Linda Lighton. Love and War: The Ammunition, 2004.



Gun Culture Unpacked at The American Gun Show Exhibit

When we talk about guns, we’re never just talking about guns. The object is one bound in personal rights and political practices, race and nationalism, power and disempowerment – and every discussion is undercut by recent violence and police corruption. Often, it seems the cultural weight is heavier than the bullets it carries. In an attempt to understand the complexities of current gun culture, James Morgan and Dorothy Santos’ American Gun Show exhibit aims to deconstruct the tangled concept of the gun.

After viewing Cody Wilson’s 3D-printed Liberator Gun, co-curator Dorothy Santos was left with some perplexing questions. At the cross hairs of technology, politics, and identity, what is a gun? How is it woven into a cultural literacy, and what does it mean to advocate for or against guns? After seeing the detail that goes into making a gun, Santos was not only left with questions, but an unshakable feeling of sublime fear.

The San Jose based show, explored in depth by The Creators Project, features a number of artists to provide answers to Santos’ lingering questions. Playfully political ideas address the dual feelings of power and fear, and the boundaries of conversation are edged by phallic penis-shaped guns, 3D printed prototypes, bullet proof clothing and more. Each artist presents a unique reading of guns that contributes to the exhibit’s manifold expression of gun culture.

A notable piece in the exhibit is Nika Cherelle’s Prototype, a golden penis with a firearm trigger and handle that satirizes the link between guns and masculinity. According to the curating duo, they tried “to make a safe space to visit and be challenged by the work, and hopefully to have a chuckle, too.” We did have a chuckle- and then immediately felt guilty for chuckling.

Marnika Cherelle. Prototype, 2012
Marnika Cherelle. Prototype, 2012.

Micha Cardena’s Unstoppable, is a particularly powerful project that seeks to create a vision of technology through the eyes of Black Lives Matter. For Cardena, this is the creation of bullet proof clothes, which address the dismal reality of police brutality and the realization that safety must be taken into our own hands.

Micha Cardenas made in collaboration with Patriss Cullors, Edxie Betts, and Chris Head. UNSTOPPABLE, 2015.
Micha Cardenas made in collaboration with Patriss Cullors, Edxie Betts, and Chris Head. UNSTOPPABLE, 2015.

The exhibit also features video content curated by Asa Schiebe, which shows children making toy guns from paper, cardboard, and other household materials. Although a far cry from 3D gun-making printers, the sheer concept of constructing weapons is one that pervades children and adults alike, playtime and wartime equally. It presents a pressing argument for gun education, and the need to augment gun fantasy with the real-life repercussions of using the lethal weapons.

Charles Krafft. Uzi Pistol, 2015. Courtesy of the Artist
Charles Krafft. Uzi Pistol, 2015.

The extensive gun show features a number of other artists, all of whom seek to understand guns beyond the scope of their metal bodies and into the social political body they belong to. The exhibit creates a platform of opinions from which viewers can construct a wider understanding of guns. A national dialogue is created between artists and ideas, and a starting place to talk guns and share perspectives. This is one conversation, Morgan and Santos believe, which is desperately needed.

Joseph DeLappe. The Terrorist Other, 2013-14.
Joseph DeLappe. The Terrorist Other, 2013-14.

To critics who feel that the exhibit is insensitive amidst so much gun-related grief, Santos left them with an unsettling and powerful statement: “Sadly, a shooting will happen with or without an exhibition about guns.” Citing co-curator James, he asks his audience, “‘As a nation, if not much has changed after Sandy Hook, what are we doing?’ That was the one event we thought change would happen, culturally, politically, historically. But little has changed.”

James and Santos hope visitors will walk away from the exhibit with both a laugh and the same lingering questions that incited the exhibit. Most importantly, they hope viewers leave with the knowledge that “working together as a community we can vastly improve safety and reduce the level of innocents that are being killed on a daily basis.”

You can see more images and information about the exhibit on the American Gun Show page.

Images via The Creators Project

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