“Take a shot,” “fire away,” “bulletproof,” and other similar phrases are read aloud in students’ voices reciting different gun references found in mainstream media. Compiled from recordings of Andover students across several art classes, the audio highlights the presence of guns in our everyday lives. These voice recordings are part of one of many pieces featured in the exhibit “Gun Country.”
“It was really powerful listening to the voices of my peers talking about and reciting song lyrics relating to gun violence, and expressing the effect of gun culture in the media and in our everyday lives,” said viewer Emmeline Song ’20.
“Gun Country” is currently on display in the Museum Learning Center (MLC) at the Addison Gallery of American Art. The sound art piece was put together by Stephanie Sparling Williams, Visiting Scholar in Art History and Assistant Curator, who curated the exhibit. Williams believed that given the current climate and conversations about gun control, it was an important time to look at what it means to depict and portray guns in art.
“Art-400 Curating the Addison’s Collection is the first class I taught at [Andover] in the fall of last year . Over the summer, when I started to explore the collection myself and prepare for this class, I began to notice the ubiquity of guns in the collection. It wasn’t until a gap was presented in the MLC’s scheduling that I had the idea of hanging a ‘gun show’ that would bring these works together,” wrote Williams in an email to The Phillipian.
One wall of the exhibit is decorated with images of boys and young men playfully posing with both real and toy guns. Another photo, from a collection by Larry Clark entitled “Tulsa,” depicts a young white man sitting on a bed, shirtless and smirking as he holds up a gun. According to the exhibition’s description, Clark’s images were intended to serve as a reminder of who is allowed to toy with guns. The subject and timing of the exhibition was inspired by recent events, according to Williams.
“If I remember correctly, it was only a matter of days after [the decision to have this exhibit] was made that the Las Vegas shooting happened. The curatorial team was stunned, along with the rest of the nation, at the Vegas shooting, which seemed to immediately give the project an added sense of urgency… Little did we know that the months leading up to the show would see a barrage of gun violence, particularly 11 school shootings, including the one in Florida,” wrote Williams.
Another section of the MLC displays a row of photographs from Dick Durrance, depicting the horrors and struggles soldiers experienced during the Vietnam War. One of the collection’s photos, “Firing range, Ft. McClellan,” depicts a close-up of a man’s profile as he holds his rifle to his cheek in a shooting position.
“The show is hung in thematic clusters. Some of these clusters include an entire wall of photographs that focus on children and young adults playing and posing with guns… Yet another cluster focuses on images from photographer Dick Durrance’s important series of Vietnam War pictures. There are several other thematic moments in the show, a few I hope will inspire critical engagement and debate,” wrote Williams.
Williams hopes that the exhibit can allow students at Andover to take ownership in the conversation about gun control. With “Gun Country,” she hopes that students will feel inspired to continue their activism and active discussion.
“My statement regarding ownership reflects my sincere hope that students might feel inspired to reclaim the gallery as a space that is their distinctly own,” wrote Williams. “Most American cities do not have art galleries that can rival the Addison’s distinguished holdings, and yet here it is on your high school campus. Claim it.”