The gallery is pleased to present its first solo show by Minnesota-based artist Aaron Spangler entitled Government Whore.

The exhibition features a new series of three carved wood bas-relief sculptures painted with black gesso and rubbed with graphite, which has become the artist’s signature. Displayed atop welded steel pedestals that evoke the optimism of the Industrial Revolution or the utopian notions of Constructivist architecture, the roughly hewn yet detailed scenes reveal a more complicated picture of the rural American landscape. Drawing upon the stories of his friends, the artist considers the often-overlooked contributions that our multigenerational community of post-combat veteran soldiers makes to the political, religious, familial culture of middle America.

I spent two years on a foreign shore
Bein' a government whore
I sold my body, they stole my mind
Tellin' me, "Boy, now you're mine."

– Bruce Brummitt

Bringing to mind Winslow Homer’s “The Veteran In A New Field”, Spangler’s “Government Whore” portrays a shell-shocked war veteran amid the comforts of home, yet still clinging to his SKS rifle while in bed contemplating past sins. Flowers, bundles of sage, a Bowler hat, and a farm house are juxtaposed with a cow skull, animal claws, palm leaves, and an ascending soldier to create a dreamlike sequence of the rivaling environments of Vietnam and the United States.

Some people say a man is made outta mud
A poor man's made outta muscle and blood
Muscle and blood and skin and bones
A mind that's a-weak and a back that's strong
You load sixteen tons, what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt”

– Merle Travis

In “I Owe My Soul To The Company Store,” the artist employs the narrative within Merle Travis’ classic coal miner’s tale to encourage free associations between America’s history of debt bondage and military enlistment; emblematic images of corrugated cardboard boxes spill out onto a fallen soldier, whose clinched fist clasps the wooden upright of a farm shed – all to the backdrop of what appears to be a Trojan horse jettisoning out of a wooded hillside.

Your loyalty is not to me
But to the stars above.
One more cup of coffee for the road,
One more cup of coffee 'fore I go
the valley below.

– Bob Dylan

“The Valley Below” celebrates the peace, beauty, idealism, and magic of the undomesticated life “off the grid”, which has often become the destination of many in the hippie movement following wartime. A prominent Barn Owl, which is known to actively hunt for prey only under the cover of darkness, seems to beckon the viewer back to the land and its groves in search of a simpler way of living.

Aaron Spangler (b. 1971, Minneapolis, MN) lives and works in Park Rapids, MN. He received a BFA from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, Minneapolis, MN. His work has been featured in solo exhibitions at Galerie Michael Janssen, Berlin and Zach Feuer Gallery, New York. He has been included in group exhibitions at the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, The Netherlands; The Rubell Family Collection, Miami, FL; and the New York Academy of Art, New York. He is in the permanent collections of the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto and the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA. His work has been featured in The New York Times, Artforum, Flash Art, among others.

***

Selected Writings by Bruce Brummitt

I spent two years on a foreign shore
Bein' a government whore
I sold my body, they stole my mind
Tellin' me, "Boy, now you're mine."

Those two years 'neath the southern cross
Turned out to be my country's loss
Kill commies for Christ, the Chaplain told me
As I prayed on a wounded knee.

Cuz, "Might makes right, can't you see boy?"
It's "Our country tis of thee, boy"
But killin' people to set 'em free...boy,
seemed like fuckin' for virginity.

What do you know when you're only 18
Twelve years of school's the only life you've ever seen
Always taught from government books
Always caught in propaganda's hooks

So I moved to the woods, where I tried to forget
I had to admit I just didn't fit
I fight the war most nights in my dreams
I wake myself to the sound of my own screams
But the country didn't seem to learn from our mistake
They're still fightin' wars for big money's sake
Yellow ribbons decorate our stores
We all have become the government's whores

What do we learn when we watch our televisions?
We're lettin' other people make all of our decisions
Our name's on the government's books
And we're all caught in propaganda's hooks...

***

At night, rivers of memories, images swollen as if by rains of the monsoon. I'm drawn into a torrent, dragged downstream...impossible to grasp onto branches of now to pull myself safely to shore. Fog overcomes me. Smoke smelling of gunpowder, diesel, burning hair and flesh. Mere pinholes of light burned into the camera obscura of my soul.

I'm on a mountainside looking through field glasses at the valley below. Nine men in NVA uniforms are walking single file along the berm of a rice paddy. I adjust artillery. A marking round falls 100 meters in front of them. They turn and run the opposite direction. An explosive round falls 50 meters in front of them. They turn and run again. I'm giddy. It's ducks at the carnival. Explosions fall on top of them. Arms and legs become separated from torsos.

I'm on a small forward support base, a landing zone above the ville of Hiep Duc. It's my duty to receive grid coordinates of suspected enemy targets and check to be certain there are no friendlies located there. The radio crackles, the warble of a chopper pilot's voice requesting clearance to engage "three military aged males with packs and weapons evading". I've heard that terminology so often, standard jargon. Shorthand. Usually a cursory glance of maps reveal there should be no friendlies there and I give my permission to fire. This time I hesitate. I ask the pilot his altitude. He says, "three thousand feet, over". I ask him to take a closer look and call me back. A few minutes later he tells me to disregard his previous transmission. I ask the true nature of his intended target. "A mamasan and two babysans, doing laundry by the river." My heart pounds out of my chest. How many times had I given my permission to kill mamasans and babysans? How many?

Asleep in my 8 foot by 10 foot ammo box and sandbag bunker. My first night on the hill. Explosions send sand into my eyes. I sit bolt upright with a deafening ring in my ears. Grabbing bandolier and rifle I dash out of my hootch toward a large boulder. Rounding the corner I run smack dab into another man/child. Vietnamese. The enemy. His eyes mirror the terror in my own. Running away from each other, I hide behind the rock. All hell has broken loose. Machine guns on the hill outside the perimeter are firing for the other team. The wire has been breeched. A man is on fire, dead on his feet. An aircraft named Puff the Magic Dragon is firing mini-guns indiscriminately downward, killing, wounding without regard of faction. My rifle remains silent. By dawn's early light, our flag was still there. Bodies were laid out like trophy deer at hunting camp. Various grinning men have polaroids made with the kill. I stumble about, staggering, gagging...my senses overwhelming. I seek the chaplain, himself stumbling and staggering...dressed only in his olive drab boxers and steel helmet, dogtags and crucifix. I ask the meaning of all this. "Where is God?"... He, a father figure, an officer... man of the cloth...he must know. But he stares, hypnotically, into the distance...shaking his head and repeating, over and over again..."I don't know!" I realise, at that moment, no one knows.

***

upstream from white sand beaches
are hamlets, paddies and canyons
bombshells unexploded
cratered land
cratered faces
mangled extremities
defective births...
the villages have memories
nightmares and visions
the countryside still echoes

we returned to the comfort
of our politics and rhetoric
leaving a legacy of disfigurement...
scarring persons and landscape
poisoned food chain
poisoned minds
blackened hearts...

a righteous nation
hands over hearts
reciting the pledge
still preaching to the world
hands over ears and eyes
still speaking the lies
making the guilt safe and tucked away
in hospitals and dead-end jobs
in parades and sunday services
in vfw and legion halls
in broken homes
in shattered illusions
in battered women's shelters
in cemeteries

***

Out of these nightmares, these screams, I found solace when I returned to the world...but not in the cities' streets of my youth, or a connection to our nation state...but off, into the countryside, where I'd learned from the peasantry in that foreign land we'd occupied. Connection to the earth, to the cycles of the seasons...the rains, the droughts, the wildness of the forest creatures. Without a piece of land on which I could build a simple dwelling out of the natural materials on hand...the logs, the stones...I would have been homeless, continuing to wander as I did when I first returned. I found that the myth of the rugged individual, man as an island, is a lonely, bitter existence. I learned from so many others who had emigrated away from cities and into the countryside in those days of turbulence...some victims of police brutality during war protests, others abused by families and the system. However they got to the rural areas of America, they sought a simpler existence and some semblance of true freedoms. The immediate actions of chopping wood and carrying water kept us in the now. Seeking shelter and food. Relearning from others that which wasn't available from our kinfolk...I shoed logging horses in Oregon, cut firewood and made western shirts on a treadle sewing machine in the mountains of Arizona. I was in and out of relationships, struggling with my memories...drugs, alcohol, anger...Only the connection to the earth I found and the home in the earth that I built...the gardens, fruit trees and flowers, brought me some stability, some sanity. And finally allowed me to find a stable relationship with a woman who walks in grace. ..who herself is a veteran.

Four decades have passed and yet I still awaken to the sounds of my own screams...I wonder and ponder, still. What is it all about? To me it is about the directness of my needs, and the connection to others in the greater community of souls. The dying trees we cut to make firewood for heat or cooking. The solar panels we have added over the years to replace kerosene lamps. The music we make around campfires and the meals we share.

The angst that is felt by so many because of wars and intrigue...because of the rhetoric of politics...has become the history of the countryside...and is not unique to our nation state. I already see the waves of a new generation of wanderers, finding their way to a sense of place.

Our home huddled safe in the womb of the earth, its simplicity, its soft, interdependent harmony. A blackened kettle steaming on the fire, drinking coffee...talking of this and that. A feeling, an opinion, a fact.

Installation View: Aaron Spangler, Government Whore, Horton Gallery, Chelsea

Installation View: Aaron Spangler, Government Whore, Horton Gallery, Chelsea


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