Guns and Cellos
Paul Rucker's Killing Reenactments
The holes in the white paper are perfect circles with burned, romantic edges. They're bullet holes from a Glock 22 semiautomatic pistol. The number of holes on each piece of paper corresponds to the number of bullets police officers shot at a specific person. Nobody is named in the row of papers mounted like target-practice torsos, only dates of shooting. February 4, 1999 is the title of the sculpture for Amadou Diallo. On the upper right of the paper, there are around eight holes, near his heart. Every "suspect" in this target lineup was unarmed and African American, except Native American carver John T. Williams, killed August 30, 2010, in Seattle.
Paul Rucker is the artist who made the sculptures, hanging at Gallery4Culture. "Hanging" is significant. An animated video is projected onto the back gallery wall. It's set to a melancholy cello score by Rucker, and over the span of its one-minute duration, you see leaves rustling and heads in the crowd turning back and forth as the black man hanging from the tree in the foreground sways. The projection is large, almost life-size, and in color. In the final few seconds, the animation hardens and becomes still and black-and-white, reverting to the historical photograph on which it was based. Even on repeat viewings, knowing it's coming, the change from animation to artifact is eerie, like the mental toggle between the attractive perfect circles on the pristine white paper and torn, bloody skin.
Rucker calls the show Recapitulation, as in history repeating itself, with the subtitle Assassin Series, drawing a straight line from lynching to the wild disproportion of black and brown men in American prisons now. Recapitulation is also a term from classical music, specifically from a structure called the sonata form; the recapitulation section, when a theme appears with alterations, is the register of change within a piece of music.
Rucker's double background is in art and music. Of his many installations for Seattle audiences over the years, this feels the richest. In contrast to the forensic paper torsos and the archival lynching reanimation, Rucker uses the warm form of a cello body to eulogize other victims of violence. Cellos are made by heating wood and bending it around a form, and Rucker's Soundless Series is wall-mounted cello forms left unfinished. According to labels, each hollow belly with soundless sound holes refers to someone (Trayvon Martin, the Birmingham four).
The third and final emotional register of the show is more pop. Red, white, and blue plastic pieces made on a 3-D printer and laid out in a glass case are the unfinished products of I Started to Make a Gun. In One Less Thing to Worry About, a store-bought target with a hooded figure printed on it has a safe on the floor below it. Rucker's wall label says materials include "Concealed weapons permit, Glock 22 semiautomatic pistol, 3 full clips of ammunition (45 rounds)." Are they actually in there? Do they need to be, or does safety or fear arise just by saying they are? Can Rucker sell them as art?
Across from the safe, there's a ricochet mark in the wall of the gallery. A 9 mm bullet is lodged in a piece of plywood suspended from the ceiling. For the artist, this was cheap theater; for Marissa Alexander in Florida, the same act is 20 years in prison. Rucker just wants to make the echoes heard.