They're talkin' 'bout a rev-o-lu-tion.
Lewis and Metzger do this frequently. Their work wallops the viewer with politics and art--a subtle blast that provokes thoughts, asks questions and maybe even raises a bit of mayhem.
The two have lived in Tucson for more than a decade. Ten years ago, Lewis helped found, and still operates out of, the Toole Shed Studios in the downtown warehouse arts district, where he's also had a hand in the burgeoning Museum of Contemporary Art scene. Metzger runs Feral Press on the other side of Toole Avenue. He's been cranking out printed matter for social, political and environmental causes for 13 years. His images and words are emblazoned on T-shirts, political posters and pamphlets. Lewis' sculptures hang around town, mostly indoors--huge and functionally silent, titled for their utilitarian purposes. "Megaphone" is made of found objects welded together with steel. Like "Gallows," its mechanical functionality is its aesthetic.
The symbiosis of these artists' work gathered for the first time in a sterile gallery setting launches our conversation. Metzger's printed matter adorns a couple of walls. "Palestine Hotel" grabs a whole side of the gallery--a grid of images ranging from U.S. flags and oil drums to posters in Italian calling for protests against UA's attempts to build telescopes atop the sacred Apache site at Mount Graham. "Procession of Unspeakable Grief" is flag-like, too. Images of liberation merge with those that whisper about oppression of people throughout the world.
Both artists dig up what lies beneath the grit, surfaces and sprawl of this town. And their messages go beyond Tucson to global revolutions. The narrative about the art is a tale of precision, like a bomb. Tear out their words below and carry them with you when you go see the work. It's a manifesto for a do-it-yourself revolution.
What are you trying to say with "Megaphone?"
Lewis: Well, I started with the idea of a prophet or a dissenter, someone who speaks out. They deserve an equal voice, a support mechanism. So I built one to scale. It's roughly engineered after an anti-aircraft gun. It pivots 360 degrees. You get a full range of motion. With your mouth at the end of the yellow vacuum hose, it works like a microphone. You can speak to God or bellow at a person directly below. As a protest vehicle, megaphones are second only to cardboard placards and cloth banners. It's the real amplification of the speaker, not like the mediating we get from television, radio or even a bullhorn.
What about "Gallows?" It's scary seeing an instrument of death here in the gallery.
Lewis: Lenin's words, uttered in 1917, inspired me to make this piece. He said, "How do you expect to have revolutions without executions?" There's pain involved with change.
Does that ring true for you, too, Dwight?
Metzger: Yes. The current war has weighed heavily on my mind. It's been an important time to make connections about the long-term aspects of revolution.
What's the story behind "Palestine Hotel?"
Metzger: The name comes from an actual hotel in Baghdad where the un-embedded journalists stayed. It was a very symbolic place of resistance and independence, much coveted by the U.S. Army because of the mosaic on the hotel's floor entry. It's an image of Bush, Sr., with the words, "Bush equals criminal," on it. So whoever walked into the hotel had to walk over this face and these words. The United States really wanted to destroy this mural. They did, but at the expense of killing independent journalists inside.
There are also images of Mount Graham. What's the connection to Baghdad?
Metzger: I try to draw some parallels of the war in Iraq and both Bush administrations and the war on nature by the UA administration. For years, Apaches, environmentalists and human rights advocates have fought against the university's plans to build telescopes up on Mount Graham. This mountain is a space of Apache self-determination. It's very symbolic of what's happening around the world for indigenous people. But it's also about a war for profit, like in Iraq--profit for the few at the expense of many.
What happens to the work as it sits in the very center of your protest at the university?
Metzger: Well, I hope I'm not selling out by being here. I hope the work can permeate this institution a bit. We can shed light on the fact that UA president Peter Likins is a liar when he says he wants diversity here. He's doing exactly the opposite by striving to mount those telescopes on sacred Apache lands, to decimate a culture.
Are you both unearthing materials as you go along? Is that also part of revolution?
Lewis: You say unearthing, and I say exhuming. Yes, in part that's what I do in order to counter this time of irony and sentimentality that comes very fast. It's what drives the obvious lack of technology behind my work.
Metzger: I like that idea of what's buried beneath miles of asphalt that we cover more of everyday. There's a lot of human history under there. When things seem hopeless, that the revolution isn't ever going to come, we've got to understand that we're part of the continuum--it's not always visible to us.
D.I.Y. Revolution continues through Oct. 2 at the Joseph Gross Gallery in the UA's Fine Arts Complex, Speedway Boulevard and Park Avenue. Gallery hours are Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m. Admission is free. For details, call 626-4215.