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Happy Pack

Alison Bing, SFGate, September 2004

Gunning for the Truth

Was John Lennon right, and happiness really is a warm gun? Artists Taro Hattori and Mayumi Hamanaka put this idea to a most revealing test in “Happy Pack,” hand-crafting twelve guns out of clear plastic and then hiring “squadrons” of day laborers to pose with them for a photograph. With replica M-16s and M-249s in hand, these men become startlingly apt stand-ins for today’s U.S. military, from the minimum wage they were paid to the predominantly brown cast of their skin. Some of the men sport patriotic T-shirts and Cal baseball caps, which speak volumes about the aspirations that spur young people to join the military. Hattori and Hamanaka did not direct the men how to pose with the guns, but let group dynamics guide each “squadron.” The results are startling: In one photograph, the men raise the plastic guns above their heads in unison in a triumphant gesture, while in another image the group is divided into younger and older cliques, and the younger men are smiling as they point their guns directly at the viewer. The third group of men is a bit older, and much more solemn; the haunting look on some of their faces suggests that they are no strangers to guns and militarized zones. The plastic guns are also displayed in the gallery on what look like white microphone stands, arranged in a semi-circle as though at a press conference. The sunlight from the gallery windows illuminates each meticulously crafted gun, and gives us pause to consider – and perhaps reconsider -- the immense creative power we routinely expend in fashioning the implements of our own destruction. We then support entire industries protecting ourselves from the weapons we create, which Hattori and Hamanaka implicitly and ingeniously acknowledge in their Styrofoam replica of Japan’s iconic Mount Fuji, covered with a camouflage pattern exactingly copied from Japanese soldiers’ uniforms. Japan deployed troops this year for the first time in decades, so Hattori and Hamanaka are both astute and timely in their suggestion that once engaged in conflict, there is no camouflage great enough to cover an entire nation. “Happy Pack” acknowledges that as individuals, many are happier when they’re packing heat – and as a nation, that’s deeply problematic.

Copyright 2004 Alison Bing. First published SF Chronicle online edition (SFGate) October, 2004. Used with author's permission; all rights reserved by the author


Happy Pack

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