Fear and Loathing at the Strip Mall Gun Range
Violent tragedies like the shootings at Newtown, Connecticut's Sandy Hook Elementary and Aurora, Colorado's Century movie theater continue to change our concepts of fear and safety. Our relationship to that fear, both real and imagined, begin to grow, mutate, and fold in on themselves in ways we cannot predict. In the end, it's hard not to feel helpless. The thought that we are never truly safe can cause some to retreat inside their homes and others to go out and buy even more guns. The first time we witnessed this phenomenon was back in 2001 when Manhattan became clogged up with all sorts of barriers, fences, and security personnel. The urban territory in which we'd been working for so many years began to transform in ways that changed both the reality and the appearance of safety. Our interest in that territory of fear has been the driving force behind most of our projects ever since. It's times like these, when Americans feel that the existential threat is coming from within instead of without, that the phenomenon of fear is its most potent and pernicious.
This series, which we call Trigger, started back in 2010 when our friend wanted to celebrate her birthday going to an indoor shooting range. The shooting range she chose was nestled in a strip mall, completely unremarkable until we entered and saw the selection of target posters they had for sale. These posters showed human figures in a variety of threatening situations, printed large enough to almost be full scale. The photographs looked like somebody invited a few friends over, dressed them up with whatever was available in his closet, and photographed them with a low-grade point-and-shoot film camera. But through all of that, all the fear and hate that America has to offer came shining through. There was a vaguely Latino guy holding a young boy hostage, grabbing him by the neck with one hand and holding a gun to his head with the other. There were men dressed up as Arab terrorists, complete with suicide bomber vests. There was a teenager holding a gun on another teenager, as if out of a Columbine reenactment. In another poster, a large man in overalls vaguely pointed a revolver in our direction. It was the most gripping and immediate use of photography we'd seen in years, and we bought one of each.
Law Enforcement Targets, Inc. of Blaine Minnesota manufactures these posters. We called them up and asked him if we could create our own series of target posters. They welcomed the chance for us to create new poster lines. At the time we were busy planning an exhibition of our work at the Aldrich Museum in Connecticut, so the first set of pictures were shot at the museum using the staff as prime players in the drama. LET accepted a selection of this first batch and marketed them as the "Workplace Violence" line. Since then, they have printed "Urban Street Violence," "Liquor Store Armed Robbery," "Real Life Zombies" (yes, we got to make ourselves and our friends into zombies for target practice), and now the "Mass Transit" series. We've done a total of 60 posters in this Trigger project, which are for sale by LET and several more will soon be in production. LET has sold over 330,000 Type A posters as of December 2012. So, people all over the country are buying our pictures, shooting at them, and hanging them up afterwards or just throwing them away.
Trigger lives in two worlds, each with its own standards. As art, it explores the way we depict threat. As a commercial product, it satisfies a popular need for the image of the "enemy," a target we can shoot at to train ourselves for the day we are the ones faced with a wicked mass shooter hell-bent on inflicting harm on the weak and helpless. It is in the sense of the latter that the most satisfying aspect of this project has been actually shooting the images ourselves. It offers a peculiar sense of closure.
New York-based Type A is the collaboration of Adam Ames and Andrew Bordwin. Starting in 1998, Type A has increasingly focused on urgent issues facing our societies today: territory, fear, safety, and authority. They've also sought to place work outside the usual contemporary art world venues. Type A has exhibited around the world and you can see more of their work here.
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