Robert Longo, Bodyhammer: Tec 9, 1993. Estimate £150,000 - 200,000. 20th Century and Contemporary Art Day Sale, London.
Executed monochromatically in charcoal and graphite on a monumental scale, Bodyhammer, 1993, is a captivating contradiction: dark and light, calming and antagonistic, beautiful and confrontational. A dichotomy between violence and serenity. The current work was exhibited at Metro Pictures in 1993 as part of a series entitled Bodyhammers that took as its subject the gun—as an emblem of escalating violence and in reaction to the growing concern of American gun culture. Earlier that year, Longo’s 14-year-old son had returned home from the local basketball court in New York City recounting how another child had wielded a gun. Longo recalled, “You didn’t have to be the strongest or the toughest kid anymore, you just needed to have a gun. It made me realise that I should pay more attention to guns.”
Making art in itself is a political act...I don’t want to instruct or preach…I want to present something that has a visual impact, that lets the viewer make a decision. – Robert Longo
The series takes its name and inspiration from a 1992 Japanese science-fiction, horror film Tetsuo II: Bodyhammer in which a Japanese salary man, finds his body transfiguring into a weapon through pure fury after his son is kidnapped by a gang of violent brutes. Further blurring the lines between his film inspiration and Longo’s charcoal and graphite works on paper, the Bodyhammer series was created just prior to Longo’s directing of a film adaptation of William Gibson’s Johnny Mnemonic.
Shin’ya Tsukamoto’s film, Tetsuo II: Body Hammer, 1992.
Like that of the Japanese salary man, Johnny Mnemonic’s appeal to Longo is evident—as a technological repository, he is receptive to notions and beliefs that are not his own. Johnny Mnemonic became a suitable metaphor for what is a fundamental and reoccurring theme in Longo’s oeuvre: technological, political and cultural power. Similarly, the gun is an object that amalgamates technology, the self, body, politics, society and technology, an embodiment of American society.
As Elaine Scarry notes in her analysis of physical suffering and its relation to the numerous vocabularies and cultural forces, “every weapon has two ends. In converting the other person’s pain into his power, the torturer experiences the entire occurrence exclusively from the non-vulnerable end of the weapon.” The absence of human presence in these works puts the viewer at both the stock and the barrel, the attacker and the victim, the powerful and the helpless.
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