Living History: Stories of Service at Angels Gate

  • 02/19/2015
  • Andrea Serna

By Andrea Serna, Arts and Culture Writer

Angels Gate Cultural Center is presenting Service and Other Stories: A Living History Project, a yearlong exhibition that plans to engage U.S. military veterans from all 20th and 21st century conflicts.

The project, led by Los Angeles artist Farrah Karapetian, involved veterans Joe Debble, Mike Felch, John Warhank, Justin Wilson and local ROTC cadets. The installation shares their stories as veterans. Their experiences are just a sample of the multitude of voices that belong to veterans in the Los Angeles region.

Service and Other Stories attempts to reveal the real people behind America’s wars. In a nation battered by a period of continuous war, conducted by a professional military, the humanization of these warriors is deeply needed.

The controversy surrounding the film American Sniper seems to demonstrate the nation’s yearning to connect with combatants, even if our desire to examine the driving forces behind the ongoing combat seems to be lacking.

Angels Gate was fortunate to bring in Karapetian, an accomplished conceptual artist with a history of working with veterans. The artist dedicated nearly two years to this project, meeting twice a month with the vets involved and developing the concepts utilized in the show.

Karapetian utilized the process of photograms to depict soldiers in action. A photogram is a photographic image made without a camera by placing objects directly onto the surface of a light-sensitive material such as photographic paper, and then exposing them to light. The resulting images are a main feature, lining the walls of the main gallery. A focus of Karapetian’s cameraless photographic investigation was the “muscle memory” of veterans of the Armed Forces. Veterans were asked about postures that their bodies best remembered from their experience of warfare and then reenacted these positions in the darkroom.

Isabelle Lutterodt, director of visual arts at Angels Gate, intends for this yearlong exhibit to be a collaborative community-engaged project. The exhibit will draw from many resources within the South Bay to bring veterans together. She plans to reach out to Veterans for Peace, Military Families Speak Out, the Peace Club at San Pedro High School and the U.S. Veteran Artist’s Alliance in Culver City. Throughout the coming year, Lutterodt hopes to develop the exhibition programming through an alliance with as many perspectives as possible.

“It is going to grow organically,” Lutterodt said. “As people in the veteran community offer to loan us objects, we will add them to the exhibit and their story will become part of the exhibit. It also allows people to keep coming back and see something new, there will be stories that emerge.”

One of the most powerful displays in the exhibit is the work of Phillip Schladweiler, the creator of the Shrapnel Project, a series that examines the shrapnel that changed his and others’ lives. In 2006, he was wounded in Iraq. As an experiential artist, his project documents the photographic images of the shrapnel taken from his own body and the bodies of other injured veterans.
Other exhibit details fall back on traditional features, such as a memorial wall, which the veterans found important in order to salute their fallen comrades.

A well-intentioned, yet provocative installation is a shadow box. The intent is for student groups to reenact war scenarios using shadow puppets of planes, guns, helicopters etc. Meant to spark questions about the personal experiences of service men and women, it will most likely become a popular place for children to do what they always do, which is to “play war” in the gallery.

Missing from the bulk of the exhibit is the reflection of the true cost of war on the nation and the personnel who have dedicated their lives to the misdirected campaign that has deeply changed the country and the mission of the military. As an exhibit in progress, we hope to see the community contribute additional voices to the exhibit.

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Andrea Serna is a freelance writer and Wikipedia editor living and working in San Pedro.

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