'Arsenal' artist talks about subculture of paper-weapon design ahead of Jepson exhibit

pdonohue@beaufortgazette.comApril 25, 2013 


    WHERE: Jepson Center, 207 W. York St., Savannah

    WHEN: April 26-Sept. 22

    COST: $12

    DETAILS: www.telfair.org

It was the ingenuity and inventiveness of the paper guns and other weapons being made by boys as young as 8 that first struck St. Louis artist Sarah Frost.

Some were crudely made using wads of tape while others were significantly more sophisticated, intricate and realistic, such as a six-shooter with revolving chambers or an M134 Vulcan machine gun made using 1,400 sheets of white paper.

While doing research for another project, Frost, 45, who specializes in found forms and repurposing discarded, outdated or unwanted objects, had stumbled upon a little-known or talked about community of boys ages 8 to about 15 who posted YouTube tutorials on how to make hundreds of different types of paper guns.

The boys would teach other different tricks -- such as how to make the curved form of a certain ammunition magazine -- and try to outdo each other as Frost, who had little prior knowledge about guns or gun culture, watched with fascination.

"It was so interesting to me how industrious these boys were with the design and construction of these paper guns," Frost said. "And they would talk to each other and ask each other questions ... It was this community of sculptors, really."

Frost soon began following the tutorials and built more than 300 paper bazookas, pistols, assault rifles and machine guns for "Arsenal," an installation that debuted at Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis (Mo.) in 2010 and opens April 26 at the Jepson Center in Savannah. The exhibitions runs through Sept. 22.

As part of the installation, the replica weapons, made entirely from paper, tape and glue, are suspended from the ceiling by monofilament with the exception of machine guns, sniper files and other weapons, which sit on tripods.

It took Frost a "very busy nine months" to build the piece, which also features a number of weapons inspired by the popular video game, "Halo," a favorite among the boys.

"Most of it was relatively easy to re-create, but there were some weapons -- like the revolver with the spinning chambers -- that looked deceptively easy but are really hard to make," she said. "Also, building the tripods, I mean how do you make something stand up on a paper tripod? As I was putting the piece together, I couldn't get over how skilled and knowledgeable these boys were to have done all of this."

The arrival of Frost's provocative exhibition comes as Congress and state lawmakers across the country debate laws regulating the sale of deadly weapons in the wake of mass shootings in Aurora, Colo., and Newtown, Conn.

Museum officials had scheduled the exhibit long before the Newtown shooting on Dec. 14, when 26 people, most of them children, were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and they considered canceling or postponing the exhibit, said Lisa Grove, director/CEO of Telfair Museums.

Ultimately, they decided to the show would go on.

"We feel like the role of museums sometimes is to get people thinking about the world around them and about contemporary life," Grove said. "Also, this isn't a political installation. It has no political point-of-view. That's what we liked so much about ("Arsenal"), it's unclear about what position it might be taking and allows the viewer to contemplate the issue. It's very open-ended."

Frost agreed and said her piece is apolitical.

"I made this piece in 2009, and it debuted in 2010, so it wasn't inspired by current events," Frost said. "Not that there wasn't gun violence then, but I don't have a political agenda with this work. I'm not a politician. I'm an artist. I really hope people see the work and find it thought-provoking and really feel a sense of wonder."

Follow reporter Patrick Donohue at twitter.com/IPBG_Patrick.



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