Art About Guns, from Pew-Pew to No Safety
courtesy of the artist
Sorry to disappoint all you constitutional scholars, but nothing in the group show 2nd Amendment: A Visual Dialogue really accesses the rational-legal issues surrounding the Second Amendment. Instead, the art at Bherd Studios is mostly an exploration of 12 artists' personal relationships to firearms and, in one sorta puzzling case, swords.
Some of the pieces have an element of joy, something that gets at the playful, consequence-free part of guns (because that's totally a thing, right?). Like, say, getting shot in the woods just for funsies. There are two fantastical drawings of beautiful women holding popular firearms in rapt adoration, made by an artist who, until this exhibition, has shown her work exclusively at gun shows (Tatiana Kalderash). Also, taking up a good bit of floor space, there's an oversize, teenage-wet-dream-pew-pew-ray-gun-type thing (Miguel Edwards).
Kate Protage's simple, deliberate linoleum block prints of bullets—just crowds of them stamped on white backgrounds—stand in contrast to those romanticizing works. The series is called One Minute, each print illustrating a particular weapon's firing rate, its bullet spray over a minute's time. Protage seems to understand that the power of the gun is its modesty, its smallness, its lack of space. The grains of tightly packed powder, lead (the densest matter) snug in the shell, the tiny explosion of the bullet sent so quickly as to collapse a great distance into nauseating nearness.
There are distinctly wearier pieces, too, like the video from Stranger Genius Award finalist Rodrigo Valenzuela. The camera drives along a sunbaked neighborhood in bleak disrepair, while an unseen man in voice-over describes the arrival of guerrillas in his village. The footage slips, repeats, and runs behind a layer of thick black bars, like it's a full-color phenakistoscope. The footage is meditative, pretty, and nervous. What happened next?
Across the room, Adream de Valdivia hangs a large tapestry titled Father's Funerary Mantle. The mantle, traditionally used to wrap the dead, was made to honor his father and also other family members lost to cartel violence in Mexico. The symbol-heavy images on the tapestry appear to be applied mechanically, as if commercially printed. Rather than detracting from the work, its easy reproducibility acts as a grim promise of the continuing output of the war on drugs.
Most affective was Janet Galore's Gunnilingus, a video playing on a small, charmingly framed screen showing a close-up of a Smith & Wesson .357, fully cocked, so as to allow a man with a handsome chin to tongue the hammer and rear sight with expert agility. The artist suggests the purpose of the piece is to convert the phallic power of guns into something feminine, but what the video does best is to short-circuit all the knotted discourse around guns and hit you on a visceral (lingual?) level. Even if you've never dry-fired a gun, you can imagine the sharp snap of the hammer as it closes. In the video, the man keeps his finger on the trigger as the tongue slides in and out of danger. The finger could easily slip, the hammer snap, and that softest, most sensitive bit of flesh get run through. This image of the gun portrays no safety or reassurance. You can only watch and wince and hope for the best.