This summer I’ve been lucky enough to intern at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, specifically working with Gallery 31 in the college exhibitions department. We’ve already seen some excellent shows–including work by Leslie Exton, Rick Wall, and the Corcoran’s continued education students (And this is just in Gallery 31! The rest of the museum currently features Diebenkorn’s Ocean Park series, as well as Anima by Charlotte Dumas. I would highly recommend stopping by!)
Arguably Gallery 31’s biggest show of the summer, Manifest: Armed features work by artists Sarah Frost, the collective SmithBeatty (Craig Smith and Colin Beatty), and Julian Oliver. All four artists are dealing with facets of contemporary gun culture, ranging from cyber weaponry and technology to children’s obsession with real and virtual gun facsimiles. Armed is the first of Gallery 31’s Manifest series which is built around artists’ reactions to technology.
Largely due to my interest in gender as it relates to art (As well as many other factors contributing to my personal taste!) my favorite piece in the show is Sarah Frost’s installation of Arsenal. Frost’s work is both conceptually and aesthetically intriguing. Not only does the viewer appreciate the visual of elaborate paper guns suspended in the air, they appreciate the line of thinking behind the work.
Frost was inspired by the trend of boys publishing paper gun construction tutorials on YouTube. Something I had never heard of before but wasn’t very surprised by (I have a little brother. He went through a fake sword phase, a fake gun phase, pretty much every fake weapon phase known to boy-kind). An entire community has sprung up around paper guns in which these boys (And girls? I’ve only seen one, but the rabbit hole is deep, my friends) have become experts.
Check out this video, for example:
This is probably one of the simpler paper guns in the series. But check out this guy:
IT SHOOTS PAPER BULLETS (This kid just started a blog by the way, check it out!). And that’s just one of the many realistic features of these guns. Some of them expel paper shells, have moveable triggers, all sorts of crazy features.
And check out this one because SERIOUSLY OH MY GOD:
Ok, I’m done linking to paper gun tutorials. Weirdly fascinating, right? If you want to see more just search for “paper gun”, “paper gun tutorial”, “paper glock”, etc on YouTube. Or check out this treasure trove of videos at WonderHowTo’s Papercraft section.
Back to Sarah Frost’s Arsenal! This piece–as well as the other two pieces in the show–are particularly relevant in light of current discussions surrounding gun control and gun culture. While the artists are all firm in their Switzerland-esque neutrality on weaponry regulation their work inspires dialogue on many facets of the current gun climate. How is it that we live in a culture that births swarms of boys obsessed with guns (If the paper gun subculture is any indication of gun-obsession)? And why is there such a gender imbalance within that subculture?
Because of (once again) personal interests and the gender focus of this blog, I’d like to explore the gender divide in the paper gun subculture a little more. I figured the first place to look would be the comments section of the one girl I was able to find making videos. Never read the comments section guys. It is not pretty.
The first video I found wasn’t too bad. Five comments and only one that directly referenced her gender. “im watching a girl make a paper gun… i need to go to the doctor… good gun though it is not a glock”. Not great, not terrible! And then I clicked onto another video. Sixteen pages of comments most of which attack her for her gender and ethnicity. And pages of arguments about whether she’s “hot” or not. She’s nine years old. So on the whole one can imagine why girls who are drawn towards the paper gun subculture might be discouraged.
And it goes further back than that. Toys are very heavily gendered. And girls are pretty much fed from the start the idea that our toys are pink and sparkly and dolls and ponies and stickers oh boy! Girly toys tend to focus on domesticity and mothering, with a weird sexualized twist. Boy toys tend to focus on war and building and dirt! Paper guns fall into the “not for girls” category as a result. This video by Feminist Frequency is one of the best explanations of why this is problematic that I’ve seen thus far.
And people wonder why there aren’t more girls in engineering!
While Sarah Frost’s work may not explicitly be about the gendering of American gun culture it is certainly an excellent example. Aside from the gender lessons we can learn from her work, one can see that it is very well crafted and well executed. Sarah Frost is an artist who is going places.
Check out (and follow!) Gallery 31’s twitter feed for more interesting links and facts about the show and participating artists as well as on overall gun culture. You can also learn more about the show on Gallery 31’s Facebook page or on the Corcoran’s site.
Manifest: Armed runs August 8-September 2. The opening reception is Thursday, August 9th, 6-8 pm in Corcoran’s Gallery 31. SmithBeatty will perform their Firesale piece Thursday, August 30, 6 pm. A panel discussion of Smith, Beatty, and Frost will follow afterward at 7:30 pm.
As an added note, the Corcoran will donate a percentage of admission proceeds for the month of August to the Community First Foundation’s Aurora Victim Relief Fund. You can read the full message from Corcoran’s director Fred Bollerer here.