Operation 21 Payer Salute - Stadler Gallery | Kingfield, Maine

With this work I'm attempting to critique the role of religion in war and politics since 911. I've begun by referencing the military's growing sophistication in the practice of naming military operations, in which operations are given names carefully selected to shape perceptions about them. I've turned the word operation on its head however by appropriating the hapless character "Cavity Sam" from the children's game "Operation" and used him to symbolize the simple idea of "soldier as pawn" and to suggest that our compliance in supporting military operations has an unreal quality; as if we were innocent children playing a game.

There are many Americans who truly believe that our present day military operations do constitute a spiritual war and there is a certain irony in the idea of the far Christian right battling an extreme Islamic Fundamentalism. That this stance does not acknowledge the role of oil wealth as the driving force behind the present day conflict should be of great concern to all.

The installation consists of 21 two-sided canvases painted to resemble flag draped and wooden coffins linked together in a single chain like prayer beads. (In researching for this installation I was interested to discover that many religions use prayer beads.) The chain hangs from an upper barn beam and transitions onto the barn floor as if from a lofty or heavenly ascension down to a starkly contrasting military-like conveyor belt. Both war and prayer share the element of repetition and it is left up to the viewer to contemplate how their respective distinctions are represented within this work. Each canvas, a bead on a chain, becomes a visual totem, rather than a tactile counter, through which the viewer might project his/her psyche to laugh, pray, cry, curse or meditate upon.

Part of what motivated me to format these canvases as coffins was a desire to present a symbolic form that seems to be conspicuously kept from public view by those who choose to wage war. This attempt to prevent images of war’s aftermath from reaching the public, I fear, helps to sustain war by not acknowledging its reality. Such a strategy also seems designed to preempt the kind of groundswell of protests common in the Vietnam era.

The backside of each canvas is papered with cancelled checks and a pair of ink and watercolor drawings. These drawings were created over the winter as I was developing my ideas for this installation. Some of the drawings have a clear molded plastic readymade from a toy or hardware product packaging mounted on it. I like how the molded plastic is like a window or container, yet it carries with it an articulated surface that creates a tension with its own transparency. The cancelled checks, in turn, represent a kind of record or diary of an individual, one day, one purchase at a time. Thus the backside of each canvas is more personal, an invitation for the viewer to reflect on the personal struggles of being an artist trying to develop ideas and find a voice.

The Stadler Gallery is a unique and inspiring enterprise. Artist, Ulrike Stadler Kozak, runs it single-handedly providing opportunities for emerging, alternative and under recognized artists in an open and non-judgmental way. She has been offering this opportunity since 2000 and has a regular listing in the Union of Maine Visual Artist’s ( newsletter offering what is essentially a large part of her own studio space for other artists to share as their own exhibition space for a month at a time. And what a space! It is a large New England Barn in central Maine. The showcase of my work there was unique in terms of its exposure for me and as an opportunity for the people of Kingfield to be exposed to contemporary art. It is my most ambitious installation to date and as it is designed for the Stadler barn space, it has been an awesome opportunity for me to challenge myself in order to create a bold artistic expression in a majestic and dynamic space.

Kenny Cole May 2005

Operation 21 Prayer Salute
 was funded in part by a grant from the Maine Arts Commission, an independent state agency supported by the National Endowment for the Arts