Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Societe' de Ste. Anne, Mardi Gras 2009

Elsewhere in America, Tuesday was just another work day...

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Friday Night at the Palace & Desire

Near the intersection of St. Mary Street and Sophie Wright Place are two of Uptown's main photographic venues, the Darkroom and the New Orleans Photo Alliance Gallery. Both feature similarly obsessive and shadowy subject matter: pool halls and desire.

JackieBrenner's Friday Night at the Palace pool-hall series hints at her better-known stripper studies. Featuring stark, black-and-white views executed in a style somewhere between film noir and social work, it suggests how gracefully dancer-like pool players can be. But where her strippers' inner lives were revealed in close-ups of personal detail, here the pool-player psyche appears in the facial expressions and body language of competitors armed with pool cues. So we are left with a sense of the game as chess for contortionists, as we see in an image of a player attempting a tricky behind the back shot.

  Desire, at the Photo Alliance, can seem a little oblique at first, but that may have to do with curator Mayumi Lake's own proclivities as a photographer of quirky eroticism. The show runs the gamut from subtle to blatant, with the former including such ambiguities as Steffanie Halley's shot of a pretty redheaded girl sporting what may be a love hickey, or just a brush burn on her neck. Tones of pink and green run rampant through more blatant works articulating erotic quirks with John Waters-like abandon.
Some of the most interesting images feature a sort of blatant ambiguity: Andrea Caldwell's cute girl sipping wine as the Iraq war unwinds on TV, or Catherine Gommersall's photo of a young woman having a meaningful relationship with a stuffed fox in a room that might make Waters green with envy.

FRIDAY NIGHT AT THE PALACE: Pool Hall Photographs by Jackie Brenner
Through March 7
The Darkroom, 1927 Sophie Wright Place, 522-3211; www.neworleansdarkroom.com

DESIRE: Group Exhibition of Photographs Curated by Mayumi Lake
Through March 21
New Orleans Photo Alliance, 1111 St. Mary St., 610-4899;

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Boom is Over--Long Live the Art

The New York Times has a great overview of the contemporary art boom/bust cycle over recent times.

"The contemporary art market is a vulnerable organism, traditionally hit early and hard by economic malaise. That’s what’s happening now. Sales are vaporizing ...rents are due. The boom that was is no more... In the 21st century, New York is just one more art town among many... Contemporary art belongs to the world."

Read it here:

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Interview: Mel Chin

Mel Chin's Operation Paydirt Aims to Gets the Lead Out of New Orleans' Inner City Neighborhoods.
By D. Eric Bookhardt

Mel Chin’s art reflects an amalgam of the scientific and poetic. His work has for decades addressed social and ecological concerns in general, and especially as they affect economically depressed areas and struggling innercity neighborhoods in particular. In his 1990s Revival Field projects, he created land art from botanical “hyper-accumulators,” plants that can rid soil of toxins. In post-Katrina New Orleans he has involved leading scientists in his Operation Paydirt project in an effort to address inner-city lead contamination.
Eric Bookhardt: How long have you been doing this sort of conceptual-environmental art, and how does this Operation Paydirt project relate to what you’ve done in the past?
Mel Chin: It started with making objects that were socially conscious in early eighties when I began working with Amnesty International and studying the dossiers of prisoners of conscience. But there are difficulties when you talk about doing socially conscious work, and it’s not always what you think. Like, when I started the first ecology club at my high school in Houston in 1969, did I really understand what that might be? My understanding of ecology, or any social engagement, is really more of an evolutionary process where you approach it from a heightened state of criticality and understand that, whenever you deal with people, it’s not just about bringing a solution or helping people because that old caveat, “The road to hell is paved with good intentions,” holds true. So maybe the way to think about it, when I’m asked how long I’ve been doing this, is to say that it’s an evolving commitment.

So is it fair to say your Revival Field project of the nineties is what led up to this?

MC: Yes. One of my first solo museum exhibitions was in 1989 at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington D.C. It was as exhausting as every project since then has been exhausting, and then there was a period of self-examination. I recall being in an elevator coming down from the exhibition and talking to myself: “Mel, what do you love--what do you love more than anything else?” Well, what I loved more than anything else was to research and destroy my preconceived notions. And I loved making things with my hands, creating objects that have formal structures integrated with political, sometimes historical, information in layers related to how the materials manifest themselves conceptually and formally. And then there was this other voice that said: “Ok --stop.” So I went through a period back in New York City where I didn’t engage in the so-called practice of making art or making objects. And I researched randomly, not in any structured way, and came across an article about plants that could possibly clean soil. It was actually a Terrence McKenna article in the Whole Earth Review. He, of course, was a great lover of psilocybin and datura, but I got very excited because I had come from a generation of land art, Smithson, all these things that my work had referenced in some ways back in the seventies. But this was in 1989, and I was excited in terms of everything I knew about process art and land art. So I said, well, if plants can do this, then this is a sculptural tool. And I remember being so nutty about it that I was almost like the guy in the movie The Graduate--but it wasn’t the Dustin Hoffman character, Benjamin--it was more like the guy who kept saying “the future is plastic.” So here I was after my first museum show, and I was going around saying “the future is plants, the future of sculpture for me will be plants,” and people thought I had lost it. They were saying, like, “Wow man, you better go make some art,” and I said: “It will be art.” I remember being so convinced that I saw this notion of plants transforming landscapes as a fundamentally powerful conceptual and physical process involving social engagement, and that’s why I was so excited about it.

Chin at Operation Paydirt's Safe House, part of the
KKProjects complex on N. Villere Street.
And Operation Paydirt evolved out of that?

MC: Operation Paydirt is about the delivery of so many things--of the imagination of children and the delivery of their art to request an even exchange, of money and services from Congress, and of the delivery of a solution to a terrible toxic problem. And it’s also about the delivery of a city that can help deliver other cities from a similar fate. Revival Field was about plants, but this is not about plants, this is about chemistry and science. Back in the nineties, Revival Field was a kind of iconic presence conveyed in many art publications, but even then in my earliest abstract I spoke of it as a kind of temporal manifestation that would evolve into another process or possibility.

So how did it evolve from plants into this?
MC: The idea was that the plants were hyper-accumulators that could absorb heavy metals and be recycled or even sold. Although it has not yet cleaned up all the sites, more than anything, Revival Field was about the creation of a science. It involved meeting people, asking them what their dreams might be. My dream was to be a sculptor in a project that would transform an ecological system from a compromised state to one of health. So we tailored Revival Field to be a field test, and that says a lot about what we’re doing here in New Orleans. Operation Paydirt includes Fundred.org, which is a process of how you gather and accumulate the voices of those who have been most affected by lead, deliver them conclusively, and get an even exchange of value out of that. And if you get an even exchange, what will it pay for? It will pay for a solution or a methodology. But you have to get that accomplished through a verifiable source, so we had to create that verifiable source. Has it ever been done before? No, it’s been done in a Superfund situation but not in a citywide urban context, so that’s another level of engagement. For that you need a model you can depend on that can also serve other places with a troubled reality like the situation in New Orleans.

You have been very low key about this, almost secretive, since you began working on this project. Will that start to change now?

MC: We’ve been working very quietly until this moment because this was the time for it to come out of the cold, so to speak. We did it quietly because it was essential to build the trust of everyone involved, and to test the methods to ensure that they were verifiable.

When you began this Paydirt project, were you initially thinking that plants might still get the job done?

MC: I heard during the months after Katrina that Common Ground (a Lower 9th Ward community activist organization) was following in Revival Fields’ footsteps by using sunflowers to remove lead from the soil. Sunflowers were never used in my process and I think more verifiable research needs to be done on that. We all should be careful to not give the people of New Orleans any false hope. Then when I got here I was not even remotely prepared for the level of devastation I encountered. Even months later, I felt a sense of inadequacy. It was like, how do you do something on this scale? I became obsessed, coming back again and again, to try to come up with a project of equivalent magnitude. So it all began with this kind of understanding.

How did you arrive at your current, chemistry-based, approach to lead remediation?

MC: One thing that stimulated me was a statement by the National Resource Defense Council that talked about what Katrina had brought in, which was heavy metals amid all the damage. So I said I’ve got to see what I can do about that. But then came the moment when I met with Howard Mielke, a scientist here in New Orleans at the Tulane/ Xavier Center for Bioenvironmental Research--someone I knew from my Revival Field days because of the conversations we had about the plant/human transfer of heavy metals--and I had to ask him that question. I said, “Howard, the NRDC says it got bad here because of the storm, but the EPA says it didn’t get any worse. Who’s right?” And he said the EPA was correct, it didn’t get worse. And that really begged the question: how bad was it? He said it was one of the worst, maybe the second worst in the country. He showed me the maps of lead concentration, and that still doesn’t always register when it’s scientific information involving parts per million. But when it involves 86,000 houses you have to ask what that means in purely human terms, and he said it meant that around 30% of the population of the inner city was lead poisoned before the storm even hit.

And he talked about what that really meant in terms of learning disabilities, poverty and violence and it shocked me. I remember telling him I was upset, and asked him how much it would cost to solve this problem, and he said it would take around $300 million dollars. Of course, when you’re a renegade artist sometimes $300 dollars is a lot of money, but I didn’t blink, I just said, “Howard, I can’t raise that much money, but we will make that much money.” I didn’t say it had to be real money, but I thought that if a child’s mind, future and imagination were going to be compromised by this well documented agent called lead, it was important to have their voice out there, out front. They need to be the ones to deliver the message. I decided to design a project that would be a catalyst for that to happen, but with so many children scattered all over the country after the storm, it had to be something that could be done wherever they were while still retaining its meaning. So how could that happen? The Fundred.org project was born out of this desire to create a template, a lesson plan, wherever someone might be, to allow an opportunity for people to volunteer their expression in the form of a hundred dollar bill. Go to the Fundred.org web site and you can download the pdf template and the worksheet and you can just print it out on your home printer. Make sure they’re aligned properly front and back, and grab a pen and create your bill. And then go to Fundred.org and see if there’s a local school collection center close to you, or if you want to be an operative, get a school to sign up as a collection center. Now we have this almost Federal Reserve-like system of schools that are repositories and they hold the Fundreds there. Be patient, hold them there because we have an armored car retrofitted to run on vegetable oil that can go to every collection center school and pick up every bill that was drawn by every person. We will deliver them on the steps of Congress, when the time comes, for an even exchange for their face value. And we hope there will be in excess of three million Fundred dollar bills, which translates into three hundred million dollars worth of services or actions dedicated to the method of implementing a solution to the lead problem in an entire city. Now I know some kids have drawn thousand dollar bills and we will include them. That’s their desire. When you look at the Safe House (Fundred repository) in the St. Roch neighborhood, we’re talking about what’s valuable, and what is valuable is a solution that can be delivered. What is valuable is a city or a community that is cleaned of something dangerous that they won’t have to worry about anymore. What’s valuable is another generation not being raised in conditions that compromise the capacities of a child at birth. And that’s what Fundred and the Safe House represent— extending Operation Paydirt to the pragmatic level and getting it implemented.

You’ve said this is the biggest project you’ve ever worked on. Are you currently working on anything else?

MC: Yes, I’m working on a project that involves the invention of a widget that can be inserted into any cell phone or computer anywhere in the world and that is a tool to link your personal activities with the entire global atmospheric envelope through a software package that won’t tell you to recycle or anything, rather it becomes a tool of behavioral modification and psychology as opposed to a tool to reference your consumption. It involves another team writing software at M.I.T. So that’s been started.
We’ll have lots to talk about next time!

Operation Paydirt is made possible in part with support from Transforma Projects / National Performance Network (NPN) with major contributions from The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, The American Center Foundation, Creative Capital and Project Row Houses. Safehouse is hosted by KKProjects and Jaohn Orgon.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Bishop, Bourgeois, Boyd and Charbonnet at Arthur Roger

Lost Worlds by Jacqueline Bishop

A LOSS FOR WORDS: New Works by Jacqueline Bishop and Douglas Bourgeois

It’s called A Loss for Words, and this two-person exhibition of recent work by Jacqueline Bishop and Douglas Bourgeois is startling in any number of ways. Both bring a mind-boggling deftness to the act of painting, with imagery that you might need a magnifying glass to fully appreciate. Beyond fanatical technique, both display qualities of imagination that take us on a journey, not only to fantastically beautiful other worlds, but also to the realization that these otherworldly places are really, in one way or another, situated in our own backyards.

Bourgeois, who still lives in his Assumption Parish hometown of St. Amant, inhabits that lush frontier where American pop culture bumps up against, not only bayou country, but also ancient mythology.
In Skeletor and Venus, a nude Creole Venus appears in a colorfully shabby kitchen where a Skeletor-like robot is about to raid her refrigerator. Both seem oblivious to ankle-deep flooding and a Leda-like swan paddling beneath the depression-era kitchen table in a scene that is provincial yet sweeping in its psychic and mythic overtones.

His painted collages and woodcuts extend those themes more abstractly, yet it is his lovingly painted school yearbook portraits that somehow meld the parochial and the universal in Bourgeois’ unique blend of down-home alchemy.

For years Jacqueline Bishop’s surreal landscapes have explored that strange zone where creation and destruction, beauty and danger, seem to coexist. Inspired by Brazil’s Amazon rain forests and Louisiana’s coastal ecology, her elaborately rendered paintings reveal the hidden places of the swamp, the rainforest and the mind, probing their inner secrets.

Here all things are connected through sinewy creepers and invisible ecology, birds are both spirits and messengers, and nests are ecological reliquaries adrift in an increasingly alien universe, as we see in World Presence, pictured. Bishop’s notions of cosmic connectedness find further expression in a series of collage paintings featuring ink portraits of birds superimposed on newsprint from around the world, as well as in a series of delicate landscapes painted on baby shoes scavenged from the streets of New Orleans, Brazil and Peru. A Loss for Words brings together the work of two artists whose unique yet related visions articulate the global nature of the local, and vice versa.

The Story of Bruce: An Exhibition of Recent Work by Blake Boyd

"The Story of Bruce, Boyd’s third opera and newest addition to his twenty-year conceptual artwork, is based upon his book The Space Bunny which he wrote in 1978 while in the second grade. Boyd rewrote the book in 1988 when he was in high school, at which time he had dreams of being an animator. It is intended to represent the third piece of 'chamber music' and consists of a wall of water-colors, a wall of photographs, a free standing sculpture and a timeline documenting the artist’s history of incorporating a rabbit throughout his work." Cartoon content by Bunny Matthews was featured in the original version of the installation.

Dots, Loops, Stripes and Finches: Paintings by Nicole Charbonnet

Nicole Charbonnet's paintings don't always look like paintings as we know them. Densely textured and layered with chalky washes and translucent paper, her deceptively simple images evoke faded wallpaper or painted, sun-bleached signs on the sides of old buildings. Iconic renderings of zebras, wolves, flowers, dots, stripes or even Wonder Woman come across as ghostly afterimages that suggest partial recollections from the dim recesses of memory. Details are lost in much the way memories fade over time. Alternating between clearly rendered lines and partial obscurity allows the images to breathe and creates spaces that invite the viewer into the work in an exploration of subconscious, often poetic, associations. Charbonnet says: "Remembering furnishes a vantage point. ... Scavenging and interpreting the past opens a gateway into the future." — D. Eric Bookhardt

Through February
Arthur Roger @434, 434 Julia St.522-1999; www.arthurrogergallery.com

Friday, February 13, 2009

Beijing: Rem Koolhass' TVCC Hotel Burns


Sunday, February 8, 2009

Raine Bedsole's Remembering Boat

Raine Bedsole's Remembering Boat at West End Park

A Project of the New Orleans Arts Council's
Art in Public Places
public art initiative.

water has nothing to do with luck
and everything to do with chance
water is the music of consequence
the water is hungry... the water wants

Poetry by Tony Fitzpatrick

Artist's Website: http://www.rainebedsole.com/

SOFT ARCHITECTURE: Fabric Structures, Enclosures and Security Devices by 9 Artists

FEBRUARY 6, 2009
by D. Eric Bookhardt

What is soft architecture? For literalists, there are tents and yurts, but little is ever literal at KK Projects, where structures range from fabric confessionals to oversized Japanese lanterns suitable for occupation by human contortionists. There's even a colorfully ritualistic looking series of rock pile formations. Faith Gay's Rocks are little boulders made of fabrics printed in the pop-culture motifs of the 1960s,with brightly tinted flowers and stripes oddly ossified into pop geology. The confessional is Seth Damm's Surrender House, a tent with fabric shutters, a blue tarp roof and an alcove behind which Damm, in his fabric coyote mask, heard tales of transgressions, real or imaginary, on opening night. Lorna Leedy's contribution to performance was her Cardboard Box Maze along Villere Street, a combination obstacle course and maze that proved popular with the neighborhood kids. In the main gallery, her Bandage Tents resemble illuminated pup tents and are so-named because they are made of many little Band-Aid-size strips of fabric stitched like so many brush strokes.

Co-curator Caroline Rankin and collaborator Megan Whitmarsh dispense with literalism entirely, opting for pure poetic license with their Abbra Cadabbra Home Security System installation, featuring taught lines of bright red yarn whimsically posing as deadly red laser beams protecting a huge "diamond," actually a softball-size fabric sculpture. Ricki Hill's Animal/Vegetable is a two-story-tall tapestry elaborately concocted from "salvaged fabric, natural dyes and embroidery." Its unusual length, which spills out onto the floor, gives it a somewhat surreal aura.

But a quick trip across the street takes us to a realm of science fiction in the form of her Cocoons installation of portentous-looking pods hanging from the ceiling of a derelict cottage. In the courtyard, Judy Bolton and James Vela's Making Rainbows is a whimsical rainbow-making device in the form of a metal tower with a glass mister on top. This sets the tone for Heather Gibbons' Corpus Traces installation of her poetry on clear, shower curtain-like sheets hanging from the ceiling of the exposed back room of another dilapidated cottage — all of which marks the triumph of poetic license over literalism in yet another KK Projects adventure in new art in the heart of St. Roch. — D. Eric Bookhardt

Through February
KK Projects/Imaginary Showroom, 2448 N. Villere St., 218-8701; www.kkprojects.org

Sunday, February 1, 2009

ANTIABECEDARIANS: A Group Show of Telekinesis Proxenators in Franca Lingua

The name Antiabecedarians is taken from a literary cult noted in James Joyce's novel Finnegan's Wake, and it sets an appropriately poetic tone for this unusual expo of work by 32 alternative artists. Curated by Myrtle von Damitz, whose beautifully convoluted paintings are emblematic, it marks a rare gathering of a subculture I like to think of as the performance artists of daily life in what amounts to a kind of fringe festival of gallery art. Von Damitz's paintings, such as Watch Out For Prudence, above, meld the notion of a cultural underground with a vision that could also hark to Hecate, the Greek goddess of the underworld.

Delaney Martin's A Diamond is Forever is one of the strongest pieces. The chandelier-like form with massive but fragile swatches of wax hanging from it is a memorial to her recently departed grandmother and a meditation on impermanence and the cycles of life. Anna Powell's detailed, realistically painted portraits of local shotgun houses radiate the aura of their human history, while Rose Willow McBurney's human portraits seem to express the psychic architecture of the body.

Chesley Allen's haunting painting of a nude on an ice floe with a slain mer-doe takes the term "ice princess" back to the realm of myth, and Allison Termine's landscape Shelter evokes the delicacy of Japanese scroll painting. This stands in contrast to the only real scroll paintings in the show, the work of Taylor Lee Shephard, whose Cyclograph — a construction of polished wood, a hand crank and gears — powers a continuous scroll of bird-men in a snake dance of Native American mythology.

Kourtney Keller's Waitless, a video of a woman doing yoga-like handstands projected on a feather, epitomizes something of the mystery, magic and symbolism so much of this show seems to be about. Beyond all that, Antiabecedarians is a lot of fun, a blessed relief from the overly academic work that has come to dominate certain art capitals in recent decades. — D. Eric Bookhardt

Through Feb. 8

Barrister's Gallery, 2331 St. Claude Ave., 525-2767; www.barristersgallery.com