It was the violence in Chicago that spurred Jessica Fenlon to do a video art piece about guns.
“You read the news on Monday and 50 people would have been shot,” said Fenlon, who now lives in Milwaukee but used to live in the city.
Fenlon’s piece, titled “Ungun,” is on display alongside work from 20 other contemporary artists at Northern Illinois University Art Museum’s “Unloaded” exhibit, taking place through Oct. 24. Her video was made by a technique called glitching, where the artist uses digital tools to break down an image. It also incorporates sound bites from movies where guns are germane to the plot.
The entire show explores the social and political issues surrounding firearms. It has toured other areas and is now coming to a campus that was involved in a tragic shooting in 2008.
“[Guns are] uniquely part of American history compared to other countries,” Fenlon said. “This object is used to kill more Americans than any other consumable goods or consumable objects. The climate in America is so intensely wrapped in extreme attitudes about it and extreme fear or grief.”
Suzanne Slavick, curator of the exhibit and Carnegie Mellon University art professor based in Pittsburgh, said the university was very sensitive to that aspect of the show.
“With shows like these or any artwork that deals with trauma, there is a tension between opening wounds and doing further harm,” Slavick said. “I think this show tries to give a larger picture across the country and even abroad. Hopefully it’ll provide context.”
Not only will various artwork be displayed throughout the museum, but it also will feature a public lecture by Slavick.
Stuart Henn, director of marketing and education for the NIU Art Museum, said he’s “really excited” about hearing her lecture.
“I think that will be a wonderful event,” Henn said. “I think because of the timeliness of these topics, [the exhibition] will relate to recent social issues and conversations.”
Conversations, actually, are a part of Fenlon’s involvement. In addition to her multimedia piece, Fenlon said she’s going to have a session where people can come speak to her one-on-one.
“It’s a real departure for me so I’m looking forward to it,” she said. “I feel very strongly that show needed to have that space to come back to it and say the thing that happened to them.”
Fenlon will host a creativity workshop from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Friday.
On Oct. 8, poets will read their pieces for a segment called “Guns and Consequences.” An installation for an art piece called “Send and Receive” will take place on Oct. 17.
Since NIU had been directly impacted by a shooting tragedy, a lot of pre-planning had to go into the event, Henn said.
“We did not take this decision lightly,” he said. “We consulted with the exhibition committee and key leadership at NIU.”