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Wednesday 10.22.08

« Politics & Community | Main | Bridge Design Panel »

Todd Johnson at PNCA

Dangerous Territory at PNCA

Collectors tend to be a certain type of hermetic, detail-oriented person and those who collect weapons in a serious way are a very rare breed.

For example, those who collect guns and knives are particularly private, even gruffly territorial about their obsessions. They usually don't want the rest of the world know what they have and they seldom actually use their rarer pieces. Instead, it is a private expression of personal freedom through connoisseurship and appreciation, an intensely inward pursuit. It is also very much in keeping with the idea of the West as a frontier by internalizing the personal arms that were necessary in less civilized circumstances.

This brings up important questions. So is the fetish of the sovereign armed "individual" as truly crucial to being an American as the NRA thinks? What's more the right to bear arms is in Bill of Rights, which is not something to tinker with lightly. Lastly, why is owning a weapon seemingly such a defensive, don't tread on me stance? Is it the implied threat? If so, isn't every wine bottle and rock also a weapon? Where does the line get drawn?

The Americana of it is interesting.... for example I never hear about the French endlessly arguing whether it is legal to have a guillotine collection and the British don't seem to make a big deal about collecting night sticks… though the Irish do love their shillelaghs. It begs the question, is it a personal refuge into anachronism or simply just a private interest that gives existential satisfaction? It is likely both.


So what does it mean when an artist starts collecting these intensely private worlds in a series of photographs as Todd Johnson has done with his Dangerous Territory exhibition at PNCA?

First off, this show is particularly well installed, and the most subtle political show I've seen this month. The knives are all mounted near the floor with the points facing up. The guns are aimed in opposing directions in a dueling configuration. This hang mimics a collector's presentation and Johnson has made certain each print has the same neutral background. The net effect emphasizes the seriality of the show along with the details of each piece in relation to others.


By hanging these works with such dry, deliberately latent violence the gallery becomes a kind front yard. The knives are a picket fence and the guns seem to be a scenario of "next step" if someone trespasses the gallery's fenced space.

Yet there is such detail in the cold black and white prints that one wants to linger when looking at the more eye level gun images. Are the guns proxy images for our highly partisan politics? Are the knives the independents that ultimately define the political scene? The show succeeds by not overstating its implications.


We first saw a glimpse of some of these works over a year ago in Linfield but I'm glad Johnson chose to display the black and white weapons during this politically charged October. The show doesn't answer any questions but its tenseness certainly seems to embody our times, while providing a glimpse into an anachronistic continuum that gives these uncertain times an odd sense of déjà vu.

at PNCA (in the main building near the prinkmaking studios)

Posted by Jeff Jahn on October 22, 2008 at 13:55 | Comments (0)


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