Sunday, February 17, 2013

Deborah Luster at the Ogden Museum

What really qualifies as news? A mass shooting at a school understandably generates widespread national outrage, yet the rampant killings in our inner city--or any American inner city--are too routine to be headlines.  The great philosopher Hannah Arendt once referred to Nazi genocide as "the banality of evil" for the bureaucratic way it was enacted, but Deborah Luster's Tooth for an Eye photographs of local murder scenes at the Ogden Museum exemplify what might be called the "ordinariness" of evil: the most startling thing about them is how utterly unremarkable they are. Only the photographs' circular compositions differentiates these scenes from others that go unnoticed on any given day.

Location 1900 Block of Foucher Street, above, depicts a traditional frame home and a stretch of tree shaded sidewalk that looks blandly normal until we read the caption: "Henry Butler IV, gunshot wound to the head." The tone turns grimly whimsical in a Rampart Street scene, top, featuring a well preserved Banksy graffiti painting at an otherwise bland intersection. The caption reads: "Chadwick White, gunshot to the head." The only truly sinister looking images feature badly blighted structures or the desolate interiors of unkempt motel rooms. Rendered in black and white, these photographs are all visual meditations on the places that bore the brunt of the violent inner city code of the streets. How American pop culture's celebration of bloody, vengeful violence affects all this is a matter of debate, but it can't possibly help.   

The only people depicted in this exhibition appear in Friends and Family where some illuminated color transparencies framed in vintage cast iron cemetery medallions from which they seem to glow like friendly ghosts. Devoid of the entertainment industry's soundtracks or special effects, all of these images reveal inner city killing for what really it is: a deafening silence, a gaping void in a family, a city, a nation--an affront to our shared responsibility for the kind of world we create, or tolerate.  ~D. Eric Bookhardt

Deborah Luster: Tooth For an Eye: A Chorography of Violence in Orleans Parish, Through April 7, 2013, Ogden Museum of Southern Art, 925 Camp Street, 539-9600