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Digging In: Aaron Spangler on “Government Whore” and other sculptures

Artist Aaron Spangler recounts his inspiration for the carved and painted basswood sculptures currently featured in the exhibition The Spectacular of Vernacular. Spangler, whose work is shown at the Galerie Michael Janssen in Berlin and at Horton Gallery in New York City, lives 20 miles outside of Park Rapids, Minnesota, on 150 acres of land. “These […]

"Government Whore," 2009-2010

Artist Aaron Spangler recounts his inspiration for the carved and painted basswood sculptures currently featured in the exhibition The Spectacular of Vernacular. Spangler, whose work is shown at the Galerie Michael Janssen in Berlin and at Horton Gallery in New York City, lives 20 miles outside of Park Rapids, Minnesota, on 150 acres of land.

“These three sculptures came into focus while I was digging a hole for my friend Bruce. We were hand-digging an addition to his underground house, which is a classic piece of hippie back-to-the-lander architecture. As happens when people are toiling with shovels, stories broke to the surface throughout the day, many of which we’ve told to each other before in the course of our 25-year friendship. But this time, Bruce’s narratives about the time following the Vietnam War, during which he moved to the woods and built his homestead, found a different hook in my imagination.

I had been working on an epic twenty-foot-long piece, carving out burrows and protective islands of rural isolation, and I was thinking about how and why young Americans turned to the woods in search of a more meaningful, self-directed life—and how that was mirrored in the western migration of the early pioneers. Bruce started talking about a group of young hippies in Oregon during the 1970s who were living an extremely primitive hunter-gatherer life in the federal forest. When two “shaman” came to join the tribe, they proved disruptive to the sexist arrangement of the commune–women doing women’s work only, the men hunting, and so on–so they were beheaded.  The National Guard then decided to take the tribe out of the forest, and a gun battle ensued. All this is just to say that I had a plan for the piece, but it was at that moment too sensational and not yet detailed, and then I find myself digging a hole for Bruce, a Vietnam vet still trying to find his way forward. Adding onto his bunker by digging out one wheelbarrow-load of dirt after another, we were just working to make things a little more comfortable, putting in a kitchen sink drain so that he could get rid of the buckets. A song that he had written during the first Gulf War kept going through my head: “Government Whore.” Around the campfire it was the song that always seemed to shut the party down, like the sudden bright lights of a bar at closing time. ”

Bruce Brummitt

Listen to an MP3 of Bruce singing “Government Whore” – a field recording made recently by Michael Dagen at Abandoned Scout Camp in Hewitt, Minnesota. Lyrics:

“I spent two years on a foreign shore
Bein’ a government whore
Sold my body, they stole my mind
Told 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
We’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
We’re all caught in propaganda’s hooks…”

Time Out New York review of Aaron Spangler: Government Whore at Horton Gallery in 2010

Artforum review of Spangler’s 2007 show at the Zach Feuer Gallery

"To the Valley Below," 2009-10

"I Owe My Soul to the Company Store," 2009-10

  • Pat Harris says:

    Hey, Spangler – ya ever get over to big mantrap to fish muskie? I do. I live in New Mexico but always try to stay with Pat and Frank at Norway Hills every summer to fish a bit. Might want to look you up someday. Waddaya say? Pat H

  • Long John says:

    I’m not an artist…nor do I have an artists eye…I have to confess that lots of “art” confuses me…I guess I just don’t always get the meaning intended, or have a hard time relating what was intended to what I see before me…

    I’m just an ordinary guy, just a simple guy…I’m a broadcaster, railroader, and part time specialty crop farmer…

    I just read an interesting book that Aaron Spangler might find inspiration in: Tracks Ahead (An American Rail Odyssey) by Terry Pindell (pub by Henry Holt book, NYC) ISBN 0-8050-1740-2 Library # 917.304’927…

    I think this muight be inspiration for a sculpture about the 1st transcontinental railroads, robber barons, and land grabs…

    But like I said, I don’t understand art…