About

During the routine prosecution of its duties, the Western Australia Police often comes into possession of numbers of weapons, including firearms and knives. These lethal technologies are systematically dismantled and sawn up for safe disposal as scrap metal.

Proactive members of the Western Australian Police contacted lecturers Stuart Elliott and Peter Dailey at Polytechnic West with a view to putting some of these deconstructed and dissected firearms and knives to use as raw material for making or incorporating into artwork. This artwork was included in an exhibition, 'Of Spears and Pruning Hooks', half the proceeds from the sale of which was donated to various charities.

The exhibition was held in October - November, 2011 at Polytechnic West's Junction Gallery located on its Midland Campus, the home to a strong tradition of unusual and experimental art enterprises.

This exhibition provided a unique opportunity for artists to not only to work with unusual materials, but to use negative connoted objects and take them somewhere sociologically, philosophically or politically interesting.


Curators Statement

Working with found objects will always present challenges. Most often, a found object is largely informed by our personal experience of it and as such will not relinquish its original place in the world without a lot of coaxing.

Something happens, however, when the found object is something we can recognise generically but have little, if any, experience of physically.

Thankfully, the firearm in this community is something uncommon in a ‘live’ sense. But all of us have perceived them second-hand in practically every guise and permutation imaginable by writers, illustrators, photographers and film makers to the point where the exotic weapon is part of our visual and literary culture. This is despite, or even perhaps because of its physical rarity. Thus, when coming face to face with real parts thereof for this show, there was something very dysfunctional about such a meeting.

Here were the items of much dramatic conjecture, but there was something almost grimy as well as tragic about them. Drop-sawn into disposable chunks, even as fragments they still had a quality of the Terminator’s hand. There was an inescapable sense that with a flash of lightning and a whiff of ozone, these vaguely disturbing, angular lumps might start to draw together once more.

However, much like other discarded hand tools, they were also generally quite worn, showing the scars and resonances of those that had collectively handled them, perhaps too often in varying degrees of agitation. An unseen but sensed aura clashed fitfully with both their residual fantasy version as well as the visceral residue. It reminded me a little of once watching professional ballet dancers rehearse. Rather than the graceful, gravity-contemptuous majesty of the stage version, here were scores of kilos of prime meat sweating and plunging, rearing and thumping. Likewise here, the softly gleaming quasi-jewellery of the television and cinema arsenal was replaced by gouged handles, dinged brass and gapped and burred blades.

There was also a certain recurring pathos. Being basically tubes within which multiple, intense but predictable explosions take place over long periods of time, guns need to be well engineered. And with that, there is a kind of seductive ‘form follows function’ thing that gets one’s attention visually but also in a very tactile manner.

Being a sculptor and living in a technologically literate society, there was an irrational but persistent feeling that in this desiccated weaponry there was also a kind of inorganic death. Then again, perhaps it was that unavoidable sense of techno-irony wherein the lethally precise firearm that had once made the blade redundant was here methodically butchered by the kinetically enhanced children of that blade.

Two items caught my attention. One was the sawn-off rump of a rifle; a solid, smooth steak of timber that had seen a lot of polish and wax over a long period. A discrete escutcheon bore the legend ‘Lee Enfield 1912’. Once the staple of half the world’s armed forces, this particular rifle had existed through virtually the entire 20th Century to meet the equivalent of its own death at a depot in a non-descript suburb in the 21st Century. Here was a kind of bitter-sweet closing of the circle.

A weapon built a hundred years ago to protect the 'realm-de-jour', its millions of siblings integral to at least two apocalyptic conflicts, it is finally retired 'in extremis' for lack of a legitimate vocation. Absolutely, in principle, this is a good thing. In another way, there is an involuntary part of one that regrets the passing of something that has been an active accessory to history.

We don’t really know how that old 303 finished up here, but one can be pretty sure it was because it had come to the end of its useful life.
That is unquestionably positive. And yet, there is an involuntary, if guarded melancholy.

The other item was the remains of a very elegant Purdy 12 bore shot-gun. The long barreled Purdy was generally regarded as an elite ‘sporting’ gun (though it is difficult to know what the creature staring back at the muzzle could possibly ‘win’ in such a sport). Graceful and aloof, there was something very Australian about the fact that after undoubtedly occupying a position of some status, it lay there among the gnawed-off 22’s, desiccated replicas and post-Franklin Mint kitsch. A bit like seeing a Bentley with the number plate BEWDYBONDY in a salvage yard beside the twisted utes and woofed bimbo/himbo carts.

Ultimately though, it is via this last gestalt of the stricken weaponry that some rich, transformative meaning may finally uncoil. These devices were originally designed and built to at least threaten catastrophic change at the safest practical distance to their operators.

Artists, not primarily known for their obsession with fire arms, embraced this project even though most of them were uneasy with the raw materials. Like the Biblical quote regarding the desired conversion of swords into ploughshares and spears into pruning hooks, here, these gun and knife remnants have been turned to art, to generate good will for people at even more practical distances to their operators.

It was a privilege to be asked to curate this show and to know enough people who were thus responsible for generating some pretty strange art that would otherwise never have come into the world, all for life affirming reasons.

STUART ELLIOTT 2011


Artists

Michael Arnold, Maria Blackmore, Pam Boyd-Goggin, Denise Brown, Olga Cironis, Peter Dailey, Stuart Elliott, Judith Forrest, Richard Foulds, Simon Gilby, Greg Hart, Beverley Iles, Pam Jones, Tony Jones, Peter Knight, Angela Leaney, Peg Lyon, Clare McFarlane, Chriss Middleton, Louise Morrison, Michael O’Doherty, Sandy O’Doherty, Geoff Overheu, Denise Pepper, Lorraine Pichette, David Small, Sue Starcken, Graham Taylor, Patrizia Tonello, Amanda Verschuren, Karin Wallace, Vanessa Wallace, Amanda Williams


WA Police

Working on this charity project has been an enlivening experience for us all. At every stage we have relied on the good will of people doing that little bit extra to help others. Individuals and small groups of people in WA Police, Polytechnic West and the art community, as well as the charities, have assisted to complete the multitude of tasks required to ensure this exhibition would be successful. There have been few meetings, no timelines or deadlines. We have enjoyed each other's company and had some fun along the way.

My sincere thanks to Stuart Elliott for engaging the WA art community in the project, managing the raw material, being the go-to-person and for curating the exhibition.

Special thanks to Inspector John Vivian for ensuring all weapon pieces were innocuous. Without your vigilance and supervision this exhibition would not have been possible.

Ian Boyd

Assistant Director

Property Management Division

WA Police


Exhibition Images

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