This November, EVOKE Contemporary’s Railyard gallery space transforms into a military cache with Jason Siegel and Keith D’Angelo’s innovative sculptural art installation, Shoot Portraits, Not People. Sniper rifles, Uzis, claymore mines and even a 1947 Willys Jeep will occupy the gallery in a jarring and immersive display of military paraphernalia. Upon closer inspection of this provocative exhibit, however, we find lenses disguised as grenades, photo winders in place of triggers and film canisters strung together as ammunition belts. Denver-based duo Siegel and D’Angelo, professional photographer and accomplished metal artist respectively, build anatomically correct weapons from sourced camera parts to create interactive and powerful installations that comment on the violent abuse of these artful machines, while cleverly exposing the shared vocabulary associated with photography and weaponry.
Due to our current political climate, blatant imagery of guns or high-powered weaponry instills a recoiling, shuddering feeling in many of us. For others, it sparks heated debate on the timely and controversial issues surrounding gun control. Shoot Portraits, Not People takes a clear stance against gun violence with the project’s overt title, but Siegel and D’Angelo also bring up an intriguing perspective through the presentation of the work itself. Their assemblage sculptures are constructed to be extremely anatomically correct; they are startling in their accuracy and resemblance of real weaponry. (So much so that cops were called on their first exhibit to investigate the illegal sale of firearms.) They’re also placed in an immersive display, transporting the viewer into an armed bunker complete with military themed props and accessories. Some responses to the project have been negative; who wants to see moreabrasive imagery of assault rifles and machine guns? Once we realize, however, that these “guns” are actually conglomerated camera parts, we can relax some of our initial anxieties and curiously explore the sculptures’ intelligent and innovative construction. Some of the “guns” can even be held, dissolving the irrational fear of an accidental trigger pull or unexplained explosion. We notice the intricacies of each piece’s anatomy and maybe even begin to see the composition of high powered-weaponry as an art form in itself.
In this way, Shoot Portraits, Not People pays homage to the aesthetics of these complex machines while simultaneously taking a stance against them, or at least the way we see them being used today. “As far as taking a position with the project, it’s right there in the name,” says D’Angelo, whose social work studies and humanitarian interests fueled his enthusiasm for the project. “We walk a thin line,” adds Siegel. “It’s an anti-violence campaign, but doesn’t condemn the recreational use of firearms. It’s a juxtaposed position in the art world.”
Shoot Portraits, Not People shifts the conversation on gun-violence to a middle ground that refuses to demonize the guns themselves, but stands firmly against their uncontrolled and violent presence in today’s society. The project consequently raises important questions and sparks thought-provoking perspectives on the subject, inserting a new point of view into an ongoing conversation. Siegel and D’Angelo are brainstorming charitable ways the project can support victims of gun-violence or contribute to anti-violence organizations. “The project has already realized some of its potential, but I think we have much more of an audience to reach,” says Siegel.