Sunday, June 30, 2013

Chalmatia at the Contemporary Arts Center

Where is Chalmatia? In the local geopsychic nomenclature, "Chalmatians" are residents of a certain city, Chalmette, in suburban St. Bernard Parish just east of New Orleans. It's a place that bore the brunt of Hurricane Katrina and lost many residents, but in this CAC expo it's more like a state of mind. The work of Louisianian Daneeta Jackson and her Swedish expat partner Patrick Jackson, Chalmatia is a stream of consciousness, word and image narrative that depicts a fictionalized version of "a fractured landscape of broken strip malls, empty lots, and bare cement slabs that once supported a thriving community--a place largely defined by what’s no longer there." Like the Louisiana town in Walker Percy's dystopian novel Love in the Ruins, things have fallen apart here. People get by on nostalgia or make believe as their lives assume mythic qualities.

In a written account, a resident describes a girl with a luminous hula hoop, top, amid a row of ruined townhouses. "When I saw her on the slab I thought I was imagining things again... She only comes out at night." Nearby, Carmella is fixing up Mr. Ralph's old place. Mr. Ralph drowned in the storm while saving his three dogs, but Carmella "prayed his soul right up to heaven." And then there's  Destiny who, tired of playing in the ruins, went to work on Bourbon Street when she turned 18. Things are no longer dire in the real St. Bernard, and the Jacksons freely admit to poetic license. "Some of what you read in here is true," while other parts are "beautiful lies." But their stories, despite the local setting, have become more universal and it doesn't take much to read into Chalmatia the fate of places like Staten Island or other New York suburbs after hurricane Sandy, or El Reno, Oklahoma, in the wake of the big twister. Of late, climate change has become the new constant and we live in a land increasingly made up of survivors with their own tales to tell. ~D. Eric Bookhardt

Chalmatia: A Fictional Place Down the Road: Mixed Media by Daneeta and Patrick Jackson, through Sept. 8, Contemporary Arts Center, 900 Camp St., 528.3805