By DAVID BEARDEN
I was 22 years old in 1999, the year of the Columbine High School shooting. I will never forget my empty gasp and loss of breath as I heard about two young men who entered their school heavily armed and began shooting their unsuspecting classmates.
I couldn’t believe it was real. Why? How? What would push a young person to the point of causing such devastation? This was not the first documented school shooting, but it was the first I can remember hearing about. I felt numb for days afterward trying to wrap my mind around such intentional violence.
Artist Eilene Carver said, “The thought of ‘Small Targets’ originally came from the heartbreaking stories of the Stockton school shooting, which took place a mere thirty minutes from UC Berkeley where I was a graduate student.” It was after the Sandy Hook Elementary school massacre in 2012 that Carver decided to create her series of work titled, ‘Targets,’ currently on display at the MCL Grand Art Gallery until July 29th. She states, “An ever-growing occurrence, I remain as shocked at the thought of children as “targets” as I was that day.”
Carver’s work implores the viewer to (re)visit a select group of gun violence incidents felt by our country. The tragic loss of innocent life at the hands of killers is not hinted at but rather brought right to the surface and shouted through a virtual megaphone. She carefully and poignantly employs symbolic representation intermixed with images of the victims. Her craft as an artist is realized as both technical media application and narrative-weaving, leaving the viewer stunned and empathetic towards the family and loved ones left to try to make sense of the loss.
Carver juxtaposes the morbidity of death with colorful palettes and symbols of hope. It is obvious from first glance that Carver was moved by the tragedies to utilize her craft as an artist. She carefully documents the details and simultaneously pays respect to the victims, often young and purely innocent. She is bold in her attempt to tackle, through her art-making, a most unthinkable crime, something most of us can not fathom. And while that would be enough to encourage discussion and grief processing, she adds a layer of political underpinnings which demand we question the morality, general safety and rightful decisions of our lawmakers.
One key element to note in her series is the amount of research she undertook prior to and during the work. The pieces are not simple anti–gun advertisements or lazy thumbing-of-her-nose at the gun industry. Never did I get the idea her motivation was to generalize those for whom guns are an integral part of their lives.
She does not offer simple solutions to complex problems or claim to have any answers. Rather her work serves to rattle us to a reactionary space of honest and fearless dialogue, which can possibly lead to substantial overhauling of how guns can function safely in our society. Her work is factual and documentarian, hopeful and heartbreaking.
Carver honors various “targets” throughout the series, reminding us how the most vulnerable are preyed upon. She begs us to question why specific demographics of people are seen as targets rather than equally human.
You can not simply admire her work as a testament to her skill as an artist. Something deeper and more profound is stirred and agitated. She invites the viewer in, exposes the awful reality and implants a desire to conduct one’s own research in an effort to affect positive change. If human life is to be valued, she calls us to carry the weight of the violence, a collective admission of our role in how mass shootings have become far too commonplace.
The role art does or should play has been debated since the first marks were made on cave walls. Art can be decorative, provocative, personal, communicative and/or many other adjectives thus proving its constant state of evolution and purpose. Carver uses her craft in multiple ways demonstrating that our one-liner definitions are often subpar at packaging the powerful nature of visual expression. She is adept at creating compositions that can stand alone. She is skilled at using color to stimulate the substrate and further enhance mood. She utilizes symbols that are both personal and universal.
Carver has created a series of works that are visually engaging and pleasing while weaving throughout stories of horrific violence. This is not an easy task, a testament to her personal commitment to not stand idly by but rather fully engage with her necessary gifts. I strongly encourage you to visit the MCL Grand and spend some time with “Targets,” then go back out into the world and do what you can to prevent such future violence.
Carver’s exhibits her work through the Visual Art League of Lewisville, after winning their 2016 “Fresh Ideas” juried exhibition. The works are on display Tuesday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and during public performances through Saturday, July 29 in the art gallery at the MCL Grand Theater, 100 N. Charles St.