Artists aim at impact of violence

Kurt Shaw
| Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

One only need read this newspaper to know that violence is a part of everyday life in this country. From local teen shootings and family-on-family homicides to mass killings at theaters, churches and schools, Americans have not only become used to the daily reportage of violence in the news, but, unfortunately, many of us have become desensitized to it.

In response, Society for Contemporary Craft has mounted an impressive exhibit. Titled “ENOUGH Violence: Artists Speak Out,” it features 48 works by 14 artists from the United States, Scotland and Italy who investigate the impact violence has on our daily lives and the role the arts can play in restoring peace and security.

Though violence takes on many forms, the artist chose to focus on three: street crime, domestic abuse and war.

Street crime was the inspiration behind Rhode Island-based artist Boris Bally's dramatic “Brave III: Necklace,” which is comprised of 100 handgun triggers. A former Pittsburgh resident, Bally was involved in the city's first gun buyback program in 1994, known as the Goods4Guns Anti-violence Coalition.

An attractive piece, similar in look to a Native American bear claw necklace, it simultaneously pulls the viewer in with its well-crafted form, then stuns one with the realization that the piece is constructed entirely of reclaimed handgun triggers.

Dauvit Alexander of Glasgow, Scotland, also addresses street violence through well-crafted jewelry. His necklace, “Lyndsay: Crash,” is one of several ingenious jewelry pieces on display by the metalsmith that are directly inspired by the stories of young people he interviewed who had experienced violent acts firsthand.

The necklace holds a medallion, at the center of which is a piece of a taillight that Alexander pulled from a car crash. It relates to the story of a young woman named Lyndsay, who was chased down on a sidewalk by a car driven by a gang member. The attack was in retaliation for her speaking up against gang violence in her neighborhood.

Lyndsay's story, as well as that of the other three victims who are the subject of Alexander's jewelry, can be found in a beautiful book and photographs that accompany the pieces.

Jewelry also is the mode of expression for Stephen Saracino of Buffalo, N.Y. His “Columbine Survival Bracelet” made entirely of silver makes reference to the 1999 Columbine High School massacre in Littleton, Colo. Featuring two guns facing each other and tiny bullets intended to be used in them, it suggests that no one is safe, ever.

Domestic abuse is addressed in works like “Untitled (Flag)” by Kate Kretz of Colesville, Md. A massive Band-Aid forming an American flag, it features a bloodstain in the middle that is made entirely of embroidery, but looks oh-so-real.

Conversely, real Band-Aids were the raw material of choice for Beth Barron of St. Paul, Minn. Her mandala-like piece “Implosion I” is made almost entirely of actual found bandages, many of which have bloodstains.

War is the topic of Doug Beube's piece “Blast: If You See Something, Say Something.” Made to look like an Improvised Explosive Device, or IED, that would be stuffed inside a dufflebag, the dynamite in this piece is made from 16 volumes of the Encyclopedia Brittanica, which Beube has altered into “cylindrical books.”

In his statement he writes: “This IED is antithetical to those homemade weapons, which aim to destroy life. When these altered books metaphorically discharge, the books imaginatively burst into streams of knowledge, which strike everyone in the target zone with either wisdom or propaganda.”

He adds that the artwork does not actually explode, “but it certainly appears dangerous.”

The consequence of violence is the gist of “Incarceration” by Keith W. Smith of Kennesaw, Ga. Basically a larger-than-life terracotta head confined and partially punctured by a steel cage, it suggests the ultimate outcome for many a perpetrator, and offers a moment of contemplation from another perspective.

Finally, Pittsburgh artist Blaine Siegel presents a collage and video he created while an artist in residence at Wilkinsburg High School earlier this year.

According to a study by the Commonwealth Foundation of Harrisburg released last summer, the Wilkinsburg School District is the most violent in the state. Upon learning of this, Siegel made a video combining interior shots of the high school with audio of a speech given by Malala Yousafzai, an outspoken proponent for girls' education in Pakistan who survived an assassination attempt by the Taliban in October of last year.

The two-minute video titled “I Speak Not for Myself” is definitely worth experiencing, and is a must-see component to an exhibit that really highlights the pervasive effects of violence throughout the world, not just in this country alone.

Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at

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