In 2015, Susanne Slavick, artist, curator and art professor at Carnegie Mellon University, organized Dump, a collective exhibition of more than 22 artists. The purpose of the exhibition was to probe the culture of widespread access to firearms and its consequences. Some of the works were explicit about their subject matter: Everest Pipkin’s “162 Free Guns”, for example, was a book of all the free “weapons” available for download from Creative Commons online in May 2017, including a model weapon that could be 3D printed and a laser gun from a video game. Nina Berman photographed the “Come and Take It” rally in San Antonio in 2013, where hundreds of gun owners protested a local ordinance banning guns in public parks by proudly and openly displaying their guns in patriotic attire. Mel Chin arranged eight AK-47s in the shape of a Maltese cross in a 2002 piece called “Cross for the Unforgiven”.
Other works in the exhibition were more abstract. “A City Without Guns” (2015-ongoing) by Jennifer Nagle Myers was an arrangement of found sticks, each vaguely resembling a gun. Slavick’s “romantic resistance” was an installation of 15 circular panels, each adorned with a pearl from a pearl necklace and pierced with a bullet hole. The show eventually toured 12 cities and collaborated with organizations such as CeaseFirePA, Moms Demand Action and Everytown for Gun Safety, with local leaders showcasing their research and advocacy at workshops and events.
Now, seven years later and as gun violence soars in America, Slavick continues to update a Facebook page she created at the culmination of this traveling exhibit, where she posts artwork, poetry, plays and editorials that are relevant to the themes she explored in Dump.
“I don’t know what else it takes to move us. Yes, these recent shootings have moved bipartisan legislation,” Slavick told Hyperallergic, referring to the passage of the bipartisan Safer Communities Act on June 23. Among other things, this law will require more rigorous background checks on young gun buyers and allocate funds for school safety. . But he stops short of enacting gun control measures that many proponents of reform have been calling for for decades.
“The measures that have been approved, while welcome, are so inadequate and relatively indirect compared to the scale and nature of the problem, which is generally that access to firearms is too easy,” Slavick said. .
A recent image Slavick posted in late June is from Ryan’s Standfest series America’s Sleep Produces Monsters. The title is a play on both Francisco Goya’s 1799 print “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters” and the observation that “they call it the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it”, attributed to George Carlin. Printed in letterpress, the off-white pamphlet modernizes Jonathan Swift’s book A modest proposala relentless satire of austere and dehumanizing attitudes towards the Irish poor published in 1728. In the Standfest version it is a “modest proposal” not to “prevent the children of the poor from being a burden on their parents or their country and to make them beneficial to the public”, as Swift put it, but rather “to keep the children of Americans from being a burden on the gun lobby or the republic and to compel them to defend themselves with their own weapons.
A graphic shows a hand ready to fire cradling a palm-sized gun. The Standfest impression suggests that the Republicans and the gun lobby have a malevolent disregard for the lives of American children comparable to the indifference of the English colonizers to the poverty and hunger endemic in early Ireland. of the 18th century – an indictment of a status quo in which people come second to corporate interests and partisan politics.
A grittier, almost spectral image on the page is an installation of Floyd D. Tunson’s “Hearts and Minds,” a monumental multi-panel work created over several years in response to the police killing of the youngest brother of the artist. The multimedia collage features two Jasper Johns-esque targets in the center, buttressed by tons of black men and $50 bills behind bars. After developing the center panel and showing it in a gallery in Denver, Tunson decided he wasn’t quite done with the piece. “I realized that I felt like I had more to say,” he said. Eventually, “Hearts and Minds” would grow to three times its original size, with more paintings and skull cutouts; bone, fabric and cardboard crafts; photographs; and rendered faces of black men.
“Unfortunately, this is still relevant,” Tunson said. “I could still add more pieces. What is happening in society in relation to this has not ended.
“Bang Bang” by Mimi Smith, completed in 1990, is a visual representation of the statistic that someone in the United States dies at gunpoint every 16 minutes (the frequency has only increased from). It is a dial decorated with gun barrels in the Art Deco style and Pop Art yellow bands that mark the passage of each quarter hour with the factual and serif pronunciation: “Bang, Bang, you are dead”. The work seems to have a Tarantino take on gun violence: it’s endemic, it’s a fact, and it can even be made to look cool. But the ironic distance of “Bang, Bang” is an expression of Smith’s revulsion at this contemporary social reality. “Guns are an awful, horrible thing in this country. It makes me sick every time I hear of another incident,” she wrote in an email.
Arthur Simms’ “Portrait of an Angry Man with a Gun” (1992), made from planks of wood, rope, glue and screws, is one of the most abstract works on record on Slavick’s Facebook page. It captures the tight tension of someone whose unresolved passions are surely, as the title suggests, meant to find expression in the release of the gun trigger. By anonymizing the man behind the gun, Simms refuses to pay attention to the abuser’s biography and psychology, instead representing the highly charged, indeterminate energy that takes on definitive form when paired with a gun. fire.
Slavick also publishes news articles, editorials, and poems that address the alternately mundane and spectacular reality of gun violence in American life. An article from rolling stone marked 1.15 million deaths since John Lennon’s assassination in December 2019. New Yorker and reposted by Slavick.
The day the Supreme Court officially rendered its Dobbs reversing decision Roe vs. WadeSlavick posted a photo of a protester carrying a simple cardboard sign that read, “If only my uterus was an AR-15.”
Another recent repost from Slavick was on Kim Phuc Phan Thi’s opinion piece for the New York Times, “It’s been 50 years. I am no longer ‘Napalm Girl’. Thi, who was iconically captured fleeing a napalm attack in South Vietnam in 1972 by Associated Press photographer Nick Ut at the age of nine, wrote about the double trauma and empowerment this photography brought him. She also offered, following the mass shooting in Uvalde, that perhaps it was time to take and show the American public more explicit photographs of the consequences of the immediate availability of firearms. Slavick says she’s been thinking about this a lot lately, “awful” as it is.
“I want the show to last beyond its physical space and dates,” Slavick said of his growing digital archive. “It’s a way to expand exposure to artists and ideas beyond what I can include as a freelance curator at a particular time and place. It’s a way to grow the community around the idea.