On Cade Duff’s “KILLING FOR SPORT” by Kristina Johnson
On a trip to Arizona, Cade Duff found himself rummaging through old boxes of family memorabilia with his grandma Dona. Flipping through an album of old photographs, he stops on a peculiar black and white picture of two men. One of the men Duff recognized as Slim, his great, great uncle. The other, as he would find out, is a hunting buddy and good friend of Slim’s. Both men bare somber faces and lean on either side of a freshly slaughtered trophy, a large buck draped over the front of a car. Duff assumed the photo to be a proud relic memorializing a great moment for the two hunters. He imagined this image served as a commemorative supplement to the trophy buck, corroborating their successful participation in the spectacle of hunting for sport. Discovery of the image became the impetus for much of the work on display in “KILLING FOR SPORT." As Duff browsed through family keepsakes, among them being items he would eventually inherit, a desire for knowledge was ignited. A desire to know about those who came before him–before it's too late. Mementos of his lineage, like this photograph, fuel the content that contributes to his art practice and facilitates an opportunity to engage with living family members on the topic of their overly guarded past. Duff would come to find out the trophy picture of Slim and the deer–a photo his grandmother would vividly remember–was erroneously interpreted. In fact, on a recent phone call to his grandma Dona, she corrected Duff’s assumptions about Slim. The photograph was not about the achievement in killing for sport. Dona told Duff that Slim’s family grew up hunting for sustenance, and she said it was the first deer Slim ever killed. Not long after the picture was taken Slim felt ashamed of this particularly barbaric action and the deer was laid to rest in a shallow grave nearby. Enlightened by the misinterpretation, this event became a peculiar entry point into Duff’s complicated family history.
The title, “KILLING FOR SPORT,” comes from a diary entry written by grandma Dona. It is worth noting that many printed works in the show directly reference her text. The entry starts with her relaying the experience of a rather startling news broadcast. She describes seeing a young boy posed next to “a beautiful, pure white deer with a big rack of antlers.” It was dead. The boy and his family stood proud by their trophy, and let viewers know it would soon be mounted in their home. The news anchor exclaimed to the camera how rare it is to encounter an albino deer but Duff’s grandmother was sickened by the event. Dona goes on to write that she became angered and troubled by the senseless killing of defenseless animals, ultimately turning the station and wondering if other viewers felt the same discontent with the broadcast. She concludes her entry:
What is it about some people that killing defenseless animals seems to give them pleasure? I can’t understand the cruelty or the pleasure in such an act of violence. My family hunted for food, when there was no other way. But never for the sake of just killing.
I also wonder what it is about trophy hunting that is so appealing? Is it the trophy hunter killing for sport and pure pleasure in using their own weapon of choice, giving the wild animal in their sights no fighting chance? Or the practice of canned hunting or baiting, where wild animals are again lured to their death using methods stacked in the trophy hunter’s favor.
Clay pigeons are used for aerial target practice, they are fragile but brittle items that you only use once. When it shatters, there is little else you can do with it. In Duff’s piece, Good Shot // artifice of man (2023), he highlights the symbolism of the clay pigeon often used in trap, skeet, and sport shooting. At its genesis, trap shooting meant a live bird would be released from a trap to be tracked and taken down by the shooter. Today, sporting clay courses are designed to simulate the hunting of wild game like ducks and pheasants. Sporting clays introduce the illusion of speed or distance in the eye of the shooter, in order to simulate the experience of actual hunting conditions. If you’re looking to hone your reflexes and shooting skills, you’d likely pick sporting clays over skeet or trap shooting.
After a quick Google search, sporting clays simulate the unpredictability of live-quarry shooting, offering a great variety of trajectories, angles, speeds, elevations, distances, and target sizes. The use of clay pigeons began after the use of real pigeons stopped in the 1920s. The colors of the clay pigeons are typically bright, so they stand out in any environment, the most common being fluorescent orange and black on the bottom. The pigeon is made of chalk and pitch. In the sport, a hit is called a “kill” and a miss is referred to as a “bird away.” The machine that now launches the clay pigeon is still called the “trap.”
- a device or enclosure designed to catch and retain animals, typically by allowing entry but not exit or by catching hold of a part of the body.
- a situation in which people lie in wait to make a surprise attack.
In some form or another we all seek escapism. Sometimes we indulge for entertainment. Other times we are looking for a distraction from the daily grind. In most instances, escapism isn’t harmful. For the thrill that comes with scoring a major win, someone may seek to escape with gambling. Then they keep playing with the hope they’ll win again, and again, to experience the same good feeling. However, when they lose, particularly big losses, a cycle of compulsive behavior can begin. One of the reasons for gambling is that it's human nature to feel excited when taking risks, and the positive feeling gained from gambling is no different. "Will my numbers come up?" "Will I win?" The sense of anticipation creates a natural high, an adrenaline rush, a feeling that very many of us seek when looking for fun and entertainment. A feeling that some people believe they cannot live without.
Gambling and hunting both involve an element of risk and uncertainty, which can be exciting and appealing to some. In both activities, there is a chance of achieving a desired outcome (catching prey or winning money) but also a risk of failure (not catching anything or losing money). From an evolutionary perspective, we have always been hunters and gatherers, and the thrill of hunting may be deeply ingrained in our psychology. Hunting requires skill, patience, and strategic thinking, which can be rewarding in and of themselves. Similarly, gambling is a modern form of risk-taking, which has been a part of human culture for thousands of years. But is it a trap to enjoy the thrill of potentially winning big, even if the odds are stacked against you? Both have the potential to lead to a sense of being trapped or caught in a situation. In hunting, the prey is seen as a target to be captured or killed, creating a sense of being trapped or cornered. Habitual gambling can trap the player in a cycle of risk-taking and chasing losses. In both cases, the individual may feel trapped by the desire to achieve a certain outcome, whether it be catching a particular animal or winning a large sum of money. The cycle will keep repeating itself, creating the escapist's desired feedback loop.
7 is known as the sacred number of elders. It acts as the symbol of knowledge, spirituality, faith, mental energy, teaching, studies, meditation, philosophy, psychology, and science. It is beneficial, cosmic, and perfectionist. Likewise, it represents loyalty, refinement, wisdom, and independence.