the propeller group

A Universe of collisions

PRODUCED at Grand Arts,
2012-2015 

The Propeller Group's A Universe of Collisions opened Aug. 7, 2015, following more than three years of intercontinental project development and production, and closed Sept. 4, 2015.

It was the final exhibition ever to take place at Grand Arts.

areas of research

conflict / power / velocity / legacy / Cold War / collisions / Vietnam / media / myth / international trade agreements / U.S. Department of State / AK-47s / M16s / violence / technology / fragments / film / collaboration / artifacts / trajectory / victory / stalemate   

abstract

On a handful of occasions in the history of warfare waged with firearms, the bullets of opposing battlefield forces have collided in mid-air, fusing into a single object. In these artifacts of chance incidents, the Propeller Group recognized accidental meanings — and willfully created a new series of artifacts that explored, exploited, and extended the notion of a seemingly impossible product of conflict.

The resulting exhibition presented the results of a series of collisions of ammunition fired in a mechanically orchestrated standoff between two famous combat weapons: the AK-47 and the M-16. These collisions are captured and displayed in oblong blocks of “ballistic gelatin,” a category of object that exists to facilitate the advanced testing of guns and armor. In this context, the blocks both isolate and extend a split second that suggests both the spectacle and futility of ideological conflict articulated through organized violence.

The Propeller Group, process documentation for A Universe of Collisions, 2015. Video still capturing the collision of a 7.62-mm cartridge (fired from an AK-47) and a 5.56-mm cartridge (fired from an M16).

The Propeller Group, process documentation for A Universe of Collisions, 2015. Video still capturing the collision of a 7.62-mm cartridge (fired from an AK-47) and a 5.56-mm cartridge (fired from an M16).

sites of presentation

EXHIBITION

A Universe of Collisions, Grand Arts, Kansas City, MO
Aug. 7-Sept. 4, 2015

Three months before A Universe of Collisions opened at Grand Arts, two of the project works — one of the gel block-captured collisions, displayed on a metal stand with an LED light fixture, and a single-channel, high-definition video — appeared in the 2015 Venice Biennale.

PUBLICATIONS

Exhibition catalog (Grand Arts, 2015) 

Problems and Provocations: Grand Arts 1995-2015 (Grand Arts, 2016), featuring a 10-page project dossier and a process-related essay by Rob Walker: "Maybe, Possibly, No, Yes" 

HOW TO FIND AN ENDING 

"During the entire process of making this work, we avoided the looming question of what to do with the guns once the project was over. I believe that, in the backs of our minds (and even at the depths of our souls), we knew that we couldn’t let them return to market; to do so would be to counter everything that the work sought as its potential. Admittedly, though, we were seduced by the guns as objects — ergonomic, efficient, functional objects. Even though the AK-47 is known to be of lesser quality with regard to design, the object is still a seductive one. We see its image so often in media that to see it in real life gave us an interesting experience. We had the chance to fire it, to feel its power.

When the time came to make a final decision, I began to think how interesting it would be if the destruction of the rifles was a continuation of the narrative. On many occasions during the testing process, the bullets missed each other in mid-air and ended up skimming parts of the opposite rifle. One time we even had to replace a barrel because it was so damaged by a bullet from the other gun. We had a few options in terms of ways to destroy the rifles — we could weld the lower receiver, cut the gun into small pieces, etc. But the ultimate alternative ending to the story was to have the guns destroy each other."

— Tuan Andrew Nguyen, 2016 

artist bio

The Propeller Group was established in 2006 by Phunam (b. 1974, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam), Tuan Andrew Nguyen (b. 1976, Ho Chi Minh City), and Matt Lucero (b. 1976, Upland, California) and is based in Ho Chi Minh City and Los Angeles. The Propeller Group art collective positions themselves between a media production company and archaeologists of hidden historical conundrums. Awards include the 2015 Internationale Kurztfilmtage Wintherthur and a Creative Capital award for their video project Television Commercial for Communism. The collective has been featured in numerous international exhibitions, including the The Ungovernables (2012 New Museum Triennial), Made In LA (2012 Los Angeles Biennial), Prospect 3: Notes for Now (New Orleans Triennial 2014), and All the World's Futures (Venice Biennale 2015). The Propeller Group has also been the subject of solo exhibitions at Sàn Art and Galerie Quynh, Ho Chi Minh City and 10 Chancery Lane, Hong Kong.

At Chesapeake Testing, the team examines possible fusion fragments following an initial test shot. From left: Grand Arts project manager April Pugh; Chesapeake engineer Mike Murray; GA project manager Jesse McAfee; and TPG members Matt Lucero, Phunam, and Tuan Andrew Nguyen.

At Chesapeake Testing, the team examines possible fusion fragments following an initial test shot. From left: Grand Arts project manager April Pugh; Chesapeake engineer Mike Murray; GA project manager Jesse McAfee; and TPG members Matt Lucero, Phunam, and Tuan Andrew Nguyen.

in the field

Ballistics research at Chesapeake Testing, in Belcamp, Md., 2015

FROM THE DESK 

Because the Propeller Group is, in effect, a foreign company, a Technical Assistance Agreement had to be submitted and approved by the U.S. Department of State prior to even the application for necessary import/export licenses, to avoid running afoul of regulations against communicating about military technologies with a foreign entity — a process that put the project in limbo for eight months.

Approval of DSP-5 license by the U.S. Department of State, 2014

partners

Collaborators including ballistic engineers at Chesapeake Testing, in Belcamp, Md., and Grand Arts' legal counsel, Dwight Arn, provided critical input and were instrumental to the project's success.

what comes after

EXHIBITIONS

All the World's Futures, 56th Venice Biennale
May 9-Nov. 22, 2015

Street Views: A Universe of Collisions, Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis
Jan. 15-Apr. 3, 2016

The Propeller Group, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
Jun. 4-Nov. 13, 2016

Home Land Security, Fort Winfield Scott at Langdon Court (For-Site Foundation)
Sept. 10-Dec. 18, 2016

Design and Violence, Science Gallery Dublin
Oct. 14, 2016-Jan. 22, 2017

The Propeller Group, Phoenix Art Museum
Feb. 18-May 14, 2017

The Propeller Group, Blaffer Museum of Art, University of Houston
Jun. 3-Sept. 30, 2017

The Propeller Group, San Jose Museum of Art
Oct. 27, 2017-Mar. 28, 2018

PUBLICATIONS

The Propeller Group (Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, 2016)