Connie Bostic’s exhibition comes at a particularly interesting time when the conversation about gun control has been rekindled by the violent events of the past couple years, especially the school shootings and mass murders in places like Connecticut and Colorado and the craziness of violent outbursts by right wing extremism in Norway, punctuated and/or capped off by the obscene pronouncements and gestures by the NRA. It is not surprising that the spokespeople for the NRA issued such crazy platitudes like “the only thing that will stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”. This is the pinnacle to which their own ideological fortitude extends. Let us not for a second forget that the ideological underpinnings of such a pronouncement lies in the mythology laid down at the dawn of the American revolution. America is the only place that has actually codified its mythology in a legislative document, the constitution and its amendments. Mythology begat as law. Figures like Mitt Romney and Sarah Palin love these pronouncements because they point to their efforts of turning the whole of American capitalism into an army of experts, versed only in their responsibilities to the state/corporation, unambiguously upholding their laws, set by the institutionalized machine for producing those experts, the university. In this environment, the good guy with the gun does not reflect on his position within the environment he finds himself in, as that is tantamount to heresy, he is simply to do his job of shooting the bad guys with guns. It is interesting that the often quoted clause “shoot first, ask questions later” is not even mentioned these days, as if asking questions is exactly what puts us in a position of the weaker subject. The good guy shoots, without asking questions.
This is however only the background for the exhibition. The whole of the show is much more ambiguous. The conversation extends far into the past as there are works from the early nineties represented alongside newer work. History however is not enough to make this show work, it is only a marker by which one can orient oneself. The fact remains that while the conversation of gun control is a heated debate it is also one which ideologically is unable to be resolved. In this sense a painting of a gun surrounded by a set of toys from 1990 is redoubled by a similar painting several years later. Thus the conversation is always in a state of becoming because the two sides are at a virtual deadlock over the details contained within it. This is what makes the show seem very tragic. Hidden under the slogan for change is the injunction to resist change, and if change is needed then only cosmetic, so as not to undermine each side’s position as that of the truth bearer.
The most successful works seem to be the small and rather softly painted watercolors of guns inside purses. This is what exemplifies the horror of the right wing gun lobby ideology. Far from aestheticising firearms, they point to the violence inherent in a weapon meant to kill or harm, regardless of whether in self defense of direct aggression, without representing it. In an almost Goyaeque way, the paintings assume the position of documentary, but where Goya documents violence and stupidity perpetrated in the everyday state of war, Bostic documents the potentiality of violence disguised as the everyday. Unseen, the weapon does posses a certain amount of subjective power and assumes the role it is supposed to assume, that of a defensive screen between its bearer and the outside, but this is exactly its greatest weakness, because it produces this effect at the expense of that safety net. Carried within itself is the injunction that owning a gun that should make its bearer safer is its complete opposite, that on the contrary, the gun by producing its own hypothetical safety net, actually makes the bearer more susceptible to violence. Hidden by the soft fabric of the purse, the gun however still remains ambiguous, far from being the monster waiting to be released, it is a cold inanimate object with that potential or in the case of a painting, representing it.
The Flood Gallery does a good job of bringing in artists that stir up the pot of controversy, if only temporarily. Bostic’s show is not overly controversial, perhaps that depends on an individual’s reading of her work, and Asheville for the most part will be a receptive audience, as the tone of the show is more or less in line with the general sentiment of the Asheville public. I do feel that perhaps a greater injunction toward a rethinking of the issue is needed here. The ambiguity of the work is its weaker facet. The work seems to want to steer clear of politics, yet there is nothing more political, or invested with social imperatives, than guns and what they represent. This is my personal opinion, yes, but in an increasingly radicalized political climate, in which the position of the left has been largely abandoned for a pseudo-liberal moralistic new-ageisim, what do we have left other than art to turn to for a sense that the world isn’t truly mad? There may be injustice, but the way to correct this is precisely to do the opposite of what we are compelled to do, that is to say we need to turn away from violence precisely at a point when increased violence seems like the only way out.