NEW YORK, NY.- On May 1, 2012, American artist Margaret Evangeline heard President Obama's speech broadcast live from Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan projecting the end of a ten-year war. She listened with mixed reaction, knowing that the sense of jeopardy and urgency shared by families of serving soldiers was lacking in America's national collective consciousness. MSNBC commentator Rachel Maddow attests to this in her book Drift, The Unmooring of American Military Power. In the words of New York Times media critic David Carr, we've become a nation "at peace with being at war."
The Obama speech sealed Evangeline's resolve to finish a personal project that she had started in 2011 to relieve the constant emotional challenge of concern for her eldest son Michael, who was in his third deployment to Iraq. The project is a collaboration that linked Evangeline to soldiers on the military outpost, Balad, in Afghanistan. She completed the work earlier this year and it will be unveiled in her new monograph Sabachthani: Why Have You Forsaken Me? (Charta, November 2012). This deeply personal work in two parts (The Stations and The Chorus) combines the artist's signature gunshot markings on stainless steel that she describes as "painting without paint" with poetry and iconic press images of the 1960s.
Sabachthani: The Stations
In 2011, Evangeline mailed over twenty pristine aluminum rectangular bars to her son in Iraq with a request to get them shot at. He arranged to have two soldiers fire at the bars on April 21, 2011 at the Joint Base of Balad, north of Baghdad, using various U.S. military pistols and rifles. The bars marked with bullet holes were then sent back to Evangeline's studio in New York.
These bars represent for Evangeline physical tactile evidence of the work of America's serving soldiers who have been selectively obscured from public view in America. She chose fourteen marked bars for her installation, each symbolizing one of the Stations of the Cross. She coated the bars with an iridescent white power evoking the transcendent qualities of healing balms used during liturgical services, and then mounted them horizontally on adjacent walls. In his essay, Dominique Nahas describes the bars as "viewing and resting spots arranged so as to make a visitation with each individual piece: pilgrims finding passage through a meta-modern version of the Via Dolorosa." The installation is depicted in the book as a sequence of fourteen photographs.
With only 1% of Americans serving in the military today, families keeping vigil for the return of a loved one often feel forsaken. Each bullet hole in The Stations represents one of these families. The book title Sabachthani is from the passage in the scriptures when during his ninth hour on the cross Jesus cries out: "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?"-- that means, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"
Evangeline's The Stations was inspired by the same cry as Barnett Newman's The Stations of the Cross (1958-1966). In 1966 Barnett wrote about the work: "The cry of Lema-for what purpose? -this is the Passion and this is what I have tried to evoke in these paintings ... I wanted human scale for the human cry ... I wanted to hold the emotion, not waste it in picturesque ecstasies. The cry, the unanswerable cry, is world without end. But a world has to hold it, world without end, in its limits." Evangeline's Stations began with the same proportions as Barnett Newman's singular strip of a painting, "The Wild," but she shortened the strip so she could mail it to her son.
Sabachthani: The Chorus
The Stations is followed by The Chorus where Evangeline works with iconic press photographs of historic events from the turbulent 1960s and Vietnam era. The images include the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and John F. Kennedy, and the killings at Kent State. Each photograph is reflected back at the viewer from a stainless steel bullet-riddled panel, Praxis, 2012, giving the illusion that the photograph itself has been shot at - an act of violence upon violence. As the Greek Chorus in a play comments on the often-misguided exploits of its actors, The Chorus in Sabachthani is savagely confronting the violence wrought by guns.
The work is further complimented by moving poems about love, loss, and war penned by Margaret Evangeline ("The Debt"), writer Julie Fontenot Landry ("Stabat Mater"), and poet and art writer Jonathan Goodman ("As Was Intended" "In The Event," and "A Distant Hunger").
Evangeline grew up in the American South in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and her work is deeply rooted in American gun culture. She learned to shoot a gun when she was a little girl, taught by her French-speaking Cajun grandfather on his farm. Shooting back then was a shared gift that related to hunting and sustainability. In an interview with D. Dominick Lombardi published in Sculpture magazine, Evangeline talks about eating "lots of squirrel gumbo, with BBs rolling around at the bottom of the bowl."
In 1997, Evangeline started incorporating guns into her art. She began with shooting stainless steel panels in New Mexico that reflected the big sky of the Southwest, marking them with bullet holes that appeared to pierce the sky. Later, in 2005, she began shooting mirrored steel for her acclaimed series, Gunshot Landscape, which began as a site-specific work for the permanent collection of The Fields International Sculpture Park in Ghent, New York. In September 2008, Evangeline created an installation incorporating her marked stainless steel panels for the River Thames in London on a barge opposite the Tate Modern, commissioned by Illuminate Productions. The work, entitled Saved From Drowning, memorializes the tragic sinking of the pleasure boat, Marchioness, on a birthday voyage some thirty years ago.Last year, Charta published her first monograph, Margaret Evangeline: Shooting Through the Looking Glass, providing an overview of her work, including video, painting, and performance. Sabachthani continues her survey of the expansion of the terms of painting. Evangeline lives in New York where she draws inspiration from the Hudson River.
Evangeline's work is widely collected and discussed in the press. Her paintings are in numerous museum collections including McNay Museum, New Orleans Museum of Art, Knoxville Art Museum, Rose Art Museum, CU Boulder Art Museum, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, Tucson Museum of Art, Hilliard Museum, Tennessee State Museum, and Alexandria Museum.