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Ballistic Self-Expression

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Twisted hulks of metal, blasted beyond recognition, littered the area. Bullet holes were everywhere, skewering heavy gauge steel and even books -- a hardcover copy of Anne Rice's Taltos was riddled with them. The skull of a deer was blasted open with more bullets, leaving a trail of crimson oozing from the remains of its cranium. No, it wasn't a battle scene from Iraq, Kosovo, Bosnia, or Somalia. It was a show at Barrister's Gallery.

The deer is in fact a taxidermed stag's head, and the crimson is red paint (the can was tied around its neck), though the bullet damage was real. What kind of crazy damn fool would do a thing like that? An artist, that's who. In this case the perp was David Bradshaw, renowned for his Shotworks, as he calls his blasted and bullet-riddled concoctions. The front cover of the Anne Rice book is perforated with holes neatly configured in the shape of a cross. The back cover offers graphic evidence of how bullets can enter cleanly yet explode the innards of men and books alike.

More pock marks appear on a panel of bulletproof glass titled Bulletproof: .22 Long Rifle and .44 Magnum, evidence of how different projectiles express themselves on impact. But the blown-asunder, twisted panels of sheet steel reflect a very different approach. In the 1990s, he undertook a series called Propagation Hazard which involved burying sheets of metal and sculpting them into intriguing new configurations by detonating explosive charges all around them, relying on a mixture of calculation and chance to determine the final outcome. The expressionistic relics of tortured metal seen here exemplify that approach.

Other oddities include a painted panel of Native American symbols also signed by Chief Suh-Nah-Ska and William Burroughs (who died in the midst of another of their collaborations -- he and Bradshaw were frequent co-conspirators). He collaborated with Robert Rauschenberg as well, and although this exhibit resembles evidence taken from a massive crime scene, Bradshaw has a long and consistent history as a serious artist. What to make of it? Damn if I know. But his stuff is always provocative, even though he cannot be held legally responsible for whatever behavior his work might inspire in the viewer.

More martial impulses appear in the work of John Thornton. Most of what we see is an assortment of gold pyramids on wooden pedestals, as well as some assemblages, and it's all somewhat enigmatic, so it might help to know that Thornton is motivated by propaganda and the mechanisms of social control. For instance, In the Beginning There Was the Lie is a little box with a headless ceramic Infant Jesus of Prague figurine held in place by many nails projecting from each side. The title may refer to the way governments have historically put their own spin on things. The golden pyramids comprising his Imperial Crypts series evoke the Masonic pyramids found on dollar bills.

In each, a little lighted porthole offers an image of assassination, electrocution, atom bombs or torture, and no, it's not exactly your uplifting message of holiday cheer. Thornton has some valid points to make and his work has a certain stylishly paranoic cachet, but probably only a conspiracy theorist could fully appreciate all the nuances that underlie his apocalyptic commentaries.

No less edgy is Remains of State, an installation by Mathew Nesbit. What we see is anarchic, a suspended network of reeds, turtle and fish-shaped concoctions, and a variety of hubcaps containing substances such as motor oil and shards of broken glass. The materials were all taken from Lake Pontchartrain, except for the turtles, which are cutouts of aerial maps, and the fish, which were fancifully crafted from magnolia leaves and clay, and the whole thing looks like a freeze-frame view of a duck blind hurled skyward by a mini-tornado (or one of David Bradshaw's explosives).

It also graphically illustrates the extent to which humans intrude on the ecosystem -- those hubcaps and glass shards are obviously not indigenous species. In that sense, Nesbit's installation fulfills one of the time honored purposes of art: revealing the weirdness that lies just below the surface of almost everything we take for granted.

David Bradshaw's .22 Long Rifle and .44 - Magnum is a study in sudden impact, showing - how different projectiles express themselves.
  • David Bradshaw's .22 Long Rifle and .44 Magnum is a study in sudden impact, showing how different projectiles express themselves.

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