UNLOADED – curated group art show about guns – up in Ithaca. WENY news covered it well. My work – ungun [ glitched handguns, animated ] – is in the clip as well as many pieces from the show.
I sat in a gallery, at a table, in a turret. This was semiprivate space. At Northern Illinois University, the gallery is in a building like a castle. The turret room has arrowslot windows. It felt well-defended. I had daisies, the signifier for the piece. I wore grey. I waited.
I had invited audience members to come to the gallery, to tell me a story about guns. My request inverted the art object’s signal flow. The audience usually comes to a museum to get something. Now they were asked to give something.
His father taught him how to shoot. What the gun actually does. How to respect it, what code of conduct was related to it.
I am no therapist. I listen when people tell me their experiences. I can be present for their narratives.
Beyond that personal skill, this work is the fruit of working directly with audience for years. I have hosted experimental art-video shows. I used to guard art in museum-spaces from drunk people. I guided museum tours.
This work is a long look at audience relationship with the mediated story [ the artwork itself / the stories in news and entertainment media ] and its authority.
My studio space [ a computer ] means I sometimes make art in public spaces, like coffeeshops. Making ungun I was working with decayed images of guns. The visible screen became an invitation to strangers to interrupt, to ask “Hey what are you doing? That looks cool.” To tell me about guns. About being American with guns.
It meant staying alive, to carry three guns through Bosnia-Herzegovina as a UN-authorized peacekeeper, discovering countless bodies in fields, barns, knee-deep in pits, bodies made by guns.
Guns are surrounded by cocoon of silence spun, paradoxically, of fear and bombastic noise. They are intimately connected to issues of authority. Who has the right to tell a story about guns – a story that easily can, illusively, be corrupted, become, paranoidly, the story about –
How could she raise her sons and keep guns out of their hands?
I spent four hours in the gallery listening to the space, to the visitors. Very few people accepted my invitation. That inversion of audience relation to public art space needs a different introduction, perhaps.
I listened to the gallery sounds, to the floor creaks, the oops its time for me to leave hustle footsteps, to the fear. Staff at NIU are most afraid of the young white men with baby faces. That’s what NIU’s mass shooter looked like.
She left the day he brought a gun home. Things were bad enough and she knew the statistics.
Good art encourages the audience to examine their own experience. Art about guns doubles the authority of the mediated story – doubles the illusion that truth is outside of onesself – for the audience.
This is tricksy, working with potentially painful or trauma-sourced content. What is only a signifier for the artist can evoke intense memory for audience members. Memory of lived experience powerful enough that it denies the artwork. It also can challenge the audience member’s ability to manage that memory.
The reality, for people who have survived gun violence personally, or whose daily lives are affected by navigating spaces shaped by that violence – the audience needs to retain that authority over their own difficulty. Ceding that authority to the art doesn’t work.
So – instead of censoring published media, give space for the audience’s voice. Give them a space other than they have to avoid the signal of information coming from the artwork in order to be OK.
I was thanked by members of the NIU community who could not look at UNLOADED. It was the language of gesture, ameliorating the re-traumatization that can be provided by published media.
Guns And Consequences was a spoken word event I organized in conjunction with the exhibition UNLOADED, which is on view at Northern Illinois University’s Art Gallery through October 24. Sponsored by the Center for Black Studies, the event was scheduled for October 8, 2015. It was cancelled by an all-campus bomb threat.
Yesterday I travelled from Milwaukee to Chicago and from Chicago to DeKalb. Josephine Burke, the musuem director who had programmed the show, picked me up at the Elburn Metra station. Elburn’s like a big taxi stand with adjacent parking lot, in the middle of cornfields.
Jo apologized for being late, she’d gotten caught behind a harvester on her drive to the station, its bits and pieces of corn and hay or whatever scattering across the road. I asked how the show UNLOADED had been received. She talked about how some people had seen the show, some of the talks had been very well attended, and how some of the campus who live with PTSD from the 2008 shooting incident could not walk into the show yet.
She mentioned offhand how she designed the installation, how she pulled walls from the gallery so visitors could find the exit if they had a panic attack. Then she realized that “a person could walk in and strafe the whole show.”
There it is, that fear that comes up, again. While designing fliers to support my own appearances – the artist talk for ungun, the flier announcing the performance-basd installation where I listen to visitors tell me their stories about guns – the tension slick with fear. Make sure the send and receive flier is deeply inclusive. I want to hear their experiences. All of their experiences. I am not collecting stories to make an argument. This is art, not argument.
Later I was setting up cameras to document spoken word performances by Nikki Patin , Tara Betts, Reginald Eldridge, Billy Tuggle, Mojdeh Stoakley. A three-camera shoot, for once! With good tripods. Art people know what I mean, the luxury of time to set up documentation, to pick your shots. I was goofing with Reggie, who was going to use this amazing AV setup to do something with images and words together. The trustee’s boardroom includes a remote like a garage door opener that lifts a screen out of the furniture . . . And the security guard came in and asked us to leave, all the buildings are being evacuated.
Nikki arrived at the room as the security guard mentioned “bomb threat”. Really? Really? Later when we’re all huddled under a little cement hutch-thing we joked about how a group that’s majority brown people go to a mostly-white college campus to talk about gun violence and there’s a bomb threat.
Stephen, the gallery manager, snapped photos with his iPhone, risking water damage – the sky had opened up as well with a pounding rain. And as we puzzled it out, as we thought about Jo’s statement that NIU closed some smaller campuses over the summer and it’s probably someone who lost a job – the threat was directed at all the buildings on the NIU campus, it’s not about us – I thought about the white guy who called in bomb threats almost once a week to my high school. This was fall of my Senior Year. Is it bad that I remember his name? Or compassionate? He had so much hatred. He would smile and fake his niceness but the poison was there, controlling 1,000 high school kids from a distance, with his phone.
Eventually the bus bringing Billy Tuggle and one audience member from the Metra mades it. And Mojdeh drove in. She talked about the strangeness of driving to a place every car was fleeing from.
I had to get back into the building to collect my suitcase; Jo needed to lock up the camera equipment. I did the fastest teardown I could. Jo inadvertently alerted security to us being in the building by pulling down a shade in the window.
We were asked to leave again, this time by a gentle Hispanic security guard who said “We chose not to hit the alarms. That would be too much.” Instead they walked through every floor of every building. This is what you do when you have a bomb threat on a college campus that survived a thing.
I thanked him for that, profusely; the evacuation was triggering enough. He said, “I’m just glad I found you in there before the dogs came through. They wouldn’t have liked finding you.” He had a long night ahead. Bomb-sniffing dogs had to visit every building on campus.
The entire show explores the social and political issues surrounding firearms. It has toured other areas and is now coming to a campus that was involved in a tragic shooting in 2008.
“[Guns are] uniquely part of American history compared to other countries,” Fenlon said. “This object is used to kill more Americans than any other consumable goods or consumable objects. The climate in America is so intensely wrapped in extreme attitudes about it and extreme fear or grief.”
Suzanne Slavick, curator of the exhibit and Carnegie Mellon University art professor based in Pittsburgh, said the university was very sensitive to that aspect of the show.
“With shows like these or any artwork that deals with trauma, there is a tension between opening wounds and doing further harm,” Slavick said. “I think this show tries to give a larger picture across the country and even abroad. Hopefully it’ll provide context.”
Adam Poulisse interviewed me yesterday morning; I’m humbled by the resulting article. In it, Mr. Poulisse introduces the show UNLOADED, currently installed at Northern Illinois University.
The Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis hosts ‘Guns in the Hands of Artists’. Artworks were created using decommissioned guns from New Orleans – guns reclaimed from street use in buyback programs.
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.
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.
In 2013, right after I left Apple, I made a 6.5 minute glitch animation called ungun. In it, I deconstruct the vocabulary of the object, using audio sampled from American movies to complement the breaking and reforming data-damaged handgun photos in the visuals. Even during the editing process, strangers responded to the imagery and content (I would edit in headphones at coffee shops). Now, curators keep choosing to show it!
This weekend and next, there are several opportunities to see ungun in person . . .
Pittsburgh, PA: SPACE gallery has been exhibiting UNLOADED [ curated by Susanne Slavic ] since February of this year. Friday, April 24 – tomorrow – is the closing party! See work by Mel Chin, Adrien Piper, and many more for the last time. If you’re lucky, you’ll see Vanessa German’s powerful poetry performance.
Link through to read the latest review from UNLOADED, featuring a reading of ungun.
Newark, NJ: Saturday, April 25, Index Art Center’s FILMIDEO 2015 international film festival (day 2) – ungun plays with work by other artists on the installation monitor for the duration of the exhibition.
Milwaukee, WI: Sunday May 1 ungun screens in the Milwaukee Underground Film Festival Program #5 on UW-Milwaukee’s campus.
Last but not least, ungun’s going to Portugal, to screen in FONLAND 2015. It’s safely tucked under the arm of the Italian curator who first chose to screen it in 2013.
I’m grateful, a little overwhelmed, and more grateful. The work doesn’t complete until it meets an audience, really –
No one lives outside the walls of this sacred place, existance. ~ St Francis of Assissi
My contribution, Comfort Food, is on surviving the media’s mindless re-presentation of gun violence in America.
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On Memorial Day, when I logged into Flickr, I found my stats had crossed 100,000 views. I have less than 2,000 images in my Flickr stream; still, people are looking. The most popular image? Ungun: Raspberry Ruger. I decided to give it away, via a lottery I ran from June 1 to the 21st!
As I wrote in the post announcing the lottery, when I started making the images that became the ungun project, I put them on flickr. I kept making them in part because of the positive response to the work in the photostream. At the time I was working full-time in demanding, customer-facing work. Positive feedback from Flickr, and a handful of my customers, was my only encouragement to move the work forward. Their responses were so intense, and so personal, it gave me a huge push to keep making.
So here we are, with the winner – @oxthoughts from twitter, Ian Martin, will be receiving an archival giclee print of Ungun: Raspberry Ruger. The image is sized such that the glitched handgun mirrors that of the ‘real life’ gun.
I have some interesting things cooking for the ungun project. I can’t help but keep making the images, and more representations of broken guns are going to be appearing, in different forms, during 2014.
Thanks to all who signed up for the drawing!
The winner’s name has been drawn.
Notification email has been sent.
Soon, a print of ungun : raspberry ruger
will have a new home. Exciting!
On Memorial Day I logged in to Flickr to upload some video stills and noticed that my stats had passed 100,000 views. I decided to give away archival prints of whatever image had the most views. I’m really glad its an ungun! I make unguns by stealing images of guns from the internet, and using a variety of tools to ‘break’ or ‘glitch’ them.
I started making unguns on my commute to work, in response to a particularly bloody weekend in Chicago, November 2012. I posted them to Flickr, where they got an initial audience. I am thankful for that audience, and its feedback and support.
Conversations with non-artists has shaped the ungun project. After seeing the images, people have told me personal stories about guns, their complicated relationships with them, what they mean privately and publicly. I heard about the first time he was given a gun and what that meant to his family relationships. She told me of her fear of walking in isolated public spaces, since Illinois has a concealed carry law. A former US soldier told me about their utility, when he was serving in Bosnia-Herzegovina. He also told me about the horrors they created.
ungun : rasberry ruger
Limited edition print : 16″ x 13″ giclee print on archival rag
Image sized to match that of the actual handgun, a Ruger LCP pistol in Raspberry.
ungun, the animated short film, has screened in Bulgaria; been installed as a three-channel installation in Sicily, Italy; and screened in Naples, Italy. Last year it was featured in Pittsburgh Filmmaker’s Three Rivers Film Festival, in the Shorts competition, and has been hosted in several venues as part of the show, VIDEO>transcends.
The raspberry ruger image has almost 2,500 views on Flickr, and the most favorites of any image in my photo stream. This limited edition print has a paper size of 16″ x 13″. Printed giclee on archival rag, the image is sized to match that of the actual handgun. Lottery closes on June 21, 2014. Scroll down & sign up! Winner will be announced on June 24.
When I sell ungun prints*, they retail for 1/4 the retail price of the model of handgun the image is sourced from, since they are based on a stolen image. In this case, the value of the print would float between $80 and $133, depending on the location of the purchaser. Because the way guns are priced depends on so many things.
Would you like the chance to get one? Provide your name and your email address to be added to the lottery! Tell me how you found this contest, and if you want to subscribe to my email list. The lottery has closed; if you would like to sign up for my email list, you can use this form, if you’d like.
[contact-form][contact-field label=’Name’ type=’name’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Email’ type=’email’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’How did you find out about this party?’ type=’select’ required=’1′ options=’twitter,smoke signals,flickr,google+,email list,referred by a friend’/][contact-field label=’Yes! Sign me up for the email list!’ type=’checkbox’/][/contact-form]
Lottery closes on June 21, 2014. Winner will be announced on June 24. Currently planning to give away just 1 print. If over 100 people sign up, I will give 2. More than 250, I will give 3. Thank you! And, tell the world!
*I have not sold this print.
I’ve been making unguns. I steal pictures of guns and make something else with them. Yes I’m trafficking in stolen guns when I do this. Aesthetic vandalism. Wasn’t the Matrix trilogy founded on that image of ‘bullet time’, the old Native American ghost dance promise that we could stop bullets?
The act of aesthetic vandalism neuters the image of the gun. The images become ~ if they were actual objects, were they actually fired, they would misfire, fire into themselves, or not fire at all.
Humans can express a nourishing connection with each other using guns only by relinquishing them.
I started working with still images, which I ‘broke’ using databending techniques. Then I started making gifs.Then I decided to make a longer video, pushing the image into word-definition space. The dance of illusion, projection, metaphor. I sampled audio from popular entertainment that uses guns so much in their narratives that, as a friend once put it, the movie is really “gun goes on adventure, gun beats the bad guys, gun gets the girl, gun gets revenge” . . .
I’m witnessing illusions of “political ramifications of ideas about guns” shatter social relationships between otherwise reasonable people. Histrionic reactions to the object, in many directions, prevent people from having reasonable conversation. The object, and whether or not or how it is regulated, shatters our ability to discuss the thing sanely.