I admire art exhibitions that get to the point.
“The Other Gun Show,” at Gallery 110, sets its sights clearly on issues surrounding gun ownership and use. Li Turner, the show’s curator as well as a participating artist, told writer Theo Bryant in a recent interview, “When I started planning for this exhibition over a year ago, little did I know that this issue would explode. Suddenly, the horrific tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School put all of the participating artists on a mission to open a conversation about gun control.”
A lot of the art in this exhibition will pull out your politics, compelling you to agree or disagree with the statements being made. The title lets you know right away that this exhibition sets itself up in opposition to traditional gun shows and their typical focus on unfettered access to weapons.
As a supporter of some legislative proposals, including mental-health screening and bans on assault weapons — and as the wife of a former cop and relative of several law-abiding gun owners and hunters — I’d like to think I have an open mind about these issues. Accordingly, the artwork that was most compelling to me was nuanced and open-ended, inviting visceral, conceptual and, yes, political responses.
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Sabe Lewellyn’s installation “Sturmgewehr” is both delicate and powerful. Using YouTube tutorial videos from children ages 8-10, the artist crafted paper versions of a variety of guns, including the Sturmgewehr assault rifle. The simple white paper allows us to see the beauty of the interconnected forms while the guns float gently from the ceiling, like a child’s mobile. I also had the urge to crush the forms, probably because of the familiar, mundane materials and the tactile, temporary nature of paper construction. This destructive, desirable physicality resonates strongly with the theme of the show.
The background of Ray Schutte’s large photographic print “Lichen Gun Boat” invites us into a scene of otherworldly beauty. Schutte has zoomed in on the blue, green and white forms of a lichen garden on his deck. But superimposed on this graceful world is a bold, graphic circle — we are looking through the sights of a weapon. The implications are immediately clear but also expansive, touching on questions of perspective, partnering organisms, potential violence and the environment.
On the other hand, some of the work shouts a message, then shuts its mouth. As with a painting of guns surrounded by the word “NO” or the installation of a crime scene, complete with fake blood dribbled on the floor, there’s not much room for further interpretation.
But this “other” gun show needs these displays, too. A complicated issue needs to be addressed by a variety of stances with different levels of forcefulness.
An exhibition like this also reminds us of how art can play a valuable role in political debate and action. Written statements are linear, slogans are deliberately limited, rallies are polarized. But art can function intellectually, emotionally, viscerally and aesthetically. It can target different cognitive and sensory receptors and demand a response.