Sunday, August 29, 2010

Understory: Botany as Identity at the Front


We all know how Hurricane Katrina affected the people of this region, but only the earliest storm weary returnees got to witness a remarkable phenomenon of nature that was as dramatic as it was fleeting. Called “the Katrina Spring," it was an amazing out of season flowering of a vast array of local plant life, as what were mere muddy stumps in September came back blooming, as if on steroids, in November, a time when most were normally hunkered down for a long winter's sleep. This UNDERSTORY show, while not specifically about that event, deals with its roots in the tenacious and near-defining role that plant life plays in shaping this city’s sense of place. Here works by Aileen Boos, Christopher Brumfield, Shana Hayward, Susan Norris-Davis, Megan Roniger, Jonathan Traviesa and David Webber explore the secret life of local flora in any number of ways.
     Native plant specialist Susan Norris-Davis’ delicately realistic pen and ink drawings are expertly executed botanical studies, but each one is also accompanied by an eloquent little essay (available on request), a personal narrative that reads like a short story dealing with the interplay of this city’s plants and people in the wake of Katrina. Curator Megan Roniger’s mixed media renditions of area vegetation like cat’s claw, angel’s trumpet and oleander, above, suggest a kind of pop-baroque minimalism, with flowers and leaves reduced to patterns of iconic forms that hint at things infinite and eternal. And then there is the untitled installation by Aileen Boos that capitalizes on the borderline-sinister beauty of the psychotropic angel’s trumpet flower, deploying vaguely humanoid ceramic and cloth replicas of them in an arch-like phalanx of angels, top, or migration of souls, with a shadowy chorus for counterpoint. All of which is appropriate to a place where the most gorgeous flowers can cause madness if ingested and where the most common vines can strangle trees or rip apart houses, or anything else foolish enough to linger in their path. ~Bookhardt
UNDERSTORY: Group Exhibition of New Work Dealing With Local Plant Life
Through Sept. 5
The Front, 4100 St. Claude Ave., 920-3980; www.nolafront.org