South of Town’ is less about sculptural form than commentary on chance and destruction

Sean Russell aimed a pistol, a revolver, and a custom-built AR-15 assault rifle at 25-pound blocks of clay.
Dawn-Michelle Baude

Three stars

South of Town Through September 11; Monday-Friday, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Clark County Government Center Rotunda Gallery, 702-455-7030.

Artists, we believe, specialize in “creation.” Often we leave out the other half of the equation: destruction. But destruction is inseparable from creativity, even if it’s simply painting over part of a composition. Or slashing the canvas with a knife, as did Lucio Fontana in the 1940s. Or burning the painting, à la Yves Klein in the 1960s. Later in the 20th century, performance artists like Chris Burden destroyed their own bodies to make art. In the famous piece “Shoot,” Burden was, in fact, shot in the arm by an assistant. In another well-known performance, a participant held a loaded revolver to the artist’s head.

Sean Russell’s firearm art is, in fact, in good company. For his South of Town exhibition at the Government Center Rotunda Gallery, Russell aimed a CZ 97 B .45 caliber pistol, a Taurus Model 608 .357 Magnum revolver, and a custom-built AR-15 assault rifle at 25-pound blocks of clay. Then he pulled the trigger. Some blocks bear the marks of explosions; some have imploded; some have done both. Shooting with the same arm at a similar block of clay in similar conditions produces remarkably different results because of minute variables in temperature, trajectory, wind and position.

Pierced, riddled, strafed and blasted, 10 of the 20 blocks survived the shooting range and firing in the kiln. Palladium glaze gives each ceramic piece a textured metallic finish—shiny and smooth, rough and matte by turns. The grotesque “Common Home,” for example, functions as a kind of tortured carcass, while the smooth and pudgy “Savor That” chills. Although the 10-by-8-by-8-inch sculptures are non-representational, the temptation to read them as humanoid runs high. “Random Panic,” for example, seems to thrust an exhausted tongue from its comic face.

Three 48-by-96-inch photos printed on corrugated plastic accompany the sculptures. The photos—landscapes portraying the “south of town” shooting range—are mounted to invoke targets. Located south of the M Resort and near I-15, the range is littered with shot-up stuff, a veritable sociological study of the exploded remains of consumerism. Busted TVs, blown-up mattresses, shattered glass, blasted wood and unidentifiable junk lies scattered upon a multi-colored carpet of casings, cartridges and shells. The photos offer weird and intriguing commentary on recreational applications of the Second Amendment.

Overall, South of Town is less a sculptural exhibition than it is documentation of a performance. As aesthetic objects, the sculptures lack punch; but as artifacts of chance-based procedures, they’re compelling. The show brings home the fact that art emerges from psychological, emotional and, in this case, literal crucibles of violence and destruction. Art does not always make nice.

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