Human Condition: "the characteristics, key events, and situations which compose the essentials of human existence… such as birth, growth, conflict, and mortality… including religion, philosophy, history, art, and sociology."
What sums us up as individuals, groups, and nations of today? If we turn to the news for answers, we are bombarded with terrorism, school violence, police brutality, the war in the middle east, homeland security and mass shooting sprees. The list seems to never end. Is this the true state of humanity or have we all fallen prey to the scare tactics of the media… manipulated into fear instead of choosing human intellect?
It’s hard to be unaffected by the world's condition anymore and remain silent. I wondered if it is the artist's obligation to bring a different consciousness to the public in these difficult times? I knew I could no longer pretend the news and the global fear based reactions of our society were not becoming an overwhelming influence on me.
When I started my career twenty years ago, I was a sculptor. There was something authentic about using my hands to translate what I was feeling inside. I went to a scrapyard looking for metal to begin a new body of work to hopefully express everything that was taking place in the world around me. I came across a bucket of AK-47 bullet shells. My first thought was… “What is a bucket of assault rifle grade bullets doing here?” I was so intrigued with the story behind the bullets that I felt the need to buy them, not necessarily knowing what I was going to do with them. But they felt relevant. Questions started surfacing: Who used these bullets? How many of these are around? Was anyone killed with these or did they just belong to a random individual that dumped them here… and if so… why did a civilian feel the need to have an assault riffle?
The questions just kept pouring in. What am I doing as an artist to reflect what's going on in our world? What kind of art could I create to inspire the same questions in other people? I had no intention of projecting a political opinion, but wanted people to think about the accountability of weapons, and more importantly, their own actions and intent. Who should own guns? What is the true need for them? I started researching how to attain more bullets. I went to an ammunition store and was shocked to find out that any type of bullet (including .50 cal military grade live shells) could be easily purchased. Upon giving them my credit card, the store automatically changed my name stating, "We are protecting your identity." So I wondered… who are we trying to hide my name from? Shouldn't I be on a watch list just for buying these? If a .50 cal assault rifle is illegal in the state I live in, then why are they still supplying ammunition for it? Is it that easy to be off the record when purchasing a large amount of ammunition? I wanted to see how far I could push this, so I just kept buying to see who would start questioning me. I bought over 2000 pounds of ammunition (both live rounds and empty shells) and no one was ever concerned. Initially, I thought there was no implied danger in buying used bullet shells. But then I was asked if I needed lead and gun powder to load and make my own live bullets. Yet another way to stay off the radar.
Around the same time, I had to visit my doctor to get a prescription for my migraine medication. I was required to show identification and sign a log to get it filled at the pharmacy. It was easier to buy massive quantities of artillery then to buy medication that posed no threat to anyone, including myself. Should I be concerned? Was anyone keeping track? It became apparent that the issue was not whether weapons should exist but rather how is ownership and purchasing accounted for and who is accountable? I learned that the majority of shootings in the news were carried out with the assault rifle weapons and bullets that I was purchasing... easily attainable with zero accountability. The more I examined the issue, the more questions arose: Why are military grade weapons available to civilians? Why are we inducing fear and promoting people to buy guns instead of legislating gun control? Why are we following a constitutional amendment that was written for a society over 200 years ago when our cultural situation has changed? Why does the United States disarm other countries when we are the #1 manufacturer and supplier of arms to the world? Why do we point the finger at terrorist organizations when we actually deploy more soldiers and kill more civilians in territories that do not belong to us then any other country in the world? I have no intention to force an opinion on anyone… because I do not have all the answers. I would just like people to expand whatever perspective they already have and truly think about the issues at hand.
Is this a fear based world? In a space of fear and stubbornness… will we all fail as human-beings? When someone approaches my art created from bullets, gunpowder, motor oil, shattered highrise glass, byproducts of weapons, terrorism and destruction.... they are intrigued and openminded… not consumed with fear.
So how can we reprogram ourselves to not react to the world out of fear? Can we not approach the issues I am presenting in my art with the same eyes of understanding and humanity? I do not have all the answers… but I do hope that we as a society will begin to introduce different solutions.