GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — To say that gun violence is an affliction of American society is a radical understatement, whether you go by the statistics or the frequency of mass shooting incidents. Many artists have attempted to engage with this issue, from gallery shows to web projects. Susanne Slavick, an artist and professor of art at Carnegie Mellon University, organizes group shows in an effort to bring an activist viewpoint into contact with a museum-going population. UNLOADED is one of her most recent shows, originally organized for SPACE in Pittsburgh and currently at the Urban Institute for Contemporary Art in Grand Rapids.
The show presents work by 20 artists, including Slavick herself, many of them hailing from Slavick’s home base of Pittsburgh, although a variety of national and international artists are present. The show balances a mixture of approaches to the subject — some quite literal and didactic, others more playful and open-ended. Several works on display directly employ guns as the base material of the art object, including a mandala-like wall hanging by Mel Chin, “Cross for the Unforgiven: 10th Anniversary Multiple” (2012), comprised of eight cut and welded AK-47 assault rifles — a reprise of an earlier 2002 work. There were more than 50 school shootings in the United States between the years 2002 and 2012, and yet Chin was able to make a bulk purchase of eight AK-47s without any degree of scrutiny, just as easily in 2012 as in 2002. In interviews about his work, cited by UICA Exhibitions Curator Heather Duffy, it seems significant to Chin that his piece literally decommissions eight assault rifles (twice), removing them from active use — a theme echoed in Anthony Cervino’s “Composition with Redacted Objects” (2014), which obscures a hunting rifle (and other found objects, including a framed portrait) by encasing its barrel in a black box.