The City of Charleston Office of Cultural Affairs presents Visual Vigil, a new exhibition by artist Susan Perkins, on view at City Gallery from March 21 through May 3, 2020. Visual Vigil is designed to be an active conversation on the effects of mass shootings; the installation is made up of contemplative pieces that represent the lives lost and communities affected by mass violence from 1903 through present day. An opening reception will take place March 20, 5 to 7 pm, and an artist’s talk will be held on Saturday, March 28 at 2 p.m. A community discussion about gun violence and gun reform will be held on Tuesday, April 21 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. All events are free and open to all.
The work in Visual Vigil is presented linearly and chronologically, with art pieces of unframed works of ink on paper, hung with magnets. Each piece is a reaction to an episode of gun violence. Perkins began working on the Visual Vigil project after the mass shooting at Mother Emanuel, in her hometown of Charleston, SC. The artist notes that the frequency of mass shootings has grown threefold in recent years, and cites data from the Gun Violence Archive to demonstrate that based on reported annual averages, the number of mass shootings in a given year now equates to roughly 90% of its calendar days. The work is contemplative, and is clean and simply presented, yet speaks loudly. She uses a restrained pallet for less distraction, to create empty space, and to remain neutral —allowing the viewer to bring individual significance to her works.
As a part of her personal meditation, Perkins regularly engages in mark making with sumi ink on kozo paper — her personal calligraphy. The meditation marks are torn, collaged, and transformed to symbolize the on-going shifting and reshaping of life. Lokta paper weavings are created in a grid pattern then painted on kozo paper making a grid impression. The grid represents the collected energy field that we all live within. She believes we are interlinked — if one is affected, we are all affected. She further believes our greatest strength comes from our connectivity to one another. Perkins’ hope is for the art to serve as a backdrop for conversations around the societal and psychological effects of mass violence. “Through art making, I found a cathartic outlet to express my feelings, compassion, and tried to process the senseless violence,” she says. “Moreover, I began to take note of the societal effects.” The artist has been pondering the effects of mass violence on herself and her community, such as how we, as a society, process the fear of violence, how individuals deal with the psychological stress of lock downs and live shooter drills, and how we function in a world where we don’t feel safe anymore.
Perkins’ hope is that the exhibition will prompt discussions between reformers, activists, experts, educators, and survivors on the issues surrounding gun violence in our communities. She invites the public to be a part of an artist talk on Saturday, March 28 at 2 p.m. to discuss the concept and mission of the exhibition.