New Uses of Common Objects, Wilding Cran, 2019

Scott Benzel, New Use of Common Objects, 2019, exhibited Wilding Cran, Los Angeles, as part of L.A. on Fire curated by Michael Slenske

The police procedural manual Recognition of Explosive and Incendiary Devices, Part I, Hand and Rifle Grenades  by Thompson S Crockett and Charles R. Newhouser, published in 1976 by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, Inc., includes, alongside diagrams of commercial and military devices, drawings of ingenious improvised devices composed of common household objects and readily available explosives- fireworks, black powder, shotgun shells. The drawings exhibit a pronounced ‘pop’ sensibility, as if executed by a moonlighting Eddie Russia, with brands popular in the America of the 1970’s recognizable throughout, as well as then-popular fireworks, most prominently, ‘cherry bombs’.

Several of the improvised explosives and incendiary devices detailed in the manual were employed by the radical, violent, somewhat surreal insurgent group the Symbionese Liberation Army. Notably, two pipe bombs placed beneath LAPD cars on August 21, 1975 were attributed to the SLA.

On May 17, 1974, two commercial incendiary devices, CS Flite-Rite tear gas projectiles, were fired by a SWAT officer into the South Central Los Angeles home where members of the Symbionese Liberation Army were holed up, incinerating everyone in the space. The event, broadcast live on national television, was the first major live national news event, owing to the use of new ‘minicam’ technology which allowed television stations and networks to broadcast live from remote locations. Patricia Hearst, the heiress-turned-kidnapping-victim-turned-SLA-member, was initially thought to be among those burned alive. It was later determined that she had watched the events unfold on television from a hotel room near Disneyland.