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Robin Starbuck's installation at 1708 ponders the tragedy of school violence.

Sealing Their Fates

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Tragedy is a subject that Greek philosopher Aristotle first describes as possessing great significance, declaring it a revelatory expression of humanity; a transitional catalyst; and in its interpretive mode, the highest achievement of art and action.

When viewing the current 1708 Gallery exhibition "I Am J.T. And I Have a Gun," by Georgia artist Robin Starbuck, one is presented with a predicament while in search of Aristotle's claims. The current relevance of Starbuck's theme, inspired by street and school violence, requires an act of choice. One can either concentrate on the artist's visual expression of her theme or respond to the highly emotional and immediate issue of school violence.

Starbuck does as clean a job as possible of cerebralizing the content of her piece. Her installation is as chill as a metal table, as matter of fact as a police report and as elegant as a gun. Hanging from hooks on the long wall of 1708's main gallery is an orderly series of more than 150 small, Ziploc bags screened with a tiny image of a young perpetrator and filled with a clarified, gelatinous liquid. Written in small block text on each bag is one of four designations by which Starbuck identifies the sex and means of destruction used by the child — "Gun Boy" for a boy who took a gun to school; "Shooter Girl" for a girl who actually shot the gun off. These bags are superimposed over a window scene painted onto the wall with gray paint. The window, which appears to be dissolving or disappearing at the base, vaguely offers an interior vantage point with an obscure roadway outside. This is possibly a way of depicting suburbia or the protective domain of the home as dissolving. The mural of the window is somewhat compromised by a mural of a lamp on the perpendicular wall. The lamp is crudely executed enough to introduce uncertainty about the artist's intention and ends up seeming more like filler than a potent symbol.

However, on the wall opposite the window piece is a nice piece in its own right, as well as an augmenting element of the installation. It is a poem in parts with each verse projecting perpendicular from the wall in a sequence of isolated small panels. Viewed from one direction, the poem on the panels reads like the proverbial second shoe, repeatedly dropping after a lengthy dread. Viewed from the opposite direction, you see a series of painted images — violent glimpses, flickers in the memories of witnesses to various aggressions. It gives the installation a tiny bit more humanity, seeming to balance the hard-core statistics of the window piece, but not a lot, because in the end there is no real justification for this phenomenon of school violence, just the disconsolation of an impoverished mind that establishes death as the only lasting significant act.

Any emotion in this gallery enters and leaves with the visitor. Nonetheless, it is the hygienic, sterile, clear plastic and steel-gray aesthetic, rinsed of any unpleasant stains, that is so beautiful in this work. For the most part, Starbuck knows how to use her materials to their best advantage and knows how to fill the demanding space of 1708's front gallery with small, coy objects needing lots of air.

Starbuck's subject is a tough one. But unlike the kind of tragedy that Aristotle was imagining when he celebrated its greatness, it misses a key ennobling ingredient. It is tragedy without an essence. Tragedy with no heroic plan, no vision of a new world or philosophy, no battle cry for freedom, reclamation or redemption. If one looks to the past for wisdom and clarification, one may observe that reckless waste in the midst of plenty is not a new mythology. It occurs among bored immortals and egoistic humans as well. This modern adaptation of tragedy involves serial sacrifice with no conviction or invocation to accompany it because the child perpetrators are the second generation of boredom and egotism. Without passion or belief, our compassion is, as Starbuck portrays, a bloodless liquid in a Ziploc

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