Sunday, August 2, 2015

Melinda Rose: Photographs of Isle de Jean Charles



"They are trying to wash us away..." was the most haunting refrain in Randy Newman's mid-1970s, Louisiana-centric album, Good Old Boys, a lyric made all the more haunting by the hurricanes and floods of recent decades. Nowhere has the saga of the wholesale collapse of Louisiana's coast been more dramatic than in the tiny Chitimacha Indian community of Isle de Jean Charles on the lacy coastal fringes of Terrebonne Parish. Once a cozy fishing village on ground high enough to raise crops or graze cattle, it has all but vanished as ever expanding networks of oil company canals became pathways for salt water to kill the trees and grasses that kept the land from washing away. In old WPA photographs, its inhabitants lived in ground level huts with palmetto-thatch roofs under shady, moss draped trees, but in these photographs made by Melinda Rose between 2005 and 2015, wooden camps on pilings appear amid the ruins of storm-ravaged former homes as skeletal as the dead trees that dot the landscape. For Rose, the tone is set by the young and the elderly in this starkest, most watery setting imaginable.

  
In Song 'n Dance Girl, top, a grinning, pixie-like ingénue stands on a pier leading to a cabin on a desolate expanse that bears little resemblance to the lush, tree shaded grasslands depicted in old photos, and only the timeless joys of childhood relieve the storm and salt-scoured landscape. The role of the elderly in perpetuating cultural memory is seen in Lil Tune for the Wife as a courtly gent strums a song on his guitar for his approving spouse. Jordan, the Road Home, is a head shot of a striking young woman framed by a long, thin road with expanses of water lapping at both sides, while From Island Road: Approaching Storm, is a minimalist view of a broad horizon darkened by looming turbulence roiling in the Gulf, a reminder of our sinking coast's fateful, and mostly man-made, vulnerabilities. ~Bookhardt / Of the Rising Tide: A Photo Essay on Isle de Jean Charles by Melinda Rose, Through September, Scott Edwards Gallery, 2109 Decatur St., 610-0581.


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Joshua Edward Bennett's "Ceniztanos"


Is modern physics overshadowing religion and philosophy? While most sciences still limit themselves to tangible and quantifiable things, modern physics theory often overlaps with the ancient metaphysical beliefs of Buddhism, Hinduism and Taoism. Throw in Einstein's attempts at a Grand Unified Theory --his so-called "theory of everything"--and the parallels with religion seem fairly obvious. Visual art has always reflected the influence of science, religion and mythology, but few artists have ever attempted a "theory of everything," which is what makes the range of Joshua Edward Bennett's Ceniztanos works at Good Children so unexpected. Quietly unassuming at first glance they, in his words, "exhibit concerns" about: "symbols and their meaning, ritual, ceremony, psychedelic visions, global connectivity on a psychic level, sacred geometry, awe, timelines, wonder, mechanical spirituality, tonal equilibrium and fascination with the other," in mixed media concoctions that are woven together in an improbably coherent fashion.


Precisely crafted from painted aluminum and plywood, these polished constructions reflect design motifs ranging from Pythagorean geometry to Peruvian Indian textile patterns. Elements of both appear in works like Ceybaiyi, top, the mysteriously iconic vibes of which recall the antiquity- based modernism of the Art Deco designs of the 1920s (as well as a diagram I once saw in a BMW motorcycle repair manual). Yet more mind bending are compositions like Woxi and Swonaa Naoxi, cube and conduit-like forms that play visual tricks not unlike the optical illusionist art of M. C. Escher if your eyes dare to linger on them. More complex concoctions like Biydwa Fosajic, above left, evoke ancient computer circuit boards inexplicably recovered from the ruins of Machu Picchu. Bennett also composed a dronelike electronic music soundtrack that accompanies the show, and if Ceniztanos doesn't quite equate to a grand unified theory of everything, it wades further into those deep and murky waters than most artists dare to contemplate, and we can only wonder what Einstein might have thought had he lived to visit 21st century St. Claude Avenue. ~Bookhardt / Ceniztanos: New Mixed-Media Work by Joshua Edward Bennett, Through Aug. 2, Good Children Gallery, 4037 St. Claude Ave., 616-7427.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

The Feral Collective at the Front



It's been said that "history is written by the victors," but may also be true that art history often seems to have been written to mostly reflect the culture of Europe and the U.S. Lately, Latin American art  has been receiving some long overdue recognition, with Mexico City emerging as a regional epicenter. These works by Mexico City's Feral Collective may initially suggest familiar conceptual or minimal art themes, but if we look a little deeper they reflect something stranger, as if the looser threads of ordinary reality had come unraveled and were whimsically rewoven by a cabal of metaphysical modernists.

 

Visitors are greeted by a line--a long horizontal tangle of pencil lines collectively drawn on the wall with an invitation to visitors to participate in creating "infinity." But Mariana Magdaleno's tie me up installation of ink drawings of eyes on paper ovals connected by a spidery web of string reflects what she calls "the connection power that exists between people when eyes meet each other." Jorge Rosano Gamboa's hanging paper scrolls with solitary lines of ink celebrate the "gravity spirits," while some  evocative imprints left in carbon black on the wall by the artist's animated body are titled vulture, left, (after a Mexican transformation ritual). Works by Christian Castaneda and Benjamin Sogols include walls covered with oversize replicas of face-down tarot cards that radiate portentous uncertainty--a quality echoed in Castaneda's "interventions," darkly painted graphical forms that confront the visitor like inexplicable shadows or mysterious omens. Things take a spectral turn in Roberto Flores' closet door, top, a video of the artist painting the outlines of a door on a blank wall that is, in turn, projected on to the gallery's side door, suggesting some sort of Home Depot portal to another dimension. And it is reassuring to note that the speculative approach to time and space found in Latin American fiction is alive and well in the work of the Feral Collective. ~Bookhardt / The Feral Collective: New Work by Christian Castaneda, Benjamin Sagols, Jorge Rosano Gamboa, Roberto Flores and Mariana Magdalena, Through Aug. 2, The Front, 4100 St. Claude Ave., 920-3980.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Haitian Paintings at Le Musee de FPC


New Orleans has a secret history that is hidden in plain sight: we are half Haitian. It's true. After Haiti's poorly armed rebels shockingly destroyed Napoleon's army--which spooked him into selling Louisiana--Haitian refugees, including thousands of Free People of Color, literally doubled the size of the city by 1810. It was the biggest gens de couleur libres community in America and helped turn New Orleans into one of the biggest and richest antebellum American cities. Entrepreneurial and savvy, they built much of Marigny, Treme and Bywater, and remained a bastion of African-American progress until segregation began leveling their exemplary legacy in the 1890s. Although this big expo of Haitian paintings is split between the McKenna Museum of African American Art and Le Musee de FPC, and while both are great, the latter is a little known gem that provides a unique context for viewing this visually lush collection assembled by the late Dr. Jean Chenier Brierre.


Haitian art can be fascinating for the way the rich colors and forms found in 20th century French painting seem to arise spontaneously from the magical blend of African, French and Native American traditions that comprise Haitian culture and its indigenous religion, voodoo. Indeed, voodoo-inspired painting comprises the native surrealism seen in works like Edward Brierre's Four Moments of the Sun, top left, a painterly evocation of Papa Legba, the spirit of the crossroads. G.P. Hector's Transaction at Sea Shore, above, suggests a folk art rendering of Haiti's ubiquitous street vendors and small boats, but look closely and it's hard to avoid the impression of a homegrown Raoul Dufy. Eric Girault's Fais dodo titite invokes the original meaning of the phrase --"lullaby"-- while recalling Picasso's blue period. Local Haitian painter Ulrick Jean-Pierre's work explores the mythos that unites local and Haitian culture, but what the best of these works share is a surreality that bypasses theory in favor of a direct channel to the soulful psyche of the Haitian people.  ~Bookhardt / The Spirit of Haitian Culture: Art from the Collection of Dr. Jean Chenier Brierre, Through July 17, Le Musee de FPC , 2336 Esplanade Ave., 914-5401

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Rising: An Exhibition of Photography in Post-Katrina New Orleans at the Ogden Museum



As we approach the Ides of July, the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina looms large. What a Katrina anniversary means depends on who you are, and what you saw or lived through, but we all know what it looked like thanks to endlessly recycled news photos of the cataclysm. Following Katrina, the messy rebirth of the city brought out traits we didn't know we had as laid back residents morphed into human pit bulls determined to reclaim their old neighborhoods. That kind of energy can be contagious, and the creative community expanded as new artists, galleries and institutions took root. This Ogden Museum expo features the work of eleven photographers, many newcomers, whose diverse visions reflect their perceptions of the New Orleans' recent evolution.


Local folk have always had multiple personalities--in the form of masks and costumes--and that  proclivity to extend dreams into reality propels Vanessa Centeno's Saint Thing series of photographs, above left, that meld the cultures of Mexican wrestlers and Catholic saints into a new breed of metaphysical gothic action figures. Tammy Mercure's Immortals, above, relates local folk to mythic archetypes, so here a purple specter in an LSU jersey harks to the Orpheus in Hades legend. Sophie Lvoff's photograph of the Saturn Bar, top, explores incremental changes like the new Saturn ceiling mural that replaced the damaged original while capturing the old tavern's eternally smoky aura of misplaced dreams and spilled beer. No less dreamlike is AnnieLaurie Erickson's photo-mural of refineries at night, glowing like ghostly afterimages of the industry that destroyed our coast even as its own extinction looms ever closer thanks to technological progress. Cristina Molina explores linear visual sequences along the tight channel of sights defined by I-10 as it eventually pours into the broad basin of a city where of modernity and antiquity unpredictably intermingle. That sense of familiarity tinged with possibility is evidenced in L. Kasimu Harris' The Road Ahead, above left, a car-window portrait of a nattily dressed young couple in a vintage car. But life begins and ends with the sea, and William Widmer's image of a Mariner's Cross memorial, left, rising from scabrous coastal ruins resonates like a bronze bell tone, a reminder of all things final yet eternal. ~Bookhardt /  The Rising: Photography in Post-Katrina New Orleans, September 20, 2015, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp St., 539-9600.