Adam Ames (MFA 1997 Photography and Related Media) and Andrew Bordwin of the artist duo Type A are known for their body of work that deals with how men compete and challenge one another. For the SVA exhibition “Being American” (on view at the Visual Arts Gallery, 601 West 26 Street, 15th floor, through Wednesday, December 21, 2011), Type A contributed provocative pieces made of spent bullets, as well as life-size photographs—featuring friends and colleagues posing as criminals—intended for target practice. The Briefs recently caught up with Type A to talk about their work in the show.
Several images from your photo series Trigger are included in “Being American.” Outside of the gallery, these are printed and sold as commercial gun targets. How did the idea for this project come about?
We expanded previous projects, Barrier (2009) and Target (2010), to focus on the fears we face as a society, both real and imagined. The images in Trigger are a catalogue of contemporary threats. We wanted to respond and provide a supply for the commercial demand for such representations. Working with Law Enforcement Targets, Inc. allowed us to have guidance by a non-art world based entity, one that was described by different filters.
Do the people buying them know what they are?
People who buy from Law Enforcement Targets, Inc. know that they are purchasing training targets “for military, government agencies, law enforcement, gun clubs and shooting enthusiasts,” which is what they are. They most likely do not know that they were created by a conceptual art collaborative. But, that does not change the fact that what they buy is what they get. Calling them “Art” only occurs when they are placed in a gallery or museum. Either way, the product is the same.
With this work, what are you trying to say about fear of violent crime and gun possession, and how does that play into the larger picture of America?
In Trigger, we make people confront the nature of threat and fear in contemporary America. We want people to ask questions regarding their own territory and possessions, basically what they have that’s worth protecting, and then, reflect on how they might protect those things. The gun is quintessential American means of defense. However, we are not commenting on the personal/political debate of gun ownership or control. We hope people will follow the discussion we begin and continue it, whether in the gallery or outside, to delve much deeper. Fear, threat and protection are so intensely personal and political that we knew better than to try to change anyone’s mind through a photograph (a notoriously inadequate medium through which to inflict change). We provoke a response to which people respond.
Tell us about Shot (Assemblage Diptych), the new piece you created for “Being American.”
We were searching for new ways to use the accessories of the gun world, i.e. ammunition, targets, as materials for artworks. Upon visiting a range, we were struck by the aesthetics of spent bullets. Somehow they made it onto a “canvas” (actually a wood substrate) and we started thinking about “bullet paintings.” Shot takes the bullet, now rendered non-lethal by its use in target practice, and transforms them into wall art. Regardless of your taste, i.e. whether they are pleasing or repulsive to you, that transformation brings social and political tension into the realm of aesthetics.
How do you see these works fitting into the context of this exhibition?
The works do not attempt to define what it is to be American. Instead, they focus on one aspect of American society that offers both a community and opposition, friend and enemy. The culture of fear that has blossomed in decade after 9/11, promulgated in large part by the Bush Administration, has affected every American as well as those who are specifically not American. It has defined an “us” and a “them.” How one responds to the presence of a looming enemy, an ever-present threat, has been up for debate. Each side of that debate is attempting to claim entitlement to what it is to be a “real American.”
A lot of your work is about male rivalry. You guys work as an art-making team. How does that work?
As a duo, we’re very much in a long-term relationship. We know each other very well and are able to perceive the variations in mood that can affect the creative process. Sometimes we try to get along and make things better. Sometimes we can’t help butting heads and creating tension. So, our ability to work together depends on anything from stress to family to health to schedule to ego. In all seriousness, we see the world very differently in many ways. We do come together on an odd mix of suspicion and idealism. We don’t trust assumptions (especially our own), and use that stance as a motivation to get people to think about what they may consider a resolved issue (as if there are any). Perhaps that’s a bit of a cynical view of society. But we balance that with an optimism that people can have positive, healthy and cathartic responses to direct experience. That and our aesthetic sensibilities mesh in a unique way.
Be sure to see “Being American” in its final week—the exhibition is on view at the Visual Arts Gallery, 601 West 26 Street, 15th floor, through Wednesday, December 21, 2011. For more information, visit www.sva.edu/beingamerican.
Image: Type A, Trigger (LSAR-5), 2011, four-color offset print, 35 x 23 inches, courtesy the artists.