Gun Show @ WPA

John James Anderson is a artist who works in ideas more than in any physical medium; the work he shows is often more proof-of-concept than finished product. In that sense at least, WPA’s Coup d’Espace Project series, as much an idea about exhibition as a gallery space, is the perfect container for Anderson’s rough draft of inquiry about guns and the District.

What had been premised as a “gun store for my next project” turns out, by the time of its launch, to be show of texts about guns. Maybe this reflects WPA’s series requirement that installations include “no pyrotechnics”, and the actual firearms will come up in another place at another time. That itself reflects a real part of our discourse about guns: it’s always someone else, somewhere else, where they actually set it off.

The center of Anderson’s installation is about three-dozen blockquotes representing many details, positions, and curiosities of the gun debate, each looking like a a breakout quote torn from a gargantuan newspaper. Anderson’s work has taken on the newspaper as an obsolescing source of community debate before. Each quote is hand-lettered to look like the tatty carbon copies that are for Anderson the state of the debate, and hand-torn to simulate the care-worn state of each side of the issue.

Handmade replacements for machine processes is the other element of the installation’s design. Accompanying Anderson’s quotewall are seven plainly datacharts hand-drawn in colored pencil. They show the distribution of schools, churches, groceries, and other cultural assets ward-by-ward in the district. Like Anderson’s wall, the charts echo previously-uttered positions; the artist’s effect seems to be a net loss of clarity.

But in these issues, what seems to be clarity is often only stubbornness, and a chart that clearly demonstrated that people get shot where there are bars and not where there are hospitals would first be denounced by the other side before anyone got a chance to think about what that might mean. That’s how we roll these days.

Anderson’s handmade look extends to the digital realm, and we couldn’t have it any other way, I think. “Five Years of D.C. Homicides” is a 10-minute flash animation that counterpoints the kid-simple wall charts with a jittery text and rolling counter of deaths and non-gun deaths in the District 2006-10. Blown up big on WPA’s flat screen, Anderson’s flash can’t help but project a seething nervousness. Are we rooting for non-gun deaths to pull ahead? Sorry kid, not gonna happen here —

Anderson’s handmade data and phantom news quotes brought together a room of people who may have thought they agreed on this issue, only to find, in the confines of the Coup d’Espace, that they were much less sure. In times when all sides of any issue seem galvanized in righteousness, much more in need of debate than they can admit to themselves, Anderson’s puzzling tentative and inconclusive Gun Show becomes, not the conclusion it wanted to be perhaps, but instead a good start.

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