Published on May 6th, 2016 | by gatsbyadmin0
Back to the Future – Black Book Gallery
A look back and into the future of glass pipe history. Featuring the past and present work from pipe making innovators: Chris Carlson, Ease, Eusheen, JAG, Micah Evans, Slinger, and Zach Puchowitz.
This is the first exhibit in a series that will explore the history of glass pipe making culture. The title of the exhibit “Back to the Future” references a famous movie but in this context we are describing a moment in time that changed the entire culture of pipe making, the artists and their futures.
Throughout history there have been many instances of artists being punished for their creative endeavors. Artists of all types have faced a wide range of consequences for their desire to express themselves – musicians, writers, actors, comedians, graffiti artists, skateboarders, photographers, painters – any person or group of people who use creative expression to communicate have likely faced some form of oppression. Typically opposition develops through a difference of opinion, cultural view, religion or generational gap within society. However, in this worst case scenario, it takes form via a political movement backed by enforcement from a government.
13 years ago the United States government took the extraordinary step or using an narrow interpretation of a federal statute in an attempt to crush an entire industry on the basis it was in the best interest of the public.
“Operation Pipe Dream” (OPD) raids were executed by the U.S. government on Feb. 24th, 2003 with the intent to stop the production and distribution of drug paraphernalia. In particular they would target people behind production and sales for marijuana pipes and bongs. Over 50 people including head shop owners, pipe makers, and sellers from across the country were indicted on charges of conspiring to traffic drug paraphernalia. In a move to create a public relations example average people could relate to, they targeted well known advocate and businessman who also happened to be a pop culture icon – Tommy Chong. Tommy and his pipe distribution company would fall victim to the rarely used law in what is widely considered a blatant use of entrapment. It may com as no surprise the U.S. Attorney General making these decisions at the time was John Ashcroft. Ashcroft cited the use and growing spread of the internet as one of the main motivations.
Many of the people listed in the indictment would go on to pay fines and serve home detention but Tommy Chong was sentenced to 9 months in federal prison with an assortment of fines and property seizures. The cumulative effect of this take down resulted in the destruction of many hard earned careers and futures. Suddenly, pipe making was on the radar of the federal government and they seemed willing to go to great lengths to shut it down.
While its true the internet was a great sales and distribution tool, little did they know it would also serve to fortify the pipe making community and artists in the years that followed.
In response to OPD, the majority of pipe making artists went further underground and continued to make pipes and push the culture to not only survive – but to thrive. For many artists it would spark a new level of creativity and desire to push the boundaries of pipe making into functional pieces of art, in their eyes the phrase “drug paraphernalia” would no longer be applied to their work.
With the creation of social media and an individuals power to create their own following the government quickly lost control of their preferred narrative. The amount of information and the ease of which to access it moved us into a new realm of personal and cultural expression. This would play a critical component in the reemergence of pipe making into a cultural and artistic phenomenon.
In this exhibit, they featured a handful of artists that have contributed greatly to pipe making culture. The artists features have all been personally effected by OPD. The come from different backgrounds but one important motivation they all share is a desire to push pipe making culture as an art form. Much like punk, skateboard, and street art movements took time to develop and achieve wider public and critical (“art world”) acceptance, pipe making is on a similar trajectory. Each artist will have new works and old works on display, including a handful of very rare pieces from private collections dating back 10 years and more.
It was an amazing opening reception and we enjoyed the exhibit a few more times as visitors came into town. Black Book Gallery is an amazing gem within the heart of the Denver and continues to bring remarkable shows to the community. Make it a stop on your next visit, bike ride, or evening out….you wont be disappointed.