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Up In Arms

Parker’s Box | March 1 – April 7, 2003

They’re literally up in arms at Parker’s Box. A set of economically built display cases lines the left-hand wall as you enter. They’re all full of guns. Wires run down from the ceiling to light florescent bulbs under the cases’ upper shelves. Along with the makeshift tables made of boards on sawhorses, these metal-framed cases give the space the aura of a military training camp. The guns mounted on the gallery’s far wall complete this illusion.

Although deceptive at first glance, the guns on the wall aren’t real. Like the guns housed in the exhibition’s display cases, they are sculptures, a part of an exhibition entitled Up In Arms, which attempts, according to its press release, to “explore artists’ representations of weapons.” There are guns made of tape, guns made of plastic foam, guns made of porcelain, and guns made of glass. There are even guns made of chocolate.

Some of the artists’ guns are remarkably beautiful, such as Sylvie Réno’s cardboard model of a Magnum. Her deft handling of the cardboard transforms the pliant material, recreating the hard-edged look of a Magnum. Réno offers an accompanying cardboard set of retractable razorblades. Packed in plastic, they are a startling reminder of the weapons used on September 11.

Claire Lieberman’s glass laser guns and Peter Zangrillo’s tourist’s machine gun case are both quirky and humorous. Like Kurt Novak, whose bazooka made of tape hangs on the wall, these artists use humor and innocuous materials to subvert the violent connotations of their subjects. Samuel Rousseau’s use of neon coloring on his foam rifles does the same.

These sculptures seem relatively light-hearted, perhaps idealistic, considering the gravity of the thoughts evoked by weapons. Although it also employs humor, Donald O’Finn’s chilling black-and-white video seems to take the subject of weapons more seriously. It shows images of a child in cowboy attire firing his toy pistol at an old Indian chief. The images are apparently taken from old television series or commercials. Although innocent for the child, his play takes on ominous overtones when juxtaposed with popular images of real guns cocking and firing. The video’s playful pop veneer sets off its serious comment on the conditioning effects of publicly condoned violence.

Like O’Finn’s video, Jacques Flèchemuller’s bomb boxes situate weapons in a familiar context. Placed atop one of the sawhorse tables, Flèchemuller’s four wooden boxes contain apparently authentic homemade bombs. Plaques secured to the inside of each box’s open lid associate the bombs with specific locations and dates. These boxes are stark evocations of the continuing presence of real weapons among us.

Chris Burden’s two contributions to Up In Arms are equally foreboding. His small black-and-white photo of a man shooting at a plane adorns one wall, and a display case encloses his set of miniature replicas of bombs. In the photo, the man’s gesture is nihilistic, an impotent act devoid of meaning and indifferent to consequences. Burden’s bombs seem post-apocalyptic. They lie rusting on their metal bed, useless and pathetic in the aftermath of conflict. As America initiates war, Burden’s representations of weapons seem a sobering reminder of the material and psychological cost of violence.


Ben La Rocco


The Brooklyn Rail

APR-MAY 2003

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