UC Irvine Exhibit: “Carl Schmitt, You and Me”

From OC Weekly, an ‘art exhibit’ that seeks to simultaneously discuss Carl Schmitt’s political philosophy, visually present the horrors of gun ownership, all while stylistically making fun of some MAGA white men who own a gun store in Maine:

Stepping into the dark hallway leading to Omar Mismar’s film installation, “Schmitt, You and Me,” at UC Irvine’s Room Gallery, you see a paper target peppered with seven bullet holes, each hit in areas that would devastate vital organs. It’s difficult to view with perfect clarity, but in the upper-right corner, there’s a complimentary, handwritten note along the lines of “Great Job!” that’s signed and dated by an employee of Staple Gun Shop in Skowhegan, Maine. You can step up to the target and peer through the bullet holes, the film playing on the other side.

The film, screened on the other side of this paper, plays on a loop, its first shots showing the camera lens going in and out of focus on its subjects, two gun-store employees. Like a Central Casting cliché, the duo is middle-aged, white, wearing baseball caps (one with the store logo on it, the other with “Trump Fence Building Co. Free Installation” stitched onto the front panels) and T-shirts in various states of cleanliness or grime, and standing against a row of rifles and semi-automatic weapons. It’s a picture-perfect beginning, the artist literally focusing on the two men and what they’re saying.

Or, to be more specific, what they’re reading. The two fumble their way through several pages from the extraordinarily complex work of German philosopher Carl Schmitt. My superficial understanding of his “friend” and “enemy” paradigm—based on my reading and curator Juli Carson’s incisive, if overwritten, exhibition pamphlet—is that the labels are often inaccurate ways political organizations perpetuate the separation of “us” and “them.” This increasing dissociation is passed to groups of people that are within the organization, eventually leading to factions of people gathering together under one banner or another, with the end result an act of violence. What’s not explained in the film is that Schmitt was an unrepentant Nazi Party member hauled in front of the Nuremberg Trials for his collaboration and that the writings are his defensive apologia for fascism and anti-Semitism.

The men mispronounce words and steamroll through the dense academic text without nuance, and at first, they have no clear understanding of what they’re reading. Sections repeat more than once, with each of the men stopping and starting as they feel more comfortable with the material, have a question for Mismar, or answer phone calls and customer queries. The artist periodically asks them to try to look at the camera as they read, but he otherwise stays relatively silent, respectfully correcting a pronunciation or offering a word definition only when one of the men gets confused and specifically asks for it.

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