Originally published on The Upcoming on 16th July 2013
Carl McCrow’s History Interrupted contains works exclusively using decommissioned guns from areas of conflict. Airing the ghosts of the weapons’ dark pasts in such a public way, McCrow forces the audience to engage with the unsavoury secrets that each piece harbours. It should be an uncomfortable experience which makes us (re)consider notions of security, humanity and the fragility of life.
Whilst History Interrupted does achieve this, what is perhaps most striking is just how comfortable these weapons are in a gallery setting. This is testament to the prevalence of guns in popular culture, so much so, that History Interrupted at times comes across like a pop-art exhibition with its use of saturated bright colours and iconic subject matter.
Despite being the most prolific instrument of death, the gun still holds a certain allure, something McCrow plays on throughout the exhibition. Gulf Sale consists of a gold-plated AK47 surrounded by an ornate frame alluding to the fetishisation of guns and their profitability. Another piece encourages audience members to handle a real AK47, which punters queued up to do, with smiles plastered across their faces.
Child’s Play features an AKM rifle in baby blue with Fisher Price and Mattel branding, a stark reference to the thousands of child soldiers used in conflicts across the world. The conflation of guns and toys draws a sharp contrast between the experience of these child soldiers and the relative privilege and prosperity of our own childhoods. In Case of Emergency consists of a rifle in a glass cabinet, a reminder of the tension between the security offered, and threat posed, by guns.
History Interrupted also exhibits a number of AK47s with barcodes, referencing their mass production, with 75 million in circulation. This touches on the ethics of the arms trade, for in war whilst there are losers, there are also those that profit. This is certainly an area for development for McCrow as it seems striking that in an exhibition of this kind Western arms dealers emerge unscathed.
Coming from real zones of conflict you might expect the history of the rifles to be palpable but McCrow’s designs have the effect of sanitising them, which is perhaps an ode to society’s ambiguous relationship with guns. When McCrow’s friend lost limbs on tour in Afghanistan it acted as a catalyst for his art, which seems to be an attempt to extend this first-hand experience of suffering to a wider audience. To make the issue personal is to multiply its impact, something McCrow hopes to do by inviting the audience to contribute £5 to destroy a gun via his One Less Gun charity.