The debate over gun control is a louder part of the national conversation than it's ever been before. It's a polarizing dialogue, and to be a part of it is, almost inevitably, to have an opinion. But what if that conversation wasn't happening only on your Twitter Facebook feeds? What if those questions became more concrete? How would your opinions take shape then?
That's what Nelly Bonilla and Oscar Luna, the art duo known as Home Eleven, will give viewers of their new installation a chance to find out this weekend at the RAW pop-up art show in the Design District. The project, titled Orenda, will be centered on an AR-15. Viewers won't only be able to look at the gun — but also have a chance to pull the trigger.
No, it's not a live assault rifle. But Bonilla and Luna insist there are consequences to pulling the trigger. In fact, that's the whole point.
"The biggest impact is when you actually pull the trigger," Luna explains. "There is a moment that happened before you shot the gun and a moment after you shot the gun, and once you did it, that’s it. There’s no going back."
That moment is punctuated by a simulated shot striking a two-way mirror that bisects the room. As soon as you pull the trigger, light inside the glass turns on to show an image of a shattered mirror with a bullet hole in the middle. On the other side of the wall is the aftermath, another hole, along with a thermal printer that produces a message for the shooter.
The receipts being printed will contain a variety of notes. Some will show information about the National Rifle Association, while others will have facts about school shootings. Some will ask questions, such as "Why did you do this?" while others might pose hypothetical situations telling you that you've saved a life.
"Our thing is always to put the problem there and see both sides of it," Luna says.
But at a time when Americans are more divided than ever about guns, and in a state where only a matter of months ago students were killed by the very same kind of weapon the artists have reproduced, Orenda will likely strike a good number of people as being in poor taste.
Bonilla says that discomfort was part of what drove her to creating the piece.
"The thing is," she explains, "I feel that a lot of people are very politically correct. There’s this issue and we’re gonna tippy-toe around it — but it’s an issue! I’m not saying that I’m glorifying it; I’m just saying that it’s an issue. And if you don’t want it in your face, then fix the issue."
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No matter how you feel about the installation, which according to the artists takes its name from a word meaning "a supernatural force by which human accomplishment is attained or accounted for," Orenda is certainly a novel approach to engaging an audience in this discussion. By not only putting people in a position where the weapon is less conceptual, but also challenging them to be seen handling it, the duo forces viewers, many of whom might never have held a gun before, to reexamine their place in the debate.
And though the artists aren't gun advocates — they don't own guns, they don't want guns, and they don't think anyone needs to own a weapon of war — they don't want this piece to fall squarely on either side of the dialogue. Instead, they want it to simply afford people an opportunity to have that dialogue.
"It’s not for us to say whether this issue is right or wrong — it’s more to put it out there and let people discuss it," Luna says. "It’s about creating a space where there is the problem there. I didn’t say I was going to solve it for you, but it does create an arena where people can discuss it."
Orenda at the RAW Pop-Up Art Show. 8 p.m. to 3 a.m. Friday, May 11, and Saturday, May 12, and 5 p.m. to midnight Sunday, May 13, at the Moore Building, 3841 NE Second Ave., Miami; rawpopupmiami.com. Tickets cost $10 for Sunday, $20 for Friday or Saturday, and $30 for both Friday and Saturday via eventbrite.com.