Loaded questions

Bullet: Who Pulls the Trigger examines impact of gun violence on youth

By Sara Mastbaum


Gun violence and its impact on youth have grabbed media attention in recent months, but the conversation on this issue has been unproductive at best. Bullet: Who Pulls the Trigger, currently on view at the Studio D Gallery at the University of Dayton’s ArtStreet, offers a fresh, multidisciplinary look at the issues surrounding gun violence.

The show opens with the work “Meditation on Mourning” by New York-based freelance artist S.B. Woods. The piece features a group of women lying supine in meditation. Originally created in response to 9/11, the piece “started out all about love and became love as loss, which became surrender … it represents a peace to me,” Woods said.

Scrolling across the sculpted forms of the women are 8,000 names of people who have died from gun violence since the December 2012 school shooting in Newtown, Conn.  Suspended above the sculptures is brightly colored artwork by students from Newtown. A look at Newtown is the first phase in this three-part exhibition.

The second phase of the exhibition has a more local focus. Dayton-based artist James Pate worked in collaboration with students at Dayton Early College Academy to create work that breaks down bullets and the human environment to their basic components.

The work features “a large bullet. We dissect the components of the bullet, educating the viewer on the infrastructure of a bullet,” Pate said. Not only does the bullet get stripped back to its bare elements, but humans “are chemistry and biology with vulnerabilities. We designed an environment that’s not so healthy – how we’re socialized, the media – which affects the biological and chemical elements of mental health,” Pate continued.

Pate credits the students of DECA as the driving force for ideas during the creative process. “We responded to the question ‘who pulled the trigger?’” he said. “After discussion with students, the ideas flowed. […] They gravitated toward responsibility, we all were responsible for pulling the trigger. […] the discussion pretty much drove the concepts.” He continued, “The issue is so complex; they seemed to go right to the basics without trying to decipher all the political stuff.”

As one of the most violent cities in the United States, Chicago struggles daily with the issues raised by the exhibition. The South Chicago Art Center’s 343 Guns exhibition – a look at 343 different images of firearms – served as a partial inspiration for Bullet. “We wanted to bring that here,” said ArtStreet Director Brian LaDuca. With that idea in mind, LaDuca built a collaboration with Sarah Ward, Executive Director of the South Chicago Art Center.

Regarding the work on view at ArtStreet, Ward said, “Guns can be violating, but bullets are the bigger problem.” Located in one of Chicago’s more violent neighborhoods, the art center focuses on getting kids off the street to create artwork. The conversation about gun violence has been difficult to spark among these youths.

“The high school kids were nonplussed [by the exhibition],” Ward said, adding that there is a numbness surrounding the issue because gun violence is such a part of life in certain neighborhoods.

The idea of numbness and lack of conversation plays a large role in the exhibition. However, the curators were careful to avoid “pursing an agenda either way,” said Adrienne Niess, Associate Director of ArtStreet. “We have an opportunity here to really use art as a tool,” LaDuca added. “Rather than just being an arts center where you can come in and just get away, there’s still the possibility here of … that sort of conversation.” LaDuca emphasized the idea of art as a catalyst for opening a dialogue.

Although the art is paramount to the discussion and idea of promoting awareness about gun violence toward youth, visual art is only one component of this interdisciplinary exhibition. ArtStreet showed the film “Bowling for Columbine,” Michael Moore’s look at the Columbine High School shooting, and will also be showing the film “Living for 32,” which explores gun violence from the perspective of the Virginia Tech shooting.

One of the major events slated to take place during the exhibition is a performance of “The Warriors,” a play conceived by Mary Hollis Inboden, a survivor of the 1998 Westside Middle School shooting in Jonesboro, Ark. Inboden is a main character in the play, which explores “how her adulthood was shaped by the fact that she was a survivor of the Jonesboro tragedy,” LaDuca said. LaDuca and Evan Linder, who wrote the play, will be directing the performances, scheduled for Oct. 29 and 30 and featuring University of Dayton students.

The idea that gun violence has become ingrained in the psyche of young people is a concern for all involved in the exhibition. “We remember that there were times prior to things like this,” LaDuca said, speaking of the recent shooting at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C. “But I know my students here have only known this kind of stuff their whole lives … it’s just part of their DNA.”

Fittingly, the collaborative piece by Pate and the DECA students is watermarked by a DNA double helix, which emphasizes, as Pate said, that violence affects “the organic design of us, the environment, which circles back to our basic chemistry and biology.”

Bullet: Who Pulls the Trigger is on view until Monday, Nov. 4 at UD ArtStreet Studio D Gallery, 330 Keifaber St. For special event and other information, please visit udayton.edu/artstreet.


Reach DCP freelance writer Sara Mastbaum at SaraMastbaum@DaytonCityPaper.com.


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