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American Gun Show Uses Art and 3D Printing to Start a Conversation about Guns

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Machine Gun Jesus by Barbosa Prince.

The United States Constitution for the most part is a remarkably well written document that lays down in clear and precise language the framework for our nation, however, there are exceptions. Whichever side that you fall on in the debate over the Second Amendment, it is hard to deny that it is a little vague and uncharacteristically unclear, especially in comparison to the rest of the document. Which perhaps is partially responsible for much of the disagreement over how gun ownership can, should and will be legally regulated. In a perfect world, the members of each side of the issue should be able to sit down and hammer out a clearer meaning, but sadly that isn’t the world that we live in.

Invariably the comment section of any news article that even mention guns will typically divide itself into three distinct groups. Those who are almost irrationally opposed to any sort of gun regulation, those who are almost irrationally opposed to any sort of gun ownership and the rest – sadly a majority – stuck in the middle of the issue and hated by both sides. While seeking any sort of nuanced discussion online is a fool’s errand, it often seems to be especially difficult to have a levelheaded conversation about guns. Obviously there is bound to be dischord over just about any issue, but it seems the two sides of this specific issue are completely unwilling to even attempt to meet each other in the middle.

American Gun Show at the Works San José gallery.

American Gun Show at the Works San José gallery.

It was this lack of reasoned conversation that prompted artists James Morgan and Dorothy Santos to present the American Gun Show art exhibit. The show is attempting to start a conversation about the United States’ obsession with guns, not by focusing on one side of the issue, but by bringing artists from both sides together and exposing the entirety of the complexity of the issue. Obviously Morgan and Santos had their work cut out for them. The roots of the art exhibition started with Morgan, who saw a different side of guns and gun culture when he 3D printed and built his own Liberator Pistol.

Prototype by Nika Cherelle.

Prototype by Nika Cherelle.

“In the process of assembling the gun I was struck by the mechanical quality of it and the immense amount of engineering that went into it—it was truly sublime being awe-inspired and terrifying. The question I was left with about the file being restricted as a munition was ‘what is a gun?’ This question finds its way into the exhibition multiple times in the mini-Liberator (scaled-down version of Cody’s Liberator) and a few other works. This tension between the First and Second Amendments also became an interesting focus as an artist,” Morgan told the Creators Project.

The American Gun Show has pieces by almost thirty different artists, each with different points of view and art made in a wide variety of mediums, with four of the pieces being 3D printed. One of the more humorous, and sure to be controversial, works in the show is Prototype, created by artist Nika Cherelle. Her piece is easy to think of as commentary on the “ammosexual” stereotype because it depicts a golden handgun with an erect penis standing in for the barrel of the gun. However, her gun dildo sculptures were actually intended more as playful and subversive sex toys, she is even trying to manufacture real silicone sex toys from her original designs. Subtle she most certainly isn’t, but her presence in the show was intentional, just as all of the unconventional artists who were selected.

Prototype by Nika Cherelle.

Prototype by Nika Cherelle.

“Half of our exhibition includes women and women of color, which most people didn’t expect. We also took a chance by looking at the work and not considering the political stances of each artist because we wanted [varied] perspectives. This topic can easily become myopic if we considered curating particular works with a specific agenda. It was challenging to curate a show that was neutral, but we tried hard to do this,” explained Santos.

Cosmic Gun by Annie Wan.

Cosmic Gun by Annie Wan.

Some ofthe other stand out 3D printed art pieces from the show include the 3D printed Cosmic Gun made by Annie Wan, which takes the shape of a gun and turns it into a tool of science. Rather than shooting bullets, the Cosmic Gun will detect cosmic rays that have originated outside of our solar system. Artist Joseph DeLappe 3D printed a massive AK-47 extracted from data found in first person shooter video games being held by a giant featureless polygon man. The bright orange installation is called The Terrorist Other and it is a commentary on the use of stereotyped versions of real world people and conflicts in video games, and how this tends to blur reality and fiction together.

The Terrorist Other by Joseph DeLappe.

The Terrorist Other by Joseph DeLappe.

Morgan credits Santos more than himself with the balanced nature of the show. The daughter of a military veteran, she spent most of her childhood around guns and her childhood had a large impact on her own thoughts on gun culture. Both artists said that the reaction to the show has been extremely mixed, from people on both sides of the debate. However, Morgan insists that most of the conversations that he’s had about the show have been civil and productive, something that he credits with the wide variety of artists that were chosen for the show.

“It was the level of responsibility and safety that come from our ‘gun enthusiast’ artists that convince me that as a people we could shut down a lot of incidental gun violence if we just talked to each other and more importantly listened. We tried to not make this about politics, to make a safe space to visit and be challenged by the work, and hopefully to have a chuckle, too,” Morgan said.

The end game for Morgan and Santos is that the exhibits visitors leave American Gun Show questioning their opinions on firearm legislation and how they can be more informed and aware of the issues related to gun safety. As with most art, all of the works on display were created to start a conversation, and in this case it is a conversation long overdue. The American Gun Show will be on display until November 15 at the Works San José gallery in San José, California.

Discuss this story in the American Gun Show forum thread on


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