In April 2013, I started listening to “Grenade” by Bruno Mars:
Easy come, easy go, that’s just how you live
Oh take, take, take it all but you never give
Should’ve known you were trouble from the first kiss
Had your eyes wide open, why were they open?
Gave you all I had and you tossed it in the trash
You tossed it in the trash, you did
I started thinking about how wrapped up the language of love is with violent imagery. I know it’s not an original topic, but I think it’s worth revisiting. You don’t enter into love. You fall into love. Cupid shoots you in the heart. I will die without you. Hearts are broken. Until death do us part. Music lyrics repeat the rhetoric of love and violence back to us.
Then the week of April 15th, 2013 happened. Let me recap: At 2:49PM in Boston, two men exploded pressure cooker bombs at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. A few days later, the entire Boston Metropolitan area was “sheltering-in-place” while the bombers and police re-enacted Fast and Furious 3 in the city streets. Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., the Senate failed to pass the Manchin-Toomey Background Check Deal, a piece of legislation supported by 90% of Americans that would have closed loopholes and forced gun-dealers to check the backgrounds of their customers. Also that week, more than twenty cars in twenty cities in Iraq were packed with explosives and detonated killing seventy-five people. The violence was aimed at disrupting provincial elections on April 20th. To say nothing of the attacks that week in Somalia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria, and Bangalore, India or the rockets fired into Israel on Wednesday, Thursday, and Sunday that week.
From the comfort of my studio in Montreal, I thought about how easy it is to shake my head at violence while listening to Bruno Mars sing,
To give me all your love is all I ever asked
‘Cause what you don’t understand
Is I’d catch a grenade for ya
Throw my hand on the blade for ya
I’d jump in front of a train for ya
You know I’d do anything for ya
In my lifetime, it is unlikely I will see a grenade explode. I will most likely never hold an AK-47. I will never experience a bomb explosion. As such, I will never really be able to muster the empathy needed to fully comprehend the reality of violence. And because of that, violence is a beautiful abstraction. Violence is colorful, dramatic, theatrical. I experience it vicariously in awful movies about spies racing in Minis through the streets of Paris. I watch men punching each other in the face on the hockey rink while I eat chicken wings on the couch. I revel in Warhol’s Orange Car Crash Fourteen Times. And I listen to music without thinking too much about the reality of the lyrics.
One of my favorite paintings is William Adolphe Bouguereau‘s Dante and Virgil in Hell. The protagonists watch as the con artist Gianni Schicchi bites the alchemist Capocchio on the neck in the most homoerotic way possible. And there lies the lure of violence: it is intimate because it is physical. It is sexy because it is powerful. We are reminded of violence everywhere. Security checks are becoming commonplace. You enter a concert, your backpack is checked for weapons. You get on a plane, your shoes are checked for bombs. Signs at hospitals and schools tell you guns are prohibited, as if it is normal to carry guns and these places are the exception.
Violence is part of humanity. It has been with us since the beginning of time and will be with us until the end of time. But so has mythology and religion and unicorns and evil spirits and bad magic. What if violence wasn’t something we actually did but something we simply thought of? What if violence was simply a rhetoric? Not something we did, but something we imagined. It’s beautiful power reserved for song lyrics and pretty pictures.
So I asked myself, what if I embrace the culture of violence, its erotic quality and potency? And then I thought about the objects of violence: weapons. I’d much rather have a picture of a handgun than an actual handgun. I would rather drop an electrofunk bomb than a real one. I would rather have a grenade that exploded in color than one that sent shrapnel flying through the air or into the legs of a runner finishing a marathon. I began to think that those violent song lyrics were not talking about weapons of destruction but weapons of affection. They were recasting grenades and bombs and guns, removing them from the theatre of havoc and chaos and putting them squarely in the arsenal of love and intimacy. They are changing their moral colour.
I began to imagine what these weapons would look like: two-dimensional reductions of form, multiple colors. The result is a series of prints, “Love Guns & Other Weapons of Affection”, that present a grenade, a bomb, an assault rifle, and a handgun as colorful memories of their actual counterparts.
8”x10” print; 2013 ; edition of 100; signed & numbered