Four years ago, amid the daily headlines of mass shootings and gun violence, I began building an arsenal of 100 mock assault rifles. This body of work is my personal awakening and response to the American obsession with weaponry and the abstraction of violence. My practice has led me deep into one of the most polarizing social, political, and public health challenges of our times: the debate over gun ownership as a means to curbing gun violence. As one delves into the issue, the quagmire quickly spirals into issues of race, gender, and class. At the core of this discussion lies a preoccupation with fear and control.
I am invested in an unconventional examination of the American obsession with such tools of violence. The pieces are placed on canvas tarps in rows and viewers are encouraged to walk between them. The installation provokes a wide arc of reactions ranging from humorous and entertaining to tragic and confessional. The bodily, tactile, and psychic experience of this work allegorically addresses the abstraction of war and the monumentality of modern day violence. The myth of mechanized warfare has inspired an imaginary detachment from violence. However, as amalgamations of industrial and household detritus, each rifle is built from materials that create the foundations and infrastructures of our modern lives. The guns have a visceral calculus and purpose; they reference the systematic ingenuity that goes into creating weapons of our own destruction. As we attempt to untangle the contentious debate over the lethality of our possession of over 350 million guns, it is necessary to confront the brutality of our contemporary gun violence and how it has infiltrated all of our contemporary spaces. I aim to tease out the realities that are obscured by such abstractions.
I reject polarized conversations. My mission is to integrate this arsenal into the mainstream public consciousness as a springboard for political and social dialogue – to provoke interdisciplinary conversation, heighten outrage, and perhaps alter the course of the tragedy of gun violence.
- David Hess