Whether the topic is gun ownership rights or gun control, the conversation is guaranteed to be passionate, often divisive and uniquely American.
In an effort to examine the debate, Dickinson College’s Trout Gallery is playing host to the multimedia, group exhibition, “Unloaded – An Exhibition Exploring Guns in Our Culture.”
Curated by Susanne Slavick of Carnegie Mellon University, the exhibition presents a number of perspectives on the image and effect of guns in contemporary culture.
Works by 22 artists examine, according to Slavick, “the role that guns continue to play in our national mythologies, suicide rates, individual and mass murder, domestic violence and the militarization of civilian life.” “Unloaded” explores historical and social issues surrounding the availability, use and effect of guns in our lives.
As one enters the gallery, the arresting imagery of Mel Chin’s “Cross for the Unforgiven” greets the viewer. In it, eight AK-47s, purchased in a single transaction, are configured as a Maltese cross. The guns in Chin’s sculpture are rendered dysfunctional, yet carry the impact of their original use.
Moreover, the sculpture’s use of the Maltese Cross calls to mind its use in the Crusades and reminds us of the current state of disharmony in the Middle East.
Lauren Adams‘s “Granny Smith & Wesson” is a common footstool, a domestic object that has been reupholstered with hand-painted fabric that imitates French toile and historic American textiles. In it, she replaces their typically pastoral scenes with repetitions of a Smith & Wesson handgun on the footstool’s covering. The work suggests how guns have been a part of American culture since its inception and how they have become integrated within the “fabric” of our lives.
The form of the gun draws scrutiny from several artists within the show. Natalie Baxter’s “Warm Gun” series re-imagines weapons as soft, flaccid forms, created from sewing and quilting techniques that she learned from her gun-owning grandmother. The colorful, droopy, cartoon-like creations have an innocence that contrasts heavily with their traditional role of power and domination.
In Anthony Cervino’s “Composition for Redacted Objects,” he takes components of several types of firearms and removes them from their use. While recognizable, the guns become abstract forms taken out of their context. This incongruity between form and function is both fascinating and disturbing.
The ongoing series, “A City without Guns” by Jennifer Nagle Myers, is a collection of found wooden sticks and branches whose shapes resemble that of guns. The ubiquity of guns within American culture makes these objects instantly recognizable; indeed one often finds children playing games with such “pretend” weapons.
The series invites us to examine the correlation between violent play and the incidence of youth being harmed due to these “playthings” being mistaken for a real gun.
Jessica Fenlon’s “Ungun” is a video projection built from animated sequences of 5,000 odd glitch images, using several hundred pictures from the internet and audio collaged from popular films, all chosen with narratives in which guns are prominent. The artist considers her appropriation process as neutering the destructive power of guns by transforming the weapons into beautiful but dysfunctional objects.
Fenlon considers this “aesthetic vandalism” by transforming the found imagery into a discussion point for observer’s relationships with guns. The resulting projection produces mesmerizing images that transfix the viewer.
The curator of the exhibit, Slavic, created “Romantic Resistance,” which continues an investigation of the assault on the innocent and their beauty. The beads of a pearl necklace are painted on 15 circular panels, each pierced by actual bullet holes, shot by the artist. Despite all the gaps and holes, the necklace persists in cohering, offering support to victims.
Though “Unloaded” presents images of guns and their impact from several perspectives, none endorse them as a means to an end. Guns are represented as a serious tool with the capability to affect lives forever, a tool whose power is not to be taken lightly or trivialized. An exhibition like “Unloaded” may not end the debate on American gun culture; but it will certainly continue to fuel the discussion.
“Unloaded – An Exhibition Exploring Guns in Our Culture” is on display until Feb. 16, 2019 in the Trout Gallery, located in the Emil R. Weiss Center for the Arts on the Dickinson College campus, 240 W. High St., Carlisle. Gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday to Saturday. The gallery is free and open to the public. For more information on the exhibition, visit www.troutgallery.org.