James Sherry is the author of ten books of poetry and prose, most recently
"Our Nuclear Heritage" (Sun & Moon, 1991) and "Four For" (Meow, 1995).
He has written widely for American literary journals and art magazines such as
Art News and Art Forum. He is the editor of Roof Books and President of Segue
Foundation in New York City.

D I V E R S E   W E A P O N R Y

In their G U N shot installation, Vibeke Jensen and Norman Douglas report
on the state of the weapons market to the art market. Their installation
consists of three species of media: 8 color photographs of guns, an interactive
video projection using pedestrian traffic, and a short video of a gun owner who
appears to be on the wrong side of the law.

While each of the three pieces represents an effective example of its genre, the
whole installation makes an important argument for an environmental art. This
environment is formed out of weapons, arts, and the people (audience,
participants, and participating audience) engaging them.

Each of the three pieces acts as a niche in the total environment. As in any
environment the three pieces use related resources: film / video, guns and
different views of guns. They compete with each other for space and attention.
But more importantly for a cultural environment, their borders define the most
vital issues surrounding the presentation: Each of the three pieces interacts
with the others in a way that emphasizes how environments work.

The environmental model explores how ideas and positions normally considered
opposed / polar actually share both space and time. NRA, gun control
advocates, and police seemingly irreconcilable differences also share space
and time. They are considered together on a daily basis. They exist together at
the same time, even within the same person. Only when one tries to reach a
conclusion about their relationships does it become difficult to simultaneously
share. Only evaluation isolates one from another by an impermeable barrier of

G U N shot makes it clear that, while there is an ideology always at play among
diverse alternatives, diversity implies co-existence. Diversity shows that
evaluation is more complex than a choice to like or not like the artwork. And
one can both like and critique a work of art. The viewer is moved to elucidate
rather than evaluate. What we can say about artwork in an environmental
critique must go further than an extension of self-worth into art.

The irony of using guns as an environmental image is not lost on viewers as they
wonder about the artistsš intent. The combination of similar and diverse
elements throws viewers back on themselves and what they think about the
subject. No simple solution is offered and the creative process is both engaged
and engaging.

The subject extends irony further in that gun use and control is so much a
fulfillment of onešs self image and so little related to the real risks of gun use
and gun control. The approach to risk, finally the pivotal issue surrounding GUN
, points out how the target of the risk cannot be protected. The more
effort we apply to defend our turf and the safer we feel; the more risks we take.

The feeling of safety attracts threats through inertia and thoughtlessness. Risk
taking also attracts external threats from those who perceive the less cautious
approach that the well-defended and self-satisfied take. The protagonist in the
video exemplifies these attitudes, never winning our sympathy in spite of his loss.

The environmental framework enhances the images and extends them further
into the world we inhabit, not merely as weapons, but also as visions of self. As
persons in a complex environment, the creators of G U N shot propose that we
look through its sights in order to aim effectively at a target that reflects the
measure of our self possession. G U N shot propels us to take a broader view
of its immediate issues by juxtaposing the three media and of the larger world we
inhabit beyond ideology to co-existent diversity.

G U N shot - like installations in general - is a statement that addresses physical
environment. The situation manipulates language to revise our notion of the gun
and puts it in a new context. The focused enlargements subvert ordinary
metaphors for what is deadly, dangerous, seductive, lovely, vital, and further
topple what one describes as beautiful, alluring, enticing, perilous, fatal.

The video projection
A laser beam on the sidewalk is connected to a sensor that
makes a computer change the video projection in the gallery window. Normally
the projector displays live footage of the sidewalk in front of the gallery. When a
passer-by breaks the laser beam the video "fires" a series of G U N shots
(animated close-ups of guns with accompanying sound) at the pedestrian.

This projection is meant to draw attention from people in the street, just like
stores do by placing a closed circuit monitor in their window. (Next to the gallery
on First Street there is a Œtrue mirrorš shop that utilizes the same trick.) The
passers-by see themselves projected in slow motion due to the processing time
of the computer. Suddenly their narcissistic indulgence is interrupted by the
sound of gunshots and the projection changes to show a series of animated
close-up images of guns.

The pedestrians are shocked, but the viewers inside the installation extend their
attention from the exhibition space to an extended environment that includes
the street.

The G U N shot video
A 5-min. video displayed on a monitor inside the gallery
featuring the gun owner who provided the guns used in the photographs and
the video projection.

A neighborhood pot dealer and gun enthusiast tells his story of how he was
stuck-up during the 1980s. It may be of course that the subject had other uses
for the guns, but in the video he is outraged by the robbery. The video acts as a
critical work, extending the weapons environment from images and interactive
installation to commentary.

If the overall tripartite installation G U N shot raises the issues of environment,
the questioning narrative is the glue that makes the environment a coherent
whole. While nominally visual, the 5 minute G U N shot video subverts the
expectation of a visual narrative. Instead, a rapid fire, single shot,
semi-automatic recording technique combines with the videographer's
resistance to show the narratoršs face. And the video becomes an
environmental narrative.

The larger social context of America and its ongoing drug war is the exemplary
environment. Americašs inability to effectively pursue its aims exposes the
impotence of such isolated and politically motivated social programs. Creature
comforts (LPs, photo momentos, books), and a well-fortified kitchen (security
measures, guns) fail to keep the unseen property owner safe and secure.

This is the topsy-turvy world of consumer safety amok, with the criminal as victim
of crime. The camera is not the privileged eye of a Cops episode, but the
fragmented eye of alienated, personal experience. The video contrasts heavily
with Jensenšs erotic stills. The viewer sees violence from a greater distance and
unique perspective.

The dealeršs unfamiliar home is circumscribed in much the same way one might
recall one's first visit to a strange place. Finally, the brief vista of the city
rooftops - early in the video and as the closing sequence - completes the sense
of place. It frees the audience from the claustrophobic air of the enigmatic site
with a roomful of random shots where the only gun shot ever fired follows
a helter-skelter trajectory.

G U N shots: the photographs
A selection of 8 full frame color photographs from a series called G U N shots.
Printed on archival duraflex, laminated and mounted on aluminum. Measure 20" x
20". Installed in a revolving figuration on the black painted gallery wall. Jensen
says, My initial idea of shooting a gun with my camera and calling the
photographs G U N shots turned a shock: I had never touched a gun in my life
before I shot these photographs, and was struck by how heavy, impressive and
dangerous it felt - unlike any other object I ever laid hands on. Apparatus against
apparatus: Although they both require the same procedure: precision in framing,
focus, aim, pull and release of the trigger, my heavy-duty camera (a Hasselblad
with extension bellows) seemed hard to operate compared to this smooth
hand-fit piece of metal.

In capturing close-ups, I am interested in the link to pornography and still life
photography. The square medium format, glossy finish and mounting on metal is
done to entice the viewer. By placing a seductive object on an alluring
background I explore the sensual, deadly and intriguing qualities of the gun. In
search for an abstract image, I create a vocabulary still recognizable as
something familiar. The uneven focus is intended to allow the mind to wander
across and behind the surface, and inspire multiple readings by the viewer. After
September 11, the images transformed in my mind into symbols of protection.
Not the guns themselves, but each iconic photograph became a talisman hung
on the wall to protect your house from destructive spirits.

Jensenšs point of view expands the environmental model to the engendering /
creative process. The slow, sensual photographs of weapons of instant death
contrast to galvanize the viewer and draw her into the photographic niche,
accepting its assumptions and parsing the weapon into its body parts.

Once there, the entire aesthetic of photography becomes possible, erasing both
sides of the ideology of weapons. The viewer is also conscious of the strange
position she is put in, twisting this way and that in the throes of the conundrum
Jensen presents.

Š James Sherry
New York, December 2001