Sunday, October 18, 2015

Reverb: Art After Hurricane Katrina at the CAC

Last August, National Public Radio ran a broadcast on how local art museums commemorated the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. The narrator, Neda Ulaby, seemed shocked that they mostly didn't--but focused instead on how local art has evolved since then. This Reverb expo at the Contemporary Arts Center features some iconic Charles Varley storm photographs, but most of the 36 artists' works chosen by New York-based curator Isolde Brielmaier are often so nuanced that we may wonder what holds the show together. The answer is tone. Instead of the "shock and awe" of the storm itself, we encounter a collective meditation on the poetics of memory, loss and resurgence, in objects rendered with a grace and gravitas that recalls both the fiction of Walker Percy and the cool lyricism of cerebral jazz musicians like Keith Jarett and Jan Garbarek.

Indeed, I could almost hear something of the icy fire of Jarrett's early Arbour Zena tone poem while viewing works like Sibylle Peretti and Stephen Paul Day's Wetlands grid of small plastic baggies of clear water arranged as liquid lenses covering an city scene like bubblewrap. Similarly, Anita Cooke (below left) and Rotherin Ratliff transformed rubbish into sleek animist assemblages that resonate a soulful human presence. In a city obsessed with housing, Loren Schwerd turned hair extensions salvaged from a storm ravaged beauty salon into a Shotgun house, above, part of a series of hair houses based on actual structures. Carlie Trosclair's wall-size Fissure sculpture transformed ripped sheetrock and wallpaper into a poetic architectural equivalent of tribal scarification, while Rick Snow's electronic mystery totem, Paths and Sympathetic Resonance, top, turns ambient field recordings into eerie soundscapes, just as Krista Jurisich turns scrap cloth into landscapes. Night Blooming Cereus flowers blossom when approached in Courtney Egan's interactive Dreamcatchers video--reminding us of the flowers that bloomed out of season right after the storm, in much the way local people, shaken to their depths, found unexpected creativity and resilience in response to the existential challenges posed by an apocalyptic deluge. Reverb: Past, Present, Future: Group Exhibition Curated by Isolde Brielmaier, Through Nov. 1, Contemporary Arts Center, 900 Camp St., 528.3805.