In America, especially Texas, guns and gun imagery are prevalent within our culture. The violence of guns & knives goes hand in hand with sex as an example of our favorite, if not vicarious, pastimes. Bearing arms is part of our constitutional rights, our history and our national folklore, referenced in music such as Tupac Shakur’s (and also his legacy) and PJ Harvey’s Big Exit:
or historic events that later become pop cultural icons:
Bonnie and Clyde is just one of many examples of Oscar winning movies that have been followed up by The Godfather, Scarface and almost anything by Quentin Terantino. My personal favorite “inappropriate” (on so many levels) movie with guns and knives of the moment is Kick-Ass:
can you believe most of the notoriety came from her foul language? OK and the violence too…
The Gun & Knife Show at CentralTrak curated by Heyd Fontenot and Julie Webb is a multifaceted grouping of photography, sculpture, painting, and drawing set up like an old military museum. The exhibition brochure’s essay written by Fontenot defines this use of weapons as props for power and vitality put on display in galleries, museums and our homes. In this essay, he talks about the tendency for guns to be reproduced by the circumstances of their use. He notes that “less than three weeks after the Jan. 9th mass shooting of 19 people near Tuscan, Ariz., which included U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords – neighboring state legislators in Utah voted to declare the .45-caliber handgun the ‘official state firearm.'” Perhaps the show implies that our fascination with guns and our desire to prop them up, keep them close and put them on pedestals is a result of their ubiquity in our lives.
I don’t usually write about shows I am in but because I am one of forty artists with over 98 works in the show and with a topic that has so many layers…this will be a blog post that is somewhat diaristic, not a critical review.
Last weekend I headed down to Dallas to see the show and take part in a four person panel called Shoot Your Mouth Off at Plush Gallery in conjunction with the exhibition. The panel tended to focus more towards guns as symbols that we grew up with, that we decorate our lives with through clothing, jewelery or knick knacks. We talked about guns as symbols of pop culture, sex and rock and roll, which are definitely part of the equation and we touched on issues of greater gravity. When playing it back in my head as a panelist I wished I had added more to the conversation by talking about the more sobering aspects of guns as tools for violence, political conflict, and representations of loss. Maybe a little more substance could have referenced back to the intelligence of the original essay for the Gun & Knife Show.
Having The Gun & Knife Show in Dallas leaves no room to escape the Kennedy assassination as context. There are very few pieces in the exhibition that allude to it and it was briefly touched on by the panel, but for me I will let this reference be the start of Similar but Different #17: Shoot Your Mouth Off, the Aftermath.
Wallace Berman, Semina 9 is an altered photograph of Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald depicting a twinned image of the agent guarding Oswald. Michael McClure’s poem is written in response to Berman’s image.
Which made me think of Larry Clark’s Tulsa series:
Which made me think of Chris Burden:
Of course leading to the 2005 resigning of Chris Burden:
LOS ANGELES – Two tenured art professors have resigned from the University of California, Los Angeles, after the university refused to suspend a graduate student who may have used a gun during a classroom performance art piece.
Chris Burden and Nancy Rubins, internationally known artists who taught at UCLA for more than two decades, filed their retirement papers Dec. 20.
“They feel this was sort of domestic terrorism. There should have been more outrage and a firmer response,” said Sarah Watson, a director at a Beverly Hills gallery that represents the couple. “People feared for their lives.”
The resignations came after a brief performance on Nov. 29 in which a student simulated Russian roulette by appearing to point a loaded handgun at his head and pull the trigger, a student and law enforcement officials told the Los Angeles Times.
The weapon didn’t fire, but the student then left the room and what sounded like a gunshot was heard outside.
Police said no one was hurt. It was unclear whether the firearm was real. Read More.
This brought me to Steve Mumford’s work as an artist embedded within the U.S. military during the recent Iraq War.
And Nida Sinnokrot‘s AKh-48:
In Francis Alÿs’s exhibition at MOMA there is a piece in which the artist walked around the streets of Mexico city in 2001 (before the drug related slaughters) carrying a pistol to see what would happen. It took eleven minutes before he was arrested. Somewhere between prank and politics, this work combines a very real sense of danger for the artist and unassuming bystanders. He is at once a threat and vigilante, seen and unseen.
This sculpture by Alÿs was made in relation to a project called “Sometimes Something Poetic Can Become Political and Sometimes Something Political Can Become Poetic” (2007) which was about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The whole project talks about two possibilities at once. On the surface the politics of violence might become poetic or aesthetic at “The Gun and Knife Show” but hidden within it is an American and even a global culture that has been deeply affected by the violence that weapons represent.
The Gun and Knife Show runs through June 4 at CentralTrak Gallery.