5 years after the Accent Signage Systems shooting, artist John Schuerman calls out gun culture

'Allegory of a Moment,' by Sean Smuda, whose work is also featured in "Culture as a Weapon."

'Allegory of a Moment,' by Sean Smuda, whose work is also featured in "Culture as a Weapon."

John Schuerman knew the shooter.

Culture As Weapon

Dow Building

While working as a management consultant, one of his clients had been Accent Signage Systems in Minneapolis. In September 2012, an ex-employee, whom Accent had let go because of poor work performance, returned and opened fire, killing five people at the site and injuring three others (two later died in the hospital). Schuerman hadn’t been working with Accent at the time, but he helped the grief-stricken company rebuild.

Several months later, during a holiday lunch to commemorate the company’s resilience, news about the Sandy Hook shootings came on the radio.

Then there was Virginia Tech. Orlando. Las Vegas.

“I’m still reeling as much as anyone else, and yet I’m no more surprised than anyone else,” says Schuerman about ongoing gun violence and mass shootings in the U.S.

An artist and curator who ran Instinct Gallery in Minneapolis for several years, Schuerman paired exemplary artists with exhibitions on serious social, environmental, and political issues. “Since anyone can get access to automatic weapons with pretty much no questions asked, there’s no shortage of weapons people can use to do this kind of thing. And until enough of the country can come together to effect change, it will keep happening. It’s an epidemic.”

For several years, Schuerman has been working on an exhibition addressing this epidemic, which will open Friday at Space 369 in St. Paul. Titled “Culture as Weapon,” the exhibition includes painting, photography, installations, and multi-media work by six artists addressing this issue. They include Sean Smuda, Jennifer Davis, Michael Duffy, Ruthann Godollei, Christopher Harrison, and Jonathan Herrera. Schuerman is also one of the artists.

Schuerman’s Counting Installation attempts to enter the mind of the Accent Signage shooter, who not only suffered from depression, but also obsessive-compulsive disorder. The work meticulously delineates the shooter’s manifestations of illness with, for instance, 12,000 tiny red prints made from bullets (he brought 12,000 rounds of ammunition to Accent the day of the shooting), packaging for 18 bottles of antidepressants (which were also found in the shooter’s home), 44 receipts for target practice, and marks on a calendar of the 35 days he was late to work.

“Conceptualizing this piece and working on it puts you in a dark space, of course,” Schuerman says. “But I’d find that the counting helps alleviate the darkness, because it’s a repetitive distraction, something to grab on to.” Making the work was “a bit of an empathy exercise,” he adds, “to try to understand his state of mind. If we can understand the behavior and recognize it, maybe we can stop it in the future.”

That’s Schuerman’s management-consultant side speaking. But he’s also transmutated his empathy into art that “helps us frame things differently.”

Because, he adds, gun violence isn’t just about guns. “It’s a cultural problem. It’s about many Americanisms that have cooked up this lethal cocktail in our society,” he says. That cocktail’s ingredients include: the country’s history of slavery, the Second Amendment, violence in popular entertainment, and our increasingly divisive politics. “The gun is only a component of our culture as weapon,” he says.

“I don’t consider myself a gun violence survivor," he continues, "but I’ve experienced a number of situations where such situations have happened on the periphery of my life.” When he left for college, for instance, his brother held his parents at gunpoint for 12 hours overnight. No one was physically hurt, but no one ever recovered, either.

"Culture as Weapon" opens on Friday, October 20, with a reception from 7 to 9 p.m. Other open hours are from noon to 5 p.m. October 21 and October 27. Space 369 is located at 2242 University Ave. W. in St. Paul's Dow Building.