Sunday, December 22, 2013

Louviere + Vanessa's Oblivion Atlas at A Gallery for Fine Photography; Women, Art and Social Change: Newcomb Pottery at the Newcomb Gallery

A new book, The Oblivion Atlas, features seven short stories by Michael Allen Zell illustrated with photographs by the artist duo, Louviere + Vanessa. Although tightly interwoven with Zell's text in the book, the photographs easily stand on their own here and, like the stories, segue through various private and public spaces about town where the ordinary and the fantastical routinely trade places. A photo of a very large German shepherd, pictured, is from a story about a band of ambulatory literary nihilists called the League of Odd Volumes. Led by their dog, Garamond, they wander the streets savoring the intriguing vibrations of various places that they proceed to rename after their favorite literary figures, discreetly inscribed in blood on wooden markers. It sounds bizarre, but the book and the exhibition create their own complex reality based on dreams and memories interwoven with the everyday world around us in an audacious undertaking that becomes eerily convincing in the hands of these artists.

More Louviere + Vanessa images appear in nearby selection from Inventing Reality: New Orleans Visionary Photography, based on a new book of the same name produced by Luna Press in conjunction with the PhotoNOLA photography extravaganza. What separates these works from most of the surreal, dreamlike photographs now in vogue all over America is that the images in the book, while often fantastical, are all based on the ethereal yet gritty realities of south Louisiana life. In many ways they reflect the more subjective side of New Orleans' identity as the cultural capital of a swampy region defined by relentless forces of nature that somehow contribute to our wildly imaginative local culture. Read John D'Addario's eloquently illuminating review in the New Orleans daily Advocate, here

Although somewhat edgy, Louviere + Vanessa's images are far more labor intensive than most traditional photographs, resulting in work comprised of materials like gold leaf, hand made papers or even blood.  This emphasis on hand craftsmanship suggests an unexpected parallel with the spectacular vintage Newcomb pottery and jewelry expo at the Newcomb Gallery. Now considered staid, Newcomb pottery was originally an outgrowth of 19th century feminism and considered quite radical at the time. It was also influenced by art nouveau and the British Arts and Crafts movement, a hippie-like group of utopian nature loving artists who created hand made objects as an antidote to the industrial manufacturing techniques they despised. Despite its radical provenance, Newcomb pottery was embraced by affluent collectors all over America and retains its appeal today--a pot sold for over $24,000 at a New Jersey auction in 2010. Newcomb's idealistic founders would have been shocked. ~D. Eric Bookhardt

The Oblivion Atlas: Photographs by Louviere and Vanessa, through Jan. 4
A Gallery For Fine Photography, 241 Chartres St., 568-1313; ;  Women, Art & Social Change: Vintage Newcomb Art, Through Mar. 9, Newcomb Art Gallery, Tulane University, 865-5328.