Wilton artist’s work triggers conversation on guns

When Pamela Hovland, a Wilton graphic designer, was approached in 2011 to contribute a project to We the Designers, a group exhibition that opened in New York City on March 4, she decided to create a visual that would prompt someone viewing it to think about the violent images and words that impact people daily, sometimes without their full awareness. Although the issue of violence in this country is pervasive, she did not foresee the intense daily conversations and debates on gun violence and gun control now in the headlines.

Ms. Hovland’s contribution to the exhibition is a “wallpaper” called Black + White + Red All Over. The underlying foundation of the 12-foot-six-inch by eight-foot work consists of a grid of 18 separate “shooting targets” that may be purchased at any gun store in Connecticut or through online vendors. Each of the separate targets is two feet wide by three feet tall. The targets on the outer edge of the work are nondescript forms used by gun enthusiasts, hunters, and the military for shooting practice, but as the eye moves gradually inward toward the center of the piece, the targets become recognizable and specific: images of people that are a reminder of the Aurora and Virginia Tech shootings, Osama Bin Laden, and a literal target of the United States. Ms. Hovland has layered smaller targets on top of the base shooting targets. These range from the classic black concentric circles with the red bull’s eye to painted depictions of animals.

An LED screen is the final layer of Ms. Hovland’s installation. It flashes various quotes and comments collected from people over the last year who have commented on guns, gun control and gun violence. Examples include: “… take away our guns; take away our freedom …,” “My family deserves a vote. We all deserve a vote …,” “… Noah, Caroline, Jessica, Avielle, Benjamin, Allison …,” “… video games most effective advertisements for firearms …,” “… it’s not guns, it’s mental illness …,” and “… demand a plan …”  The quotes come from a variety of sources — family members directly affected by violence, the National Rifle Association, President Obama, gun control advocates, and others — and convey a broad array of viewpoints and emotions the Second Amendment and gun violence trigger.

Ms. Hovland, who is a member of the Yale University faculty currently serving as senior critic in graphic design, is hoping her work will inspire, inform and instruct others.

“Whether my work is a traditional graphic design solution for a client or a self-authored project that lives in a gallery or other public venue, my goal is to motivate people to take some kind of an action,” she said. “The current debate over guns and gun control tends to focus on points of view that are extreme. Here I was hoping to stimulate a dialogue by creating a complex visual that would invite people to spend some time thinking about their positions and actions in a more reflective and nuanced manner.”

Ms. Hovland is a founding member of Class Action, an art collective that uses design to effect social change, and a recipient of the Rome Prize Fellowship in Design.

Black + White + Red All Over may be seen at the AIGA National Design Center Gallery, 164 Fifth Avenue, in New York through April 5. The exhibition has previously been viewed in Boston, Washington D.C., and St. Paul, Minn.

We the Designers is a national exhibition of self-authored graphic design. The 50 separate works that are part of the exhibition examine political issues facing the nation and are intended to create a discourse about those issues and the policies currently being pursued.