Culture as Weapon

Review by Nathan RP Young

Spaces 369
Oct 20–Oct 28, 2017

Feature artist: Jennifer Davis, Michael Duffy, Ruthann Godollei, Christopher E. Harrison, Jonathan Herrera, John Schuerman, Sean Smuda

Culture as Weapon” is a newsfeed, an emergency flare and a token of reality. Inside the narrow gallery hang the artworks of eight people working through as many different mediums, each telling familiar stories of human plight, power and violence, national pride and righteous critiques of the State. Bodily traumas and emotional threats persist before, during and after any of us pass through this exhibition, or any other exhibition about violence. Which is why curator John Schuerman says he hopes the artworks inform and invigorate audiences enough to make new choices and go out and do something about it all, anything. Go do something.

So how will this exhibition of drama inspire audiences to volunteer for social change? Schuerman’s multimedia installation retells the story of Minnesota’s deadliest workplace shooting, when in 2012 a former employee of his killed seven people at Accent Signage Systems. Christopher Harrison’s drawing, TEC- DC9, Banned Federal Assault Weapon, Erased, looms through the room, an afterimage of Death’s hand. And Ruthann Godollei’s two prints, an ambulance, (DUE PROCESS), and a broken pane of glass, (EXPLAIN IT TO ME), distill chaos with her signature immediacy. Godollei works with the eye of an advertiser and the heart of an organizer.

The gallery is where the artwork ends and our work begins. This exhibition’s style of activism uses art like smelling salts to awaken a zoned out public. We had “Culture as Weapon” for just eight days, just a whiff. We may have a newfound consciousness, but we’re still dazed, overwhelmed and ready to forget.

Jonathan Herrera’s In Between/ Underneath illustrates this habit of forgetting by covering the gallery floor with a grid of portraits: 65 journalists assassinated since 2014, printed underfoot with mud. Dried and fading, the unnamed faces, tokens of other people’s pain, disappear as the dirt sticks to our shoes.

It all flakes away on our trip home, up the steps, and somewhere inside by the front door. “Culture as Weapon” is only as inspiring as we are willing to be inspired. The trouble with art-as-activism is not about the art at all, it is about us.