Photos and captions by Maureen Cain. Words by Shannon Cain.
Maureen and I grew up in the back seat of the family station wagon. Our parents being diehard 1970s roadtrippers, every summer they loaded us four kids, free-range, into whatever wood-paneled beast we were driving that year. Seat belts were ceremonial except for their usefulness in keeping the cooler in place. For our comfort, the cargo space known as the "way back" was padded with a twin mattress lifted from someone's bed. And thus we'd head to see family on the west coast and in Colorado, often taking the long way: via Florida, for example, or even, once, stopping by Alaska on the way to Oregon.
For Maureen, roadtripping her United States of Ammunition art installation concept was a no-brainer, an obvious next step. Her road warrior skills forged in the "way back," Maureen normally welcomes long solo trips, but she realized this wasn't an adventure to be tackled alone. The bullet casings are heavy and take time to assemble. There would be an emotional load, too, the heavy work of visiting places where people have died violently.
Beyond the emotional burden there were questions of personal safety, considering the vile and threatening response by gun-toting wackos to Maureen's work. (Warning: she made the mistake of looking briefly at this comments section and resolved never to look again.)
These were psychic burdens best shared (foisted upon?) a trusted friend. Or sister. Maureen asked me to come back home, to serve as her co-pilot and emotional support sibling. Five years ago, I left the U.S. to launch a new life in France and haven't been back except for visits. The only things I've missed about America being road trips and my family, I was delighted. I found a caretaker for my house and my cat and I got on a plane to Arizona.
I didn't think too hard about the road ahead and what it would mean to drive, day after day, toward sites of unspeakable tragedy. I put the political context out of my mind, too: I would not give a thought to this season of impeachment; nor about the gun nuts of America, currently bathed in the rapey glow of Fox News, stubby fingers twitching against their hair triggers.
Maureen and I are in our 50s now, our own kids grown. They too were raised on road trips. We too showed our kids the magic outside the car windows; the beauty of our extraordinary American landscape, our small towns and cities, our cuisines and our values, our oceans and riversides; our languages and cultures and national parks.
This is not that kind of trip.
For our own safety we won't be announcing our itinerary in advance, but the plan is to visit not just sites of school shootings and mass shootings but sites of everyday violence: a husband shoots a wife when she tries to leave him. A white cop shoots a Black woman in her own front yard. A border patrol agent shoots a fleeing migrant through the border fence. A transgender teen, bullied at school, shoots themself.
Everything is connected. Gun violence is connected to civil rights is connected to feminism is connected to school safety is connected to institutionalized bigotry is connected to privatized prisons is connected to education is connected to gun violence.
Whether the violence is state-sponsored or personal or patriarchal, in America it all intersects at the barrel of a gun. Our purpose on this trip is to bear witness, to photograph, to document, to reflect. As artists, our job is to mirror what we see.
Maureen and I have covered a lot of highway together but never for a purpose as strange and as somber as this. We hit the road in one week. I don't know what we will find, but I hope you will join us for the adventure. Thank you in advance for your soft shoulders.
For media or partnership inquiries, please contact Shannon Cain at firstname.lastname@example.org. All images (c) Maureen Cain 2019