“War Zone Home,” curated by Thalia Vrachopoulos, features artists Despina Meimaroglou, Robert Visani, Helen Frederick and Liu Bolin, whose sensitive works in the mediums of printmaking, sculpture and photography provide resonant visions spurred by their revulsion at the accelerating gun violence in contemporary society. The title captures the increasingly acrimonious political lines drawn in America today by the exponents for and against gun use/abuse, with its devastating social repercussions.
In the new era of international terrorism, human paranoia with the attendant feelings of isolation and alienation has reached a zenith; it is now expressed through the proliferation of both handguns and semi-automatic weapons. The issue of stupendous financial expedient at stake for gun manufacturers is shrouded behind the traditional American belief in the individual’s constitutional right to bear arms, not to mention support of weapons development by the military industrial complex. Although gun fatalities decreased by 39% in 1993, the Huffington Post (9/17/2013) predicts that by 2015 gun related deaths will even outnumber accidental automobile fatalities. Current media hype and Hollywood glorification of violence shape public psyches. Former President George H. W. Bush called for a “kinder, gentler nation.” But in the age of terrorism, more primeval urges have asserted themselves to make that impulse moot.
The artists on view respond to this overriding issue by focusing their creative minds on the subject of gun violence, with graphic productivity in sculptures, prints and photography. Lui Bolin’s photograph entitled “Hiding in New York No. 9 – Gun Rack” presents an alarming display of lethal weapons tidily racked, ready for use. The over-the top, all but tongue in cheek photograph (courtesy Eli Klein Gallery, N.Y. 2013) underscores, with a touch of humor, the easy means on hand to commit quick murder. The self-portrait embedded beneath the weapons establishes its elusive presence in an indirect, characteristically Chinese manner. The image evokes both awe and horror at the sight of such appallingly murderous tools. One is spurred to ponder if males remain too macho to scrap their deadly phallic toys; have females, now faced with the same societal pressures, caught the gun fever too?
Robert Visani’s approach to the theme is unique. He shows an appreciation of the intricacies of the design and function of weapons, revealed in detail in his two-part bronze relief sculpture that stands open to reveal the imprint of fuselage and fine mechanisms. The work “Verso M16 Standard Issue” suggests a fossil unearthed after weapons have “become extinct.” His sculpture “Slaves to the Rhythm” displays a metal machine gun, a carefully cloth-wrapped facsimile, and a wooden weapon, upended with the barrels joined to create a teepee-like form. The piece suggests obliquely that guns will morph gradually into harmless replicas of what they once were, as soon as humans manage to transmute into less irrational, more objective beings.
Helen Frederick takes a philosophical, empathetic stand as a witness whose meditations on violence spur her art into a universal category. Her beautifully wrought, two-part hand made paper lithograph entitled “Armored VI” displays several arms pointing with gun fingers alternately up and down. The contrasting forms comprised of faint pale hues bring subtle focus to the lowered gun fingers. The piece constitutes a universal poetic appeal to non-violence, surpassing political critique in the most muted, convincing way imaginable. Her prints chronicle the gun tragedies that result from human weakness, within the context of the impermanence of humanity itself.
Despina Meimaroglou’s large-scale series of three digital silk-screens, ironically entitled “The Neighbor,” display a shooter with eyes expunged (another satiric touch), pointing at close range out at the viewer/victim; the color of each piece becomes increasingly red, suggesting that blood has been spilt. Her incisive text print of a hostage report, whose heavy font overlaps gun drawings, evokes the staccato voices of newscasters reporting violent stories. Meimaroglou’s mysterious Unique print entitled “Shroud” conjures an Old Master etching that hints at Christ’s death; the fragment of overlaid contemporary text conveys a denial, which accentuates the piece’s sweeping relevance.
“War Zone Home” is on view at John Jay’s President’s Gallery, 899 Tenth Avenue, NYC, until January 17, 2014.