Seattle artist Christopher Buening's show at Gallery4Culture was called Hunter < Gatherer, as in hunter is less than gatherer, gatherer is greater than hunter. That's the opposite of what his father taught him when he was growing up in Northern Wisconsin. His father, who "rabidly supports the NRA and is a staunch conservative," initiated Buening into a super-masculine world of guns, woods, beer, and porn—but the son was gay. He liked his father's world, but not for the reasons his father hoped.
Back then, as now, Buening genuinely wanted to gather objects together. When he was supposed to be shooting and killing, he'd be picking up neat and pretty things instead, or building forts, or watching birds. He remembers a moment when a chickadee actually perched on the barrel of his gun (depicted in the sculpture above), "fluffed himself up, and just rested there for a long while." It was, he explains, "a defining moment in which I realized I was not really cut out to hunt and kill animals."
In It Was a Man's World, Buening used white-out to write those words in unmanly cursive on top of a found painting on a slice of wood. It was a man's world his father took him into all those years ago, so the piece is a nostalgic expression of a place from the past.
But I also read it as a wish for a time when that past tense will apply to the whole world. A time when the relationships between women, men, and other animals are governed more by love than by power and dominion.
I appreciate the way he pairs ink prints on wood depicting the men in the hunting cabin with etchings on mirrors that depict the innocence of his boy's world. They come into such close contact, it feels unsafe for the boys.
Now that Buening is older, he uses gathering to build bulwarks against sorrow. He filled a wall of shelves with rainbowy ceramic vessels painted in nail polish, spray-paint, and glitter. Each pot he threw was intended to be an urn for someone he loves who has died; they each felt so inadequate that he just kept trying, kept making more, pitting life against death.
In celebration of this morning's historic news from the Supreme Court that marriage is a right for all same-sex couples in all states—and as a remembrance of the violence visited on so many people by this "man's world" we live in—I offer Buening's message printed on found fabric.
You don't have to shoot. Even if you're being put up to it.
Hunter < Gatherer closed yesterday at Gallery4Culture, but he has a show at SOIL this August, and more work is on his website.