Who’s in control now, guns or people?
“Don’t Shoot Me Down” at ShockBoxx Gallery in Hermosa Beach
by Bondo Wyszpolski
What can change our lives faster than a gun in the wrong hands? Well, anything from a car wreck to a tumble down the stairs, of course, but a car wreck or a tumble down the stairs is unlikely to kill 10 or 15 people at once and leave dozens wounded. Firearms, however, have been doing that way too often, and when there are more guns than people in the United States (roughly 347 million such weapons for a population of about 325 million) the stakes are pretty high. And so is the result: apparently 30,000 Americans are killed by guns every year.
“This is data,” says Carolyn Liesy, “it’s not opinion.”
Liesy has organized “Don’t Shoot Me Down,” which is, quite simply, “an artful dialogue about guns in American culture.” It’s a group pop-up show that’s set for Saturday (6 to 9 p.m.) and Sunday (1 to 5 p.m.) at ShockBoxx Gallery in Hermosa Beach. A meaningful exchange?
Liesy, who lives in Palos Verdes and is also a printmaker, says she’s “always wanted to do something more than just give a little money.” She’s not a seasoned curator and hasn’t had much experience gathering up artists, but nonetheless with energy and enthusiasm she’s tackling a subject that’s touchy and controversial.
It’s easy, she says, to point at mass homicides and then declare that guns are bad. In those cases, no one’s likely to disagree. “But at the same time,” Liesy continues, “I know that the other side is not always wrong. They have a point of view.”
On such a volatile issue, a fruitful exchange may seem impossible. But to attempt it is necessary.
As part of her personal research, Liesy took a safe shooting class in Torrance. There were about 20 people in her class, and the instructor was assisted by people (I’m assuming mostly men) who were ex-military or ex-LAPD.
An art show focused on guns in American culture is sure to vary depending on where in the country it’s taking place, but it’s commendable that Liesy is not using a heavy-handed approach nor wagging a finger in admonishment. At the top and bottom of her flyer she’s quoted the Brady Campaign (to prevent gun violence): “Gun Research. Firearm Education. Background Checks,” which are words (and goals) to ensure that guns stay in sensible hands without necessarily trying to wrest them out of the hands, vis-a-vis the Second Amendment, of people who have them.
For those with a smartphone the show becomes interactive in that viewers can bring earbuds (or have them supplied by the gallery) and listen to a prepared script on SoundCloud that describes the fallout of having so many guns at large in the United States. Again, it’s not preaching a point of view, it’s just pure information such as “On an average day 96 Americans are killed with guns” or “Background checks have blocked over three million gun sales to prohibited people.” Silver bullets and smoking guns
Gun or firearm terminology saturates our daily conversations, whether or not we’re aware of it. Liesy hands me a two-sided sheet of paper with various phrases and metaphors that has the “gun term” followed by its more prosaic description such as “armed with the facts” for well-informed, “quick on the trigger” for rash or hasty, and “shot in the dark” for a wild guess.
No one’s saying that we can or should delete any such colorful language, but being aware of the extent of such terminology is certainly an eye-opener.
Liesy went about finding artists for the show in various ways, including emails to everyone she herself knew was an artist. I imagine that Peggy Zask, who juried the show, notified people, as did Mike Collins and Laura Schuler who run the gallery.
But Liesy didn’t stop there. She asked those whose work was accepted to say something about why they made their art. At first, she says, she received a few of those vague, conceptual replies that toss in notions of time and space and… Wait, hold it there. “Look, we just want something schmaltzy and real. Tell us why you made the art. Even Stephen Hawking wrote a book that we can understand.”
And then she got some intelligent comments from the artists about their work.
Osceola Refetoff, whose “Bruce & Elsie” is a portrait of an elder couple, married 62 years and depicted with hunting rifles. “Finding solutions to gun violence in America,” he says, “will require dialogue between persons with opposing viewpoints, and for this parties will need to recognize each other as individuals and not simple yell at one another from across the ideological divide.”
“When I researched the number of school shooting for my piece ‘From Columbine to Parkland’ I was outraged and wanted the audience to see the sheer numbers of this destructive behavior,” wrote Ellen Cantor. Regarding her piece “Deerfield,” she wants “the viewer to see both sides of the gun control question and to draw their own conclusions.”
Veronica An: “The appalling and continuous loss of life due to gun violence is something I feel strongly about and would like to draw attention to through my art.”
Lauren Evans: “Being an educator and conducting active shooter drills, I felt as a visual artist I had a responsibility to speak out on gun violence and the lack of any kind of gun legislation in this country.”
Scott Meskill’s two works “leave us questioning safety vs. freedom and (with) no way to seemingly have both.”
Glenn Waggner goes to the source: “The gun: a self-defense tool designed to protect (that) can become lethal in a split second of carelessness.”
In addition to the 30,000 Americans killed each year by guns, an additional 80,000 are injured by them.
Although the exhibition is in support of March for Our Lives and The Brady Campaign, “It’s not a fundraiser,” Liesy says. “It’s a consciousness-raiser. But I want people to support these things. I want them to do things.”
If someone reading this is thinking, “I wish I knew about it earlier, because I could visually add to this important dialogue,” well, they still can. Carolyn Liesy has arranged for a second iteration of the show on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 26 and 27, at The Loft, Mesa and Fourth St., in San Pedro.
Don’t Shoot Me Down is a group show and is up Saturday from 6 to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. at ShockBoxx Gallery, 636 Cypress Ave., Hermosa Beach. (310) 989-4323 or visit shockboxxproject.com. ER