NOVA Gallery, Philippines・2013
One pull of the trigger and the bullet is fired. The ammunition’s casing is ejected from the weapon’s chamber. As it is disengaged, the projectile performs its act of destruction to man, animal, object and property. In a nanosecond, what once contained projectile, propellant and primer together becomes waste material. It is a shell, at once empty and full because, perceived like an indexical footprint, thumb mark or track, it is doomed as a collateral of its source. A used cartridge is the junk of gun use and this is the reason for its infamy.
For several years now, the ammunition shell has been used as raw material of Josephine Turalba’s art, incarnated as sculpture, costume or prop-object of and for performance. Seen as critical sign and decorative motif, it has drawn its own audience both in praise and in opposition to its employment as semiotic trope and strategy; a preponderant observation being that it promotes gun use and by extension, violence. Nothing could be further from the truth. Much can be understood by unpacking the process.
At the outset, defining it as re-use is flawed. The shell is not used again as cartridge or any of its collateral forms. Neither is it broken down into raw materials to make new ones. In fact, being torn apart prevents its re-use.
The term recycle may apply but it needs to be qualified further. The Dictionary of Sustainable Management provides that most recycled industrial nutrients (materials) lose viability or value in the process of recycling. This means they can only be used in a degraded form for components other than their original use. White writing paper, for example, is often down-cycled into materials such as cardboard and cannot be used to create more premium writing paper.
In Turalba’s works, the ammunition shell is down-cycled. But equally, because the material has been given a new lease in life as artwork, it may well be up-cycled to mean the process as the conversion of waste materials into new and useful ones.
The rationale of recycling is to avert the negative environmental effects of unbridled industrial production. If we cast the idea of violence as a class of human production that intentionally uses force and power, threatened or actual, against another person, group or community regardless of the intention or effects, the artist’s strategy certainly runs parallel.
Understood as a basis of our existence, the production of violence comes in the form of unbridled instinct for survival and a culture’s resistance or imposition of itself against another. Isn’t this collateral to the development of civilization itself?
Apparent in history, the question and challenge for man seems to be the containment and control of violence either by force that explains much of scientific and technological advancement, or by taking the position of non-violence for which countless causes in its name have been raised.
Of control and containment, there is the armed forces and penal system in governments, prime examples of what Judith Butler consider as structures of bellicosity that take various tributary forms in civil and private life.
Of non-violence, there too is irony. Contrary to popular notion, non-violence is a struggle. It is hardly a quiescent practice as Mahatma Gandhi’s reflections likewise reveal. Butler eloquently describes it in her essay The Claim to Non-Violence: “ It is precisely because one is mired in violence that the struggle exists and that the possibility (italics mine) of non-violence emerges… it is not the same as determinism… and that is also why the struggle often fails… Non-violence is precisely neither a virtue nor a position and certainly not a set of principles that are applied universally. It denotes the mired and conflicted position of a subject who is injured, rageful, disposed to violent retribution and nevertheless struggles against that action. The struggle against violence accepts that violence is one’s own possibility.”
A quick scan of hostilities between and among people in the name of religion, social justice, territory, race and tradition clearly evidences that Butler’s reflections are hardly rhetoric. The spate of aggression against women’s bodies and spirits inflicted by husbands and kiln continue to be horrendous realities. In these scenarios, the profile of gun use is high. Bullets pelt the pelts of humanity. They are spewed alongside the trajectories of violence.
A used cartridge shell means a bullet has been fired. A bullet, where it hits, causes relative destruction. For this reason, its empty shell continues to have a life as a highly charged raw material for art, capable of framing a strong context to forms and configurations as the works of the exhibit attest.
Highly misunderstood, its infamy will continue.