ungun : UNLOADED @ Northern Illinois University

As what’s left of summer turns to fall, I’m getting ready to be the audience for some amazing spoken word performers. I’m also preparing new work – a performance piece, of all things! Both are built into an existing body of work visiting Northern Illinois University, in DeKalb, Illinois.

An exhibition of “works by over 20 artists examine and represent the role that guns play in our national mythologies, suicide rates, incidence of individual and mass murder, cases of domestic violence, and the militarization of civilian life”, UNLOADED opens at Northern Illinois University today. Curated by Susanne Slavic, it includes work by Devan Shimoyama; Adrian Piper [ work pictured here : Imagine (Trayvon Martin) 2013 ]; Mel Chin; Stephanie Syjuco; Andrew Ellis Johnson; Vanessa German; and myself.

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Imagine (Trayvon Martin) 2013. Adrian Piper.

events for UNLOADED : Guns & Consequences and send & receive

One of the privileges of living in Chicago has been listening to poets who write about American injustices, inequities, and violences head-on in their work. Tara Betts  Reginald Eldridge  Mojdeh Stoakley  Billy Tuggle  and Nikki Patin each have their own visionary approaches to the subject of guns. I get chills writing their names in a list like this – this is going to be an amazing evening! I hope you can join me for an evening of poetry on October 8. Nikki Patin will be our host for Guns and Consequences, a poetry/spoken word/prose event that night. I don’t think this much brilliance is normally allowed to be together in one place. Don’t worry – more details will follow as October approaches . . .

Guns and Consequences arose from my conversations with Josephine Burke, the curator at NIU’s Art Museum. She got in touch with me earlier this summer after she had programmed UNLOADED into the Museum’s galleries for the fall. We discussed possible events to extend the content of the show. Ms. Burke mentioned to me that some faculty and staff at NIU had survived the devastation of a classroom shooting on campus in 2008.

There is no place in America, really, where gun violence doesn’t leave its mark. Gun violence marks people.

Who has the authority to lay claim to the stories around objects which can have caused this harm? In the process of making ungun, I listened to many non-artists’ spontaneous stories about guns. Some were traumatic, others, utilitarian.

send and receive, the performance installation I created for UNLOADED, makes space inside the exhibit for the audience’s narratives. In this work, I will listen to audience members as they, one at a time, tell me a single story, an experience with guns. As a living ‘listening post’, I will not share their story with others.

The social mechanics of listening will be designed in a particular way. I will have assistants to help explain the work and help visitors participate. There will be an etiquette to the work, a formed ritual designed to assist a kind of routinized, public participation.

The work is a first attempt of mine to honor the reality that art made with the symbolic presence of these weapons – well, any published media claims the authority to tell the story, takes the story from the reader. When the story opens space to the traumatic, the audience, too, may need the space to be the authority, to say their own truth.

I will perform send and receive on Saturday, October 17.

A full calendar of events related to UNLOADED is visible at Northern Illinois University’s website.