Sunday, August 24, 2008

Art amid destruction

Our friend picked us up at our hotel in the French Quarter, and drove downriver, across Esplanade. We were in the part of town called Faubourg Marigny, one of the first "suburbs" of this old city. Jazz and music clubs were ranked along Frenchman Street, but our friend passed that and continued on into the Bywater.
Here we first began seeing the distinctive spray-painted markings of the rescuers on the side of each house or building. On this blue house, the markings show that rescuers found cats living in this house, but a second, later party of rescuers found two of the cats dead.

Our friend made a phone call and while he drove he explained he was taking us to an art installation in the nearby St. Roch neighborhood. The Kirsha Kaechele Projects is a series of old 1880s abandoned cottages where artists are invited to create installations that work within the spaces as they find them. The result is adventurous, touching, challenging and poignant.

As we drove over, the threatening clouds that had been building in the sky let go, and we walked with the gallery's docent from ruined house to ruined house beneath large pattering drops of rain. The water made some of the installations resonate with meaning even more, as water dripped on shattered walls coated with moss, and pooled in the low spots in fecund back yards.

Our friend explained that one installation was created using the leftover remains of the Pink Houses installation held earlier this year in the Lower Ninth Ward to publicize Brad Pitt's "Make It Right" project. A pink vinyl tarp engulfed the back of the house. The viewer trod a narrow path between hundreds of mannequin heads that - today, in the rain - sank into a marshy, mossy swamp - reminder of souls lost in the flood. The pathway, of found materials, was spongy, waterlogged lumber that flexed uneasily beneath our steps.

Stepping through the hallway, you enter the back yard shrouded in the pink material, and the daylight filters through dead tree branches. The docent said that for the exhibit's opening, they held a tea party in this space, complete with cucumber sandwiches.

You might find it frivolous. You might find it sad. It was strange to look at the destruction in these Art Project houses and wonder what was real, what had been brought in. Was it necessary to bring in that ruined and waterlogged couch, or was it original to the space? Was the hole in the wall created, or was it always there?

One house featured a parlor with no floor - beneath the baseboards, there was just dirt and piers. Did an artist deliberately remove the floorboards and joists? Or was it like that when they found it? And - without joists, what was holding up these walls, anyway?

In one space, the artist had covered the entire surface of one room - walls, floor, ceiling, windows - with gold leaf. Outside the room was written "You Never Know when You're Living in the Golden Age."

And it's true. Look around and appreciate what's there, because, as these projects show, life is transitory.


Jason said...

What an amazing post! The pictures are fascinating and the narration is very well done.

Yet again, I find myself wishing I was traveling around with you. Especially in New Orleans!

Keep it coming!

Tootsie Farklepants said...

That room must have taken FOREVER to do! It's incredible!

Shayla said...

Very touching.