ink in the United States, is especially made for use in permanent works. When it dries it is water resistant, enabling it to be gone over with a wash or watercolour. Also available is a water-soluble drawing ink; though otherwise permanent, it is capable of being washed away with water, and may be preferred to water-resistant ink for certain work. Chinese ink is similar to India ink, although various minor ingredients are added to enhance its brilliancy, range of tone, and working qualities. Most colored drawing inks are not permanent; those made with permanent pigments are usually labeled with names of pigment ingredients rather than the names of hues. Printing ink is actually more closely related to paints than to the pen and brush inks. (  and crayon. While living in Ottawa, Ontario, Wyse was intrigued and bemused by the politics and parliamentary activities of the federal government and its politicians. Wyse gives us his thoughts on political bureaucracy using humour to make his point.

This ingenious device is intended to capture the hot air expended by a Member of Parliament and, through an elaborate  seriesA number of things or events standing or succeeding in order, and connected by a like relation; sequence; order; course; a succession of things; as, a continuous series of calamitous events. (The Online Plain Text English Dictionary)  of events, convert the energy to power a steam-driven machine that causes an artificial arm to thump a desk in the form of Parliamentary applause. (Excerpted from Alex Wyse, Presence from the Past, by Christopher Youngs.)

Create a cartoon or video art piece that uses humour to comment on politics or a current event.

  • Think about what you want to address in your piece.
  • Look for other examples of political humour such as political cartoons or editorial cartoons to help you understand how satire, sarcasm and irony are used.

For information and examples of political cartoons go to the following websites:

For examples of political video pieces go to:


Author unknown.  ‘The Art of Illustration:  Anne Wyse and Alex Wyse.’  Library and Archives Canada.  Retrieved from the Internet on July 21, 2008 from:

Farr, Dorothy.  A Certain Amount of Joy: Recent Work by Alex Wyse.  Exhibition catalogue.  Agnes Etherington Art Centre, Kingston, Ontario, 1986.

Mainprize, Garry.  Snakes in the Garden: An Exhibition of Works by / une exposition des travaux de: Alex Wyse [and others].  Exhibition catalogue.  Festival of the Arts, Ottawa, Ontario, 1988.

Youngs, Christopher.  Alex Wyse: Presence from the Past. Exhibition catalogue.  Mendel Art Gallery, Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, 1985.

Canadian Heritage University of Regina Mackenzie Art Gallery Mendel Art Gallery Sask Learning