Ravi Zupa

Ravi Zupa’s Typewriter-as-Weapon Sculptures

All images by Kristen Hatgi Sink

In Ravi Zupa’s hands, the oxymoron of a thinking man’s gun becomes a reality. His is an artillery of words and knowledge. For the last several years, the self-taught, multidisciplinary artist has been transforming the levers, keys, and ribbon spools of typewriters into weapons. His Mightier Than series of repurposed sculptures do not destroy, rip flesh from bone, or take away. Rather, they aim to contribute and inject. Even the ammunition Zupa crafts—“pen bullets,” used machine gun cartridges filled with pens and pencils—flip the old adage of “the pen is mightier than the sword” right on its head. The sculptures register at gut level first, equal parts meditation and raw counterattack.

On the occasion of his participation in a new group show, A Primitive Future at Subliminal Projects in Los Angeles, Zupa recently shared his time and insight with us regarding the evocative sculptures.

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On the project’s origins:

“I’ve been making these for years. I always like to make large scale installations for my exhibitions. I want people to feel like they are entering into and standing inside a world I’ve created. So originally, they were just objects held by full-size human sculptures. Eventually, I realized there was something moving and compelling that was being missed, so I put them by themselves.”

On the creation process behind each one-of-a-kind sculpture:

“Each machine is pretty unique and it really ends up dictating a lot about how the final gun will end up. I sit on the floor and spend time doing a reverse puzzle. Trying to get things apart without doing damage, which isn’t always possible. I then look at some books, one encyclopedia style book of guns in particular, and then I tinker around and figure out how different elements can fit together in a way that resembles the overall structure of an actual gun.”

Typewriters and guns may already have more in common than we think:

“Guns existed centuries before typewriters were born and will certainly exists for centuries after typewriters have gone obsolete. But, they are already mechanically in the same family. The REMINGTON that you see printed on typewriters and the REMINGTON printed on guns refers to the same company, and I’ve heard that the threading on the bolts of each is neither standard nor metric but is shared and unique only to them – perhaps [to their] sewing machines also.”

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How firearms have framed his own story:

“I don’t have much experience with real guns. I’ve shot pistols a handful of times at cans into the sides of mountains. It was fun. I’ve never pointed one at a human being or an animal and I’ve never had a human being or an animal point one at me. My brother Idris, who I loved very much, fired a pistol into his own mind. Perhaps in self defense. I miss him a great deal. That’s really my closest personal relationship to guns.”

On the sculptures as catalyst for conversation—no matter viewers’ political leanings:

“They do seem to hit us a few different fronts, which I like. Seeing them up at an art fair is pretty neat. There are moments when so many different people with different political sensibilities and ideas of justice are all appreciating them in their own way. I’ve seen moments where a handful of rough street-types, who appear to have come from a world where violence is happening around them, are viewing the sculptures at the same time that conservative gun enthusiasts are, NRA-types who love the culture of gun collecting. This while at the same moment a pair of elderly League of Woman Voters-types are looking. In this scene, everyone is crowded around photographing and discussing simultaneously and it appears they all are being moved or at least stimulated by [the sculptures]. Moments like that make me feel pretty good.

“I think they carry the discussion in a few directions. I hope so anyway. They move in the direction of firearms and violence, and they also move in the direction of words and the force with which words can be projected.”

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And one last thing—Ravi Zupa on his mega-belief in the uplift of rap: 

“Rap music is the greatest large-scale intellectual endeavor that human beings have ever embarked on, second only to literacy. It is by far the most intellectual form of music. It is about ideas and humor and logic and stories, and most importantly, it is good for everyone, even people who are illiterate. There is not a country in the world where beautiful young geniuses don’t stand in a circle and square off battling and sharing and rapping in their own language.”


A Primitive Future is on view now through January 6, 2016 at Subliminal Projects (1331 W. Sunset Blvd.) in Los Angeles

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