Sunday, September 25, 2016

Anarchitecture at the CAC

Filling all of the Contemporary Arts Center's exhibition spaces, this huge 40th anniversary exhibition features over 50 artists including some CAC founders as well as newly emerging talents. Inspired by city life, it harks to Anarchitecture, a 1970s movement that included Louisianians Tina Girouard and Dickie Landry as well as Laurie Anderson and Gordon Matta-Clark, who was known for carving old buildings into sculpture. The dizzying diversity of these works can be overwhelming, but they all relate to the built environment. For instance, Songs of Home Songs of Change, top, by Jebney Lewis, Rick Snow and Christopher Staudinger features curved metal platforms laced with elongated brass horns. Pulsing with enigmatic drone-like resonances, it is both a sound map of New Orleans and a musical instrument that could be used to accompany the sounds of the city. On the wall, three techno-totems by AnnieLaurie Erikson are actually sculptural photographs of the computer circuits used to disseminate the vast seas of data we now inhabit like so much human plankton.

Techno-abstraction prevails in Nurhan Gokturk's tornado-like sculpture crafted from shredded vinyl LPs, top left, and Jan Gilbert's abstract collages cobbled from sliced and diced photos of building facades. Existential gravitas infuses Ted Calas's German Tea series of lyrically austere cafĂ© paintings, but intriguing randomness defines the public spaces in Celia and Jose Fernandes' photographic diptych, Anita, even as vintage reveries are conveyed via land line in Monica Zeringue's psychically fraught Twilight collage, above left. The boundaries of architecture get stretched a bit in Jennifer Odem's oddly cellular, stiffly ossified yet vaguely levitational fabric sculptures, and in Anita Cooke's Strata series, above, of equally osseous complexly rolled forms like manuscripts in a Library of Alexandria crafted by arachnids. Meanwhile upstairs, we are reminded that the sea is rising and America is sinking in Robert Tannen's maps of Gulf Coast counties now facing inundation. But Manon Bellet's wall-size Breves Braises abstraction segues that sense of loss into an “ashes to ashes” modality where burnt silk ashes gradually crumble and fall inexorably to the floor. Years ago, the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard wrote eloquently about how the spaces we inhabit affect us, and vice versa. This show extends the boundaries of habitation to sonic space, cyberspace and beyond. ~Bookhardt / A Building With A View: Experiments in Anarchitecture: Regional Group Exhibition, Through October 1, Contemporary Arts Center, 900 Camp St., 528.3805.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Molina and Traviesa at The Front

Besides heat, humidity and some serious coastal erosion, Louisiana and Florida have long been linked by a flair for imaginative extravagance. As New Orleans evolved into an unlikely multicultural gumbo, Florida parlayed its mythic paradisaical history into an appeal to the American Dream as a Southern Shangri-La with a permanent vacation lifestyle. But dreams are elusive and the South was always very gothic, so Florida natives Cristina Molina and Jonathan Traviesa based the title of this Sad Tropics multimedia installation on the late, iconic anthropologist Claude Levi-Srauss's Tristes Tropiques study of life in the Amazon jungle. Both places have surreal flora and fauna and peculiar natives, but this expo gives us a look at how Florida's uniquely extravagant dreams and peculiar realities coexist.

Like Louisiana—but very unlike “normal” places such as Colorado or Vermont—Florida is a multi-layered environment, a quality epitomized by a wall size photo-mural of palm fronds studded with smaller images of ferns that come across like botanical family portraits on a wall of foliage. What lies beyond the fronds can range from crazed real estate hucksters to small town psychics, misfit mermaids and renegade taxidermists in a landscape that mixes rampant invasive species, Confederate artifacts and prolific tourism promotions—which the artists lampooned via their own satiric tourist booth.

But it is the photographs that most fully evoke the fever dreams of the Florida psyche as expressed in homely yet fantastical structures, for instance a bleak concrete bunker painted to look like a cleaved watermelon, or a retro-futurist geodesic dome shack. The latter reappears on a joint self-portrait of the artists, top, standing dazed on a beach like a shipwrecked Adam and Eve. Personifying the essence of an entire state is never easy, but this piece comes close, as does a stop-animation based on news headlines for the preposterous crimes for which Floridians are infamous--stuff like “butt dialing 911 while cooking meth”—crimes so deranged that some Louisianians will be jealous. ~Bookhardt / Sad Tropics: Mixed Media Installation about Florida by Cristina Molina and Jonathan Traviesa, Through Oct. 2, The Front, 4100 St. Claude Ave., 920-3980;     

Sunday, September 11, 2016

2 Freaky 2 Friday at Gallery X

Is identity-based pop art getting to be old hat? Yes and no. While graduate schools and galleries have long contributed to a glut of such work, gender and race perceptions remain the wild cards that fuel many of the social tensions we still face today. At a time when we may possibly elect our first female president, the startlingly misogynistic corporate culture recently exposed at a major TV network—amid a no less startling uptick in toxic rhetoric epitomized by a rival presidential campaign whose CEO* runs an online "news" site notorious for racism, sexism and bigotry -- suggests a throwback to a dark and sinister past. Most of us never imagined living in a time defined by such starkly divergent tendencies and trends. 

Gallery X's 2 Freaky 2 Friday was inspired by Freaky Friday, a 1976 mother-daughter role reversal film later reprised by Lindsay Lohan. It focuses on how “women’s public images are created, presented, and consumed.” It  coincidentally illustrates the endless complications surrounding the way identity issues are perceived. In that vein, some accompanying texts helpfully reveal that Tameka Norris' hip-hop video, Screening Room, harks to how she felt as a black girl at Yale, and that the soul sister vocals on Hanna Black's My Bodies video, above, accompany a mythic journey through an all too material and polarized world. Starting out with floating head shots of white business dudes like a vertiginous PTSD nightmare of scary CNBC flashbacks, it segues into hip mythoetic riffs reminiscent of the Egyptian Book of the Dead with an R&B soundtrack, making it one of the more persuasive works in this often cryptic exhibition.

Faith Holland's Chelsea Manning Fan Art Series, top, explores Bradley Manning's transition, from a U.S. Army intelligence specialist imprisoned for sharing secret documents with Wikileaks, to a transwoman now known as “Chelsea.” Here animated GIFs with hearts and sparkles accompany images of Manning's head montaged on to Lady Gaga's body, and while visually engaging, the complexity of the issues posed by such works might be baffling to many casual observers without curator Amanda Brinkman's erudite text guidance. In Sara Clugage's large jacquard tapestry, Adam Kadmon, left, Britney Spears miraculously appears with mystical Kabbalist verses, apparently because Clugage had been moved by Spears' personal evolution in recent years. But will her faith in Spears prove a slippery slope now that her Make Me video is out? Time will tell. This show takes a lot of chances and some work better than others, but at a time when the speed and complexity of our techno-culture has had the perverse side effect of trivializing much of our lives into "Likes" and emoticons, it can be refreshing to see an art show that flaunts a more militantly esoteric approach. ~Bookhardt / 2 Freaky 2 Friday: Contemporary Conceptions of Female Celebrity, Through Sept 18, Gallery X, 1612 O.C. Haley Blvd., 252-0136. *Trump campaign CEO Stephen Bannon is Chairman, director and co-owner of Breitbart News

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Vernonica Compton on Nina Schwanse on Veronica Compton + Bunny Matthews

Prisoner in Isolation by Veronica Compton
I am the real Veronica Compton By Amy Mackie

Looking back at Nina Schwanse’s 2013 exhibition at Good Children Gallery in which she assumed the identity of serial killer accomplice Veronica Compton, Amy Mackie talks to the real Veronica Compton about life after prison, the Hillside Strangler and the terror of having your identity taken away.

In 2013, I interviewed (for Pelican Bomb) Los Angeles-based artist Nina Schwanse, who was then living in New Orleans, about her exhibition Hold It Against Me: The Veronica Compton Archive at Good Children Gallery. The show wove together fact and fiction in an unconventional archive based on the life of Veronica Compton. It included photographs and a video in which Schwanse bears a strong resemblance to Compton, re-creations of Compton’s letters to and from serial killer Kenneth Bianchi, a mock version of her play The Mutilated Cutter, and drawings made in her style. It was an imagined version of Compton’s experiences and history, and it is not a stretch to say that, at the time, Schwanse was attempting to channel Compton, creating work as her. For that reason, when I interviewed Schwanse for Pelican Bomb, I did so twice—once in the artist’s voice and, as an extension of the exhibition, once in the voice of her subject-cum-alter-ego.

Years later, Compton (now Compton Wallace) discovered Schwanse’s project and the two interviews and reached out to Pelican Bomb. Shortly after, she agreed to an interview with me. A writer, artist, and musician who also lives and works in Los Angeles, Compton Wallace was convicted of attempted murder and incarcerated in 1981 as a result of her relationship with Kenneth Bianchi, a.k.a. the “Hillside Strangler.” She served a 22-year sentence in Bellingham, Washington. Since Compton came into the public sphere before the Internet, a quick Google search readily brings up Schwanse’s likeness, often before Compton Wallace’s own, a disorienting consequence of image construction in the digital age.

This series of interviews reveals multiple viewpoints and the layers of history and perspectives of one woman’s life—and challenges the way her history is and has been written, told, altered, and edited. I am grateful to Compton Wallace for sharing her story and to Schwanse for bringing it to my attention. —Amy Mackie

Amy Mackie: Was it upsetting for you to discover that Nina Schwanse made a body of work inspired by your personal history? More>>

Da Blues Too by Bunny Matthews
Bunny Matthews is the Real Bunny Matthews

Before and After at Arthur Roger features Bunny Matthews’ instantly recognizable cartoons spanning the last 34 years. Meticulously rendered in pen and ink and sometimes colored pencil, the cartoons are drawn in what has been described as his “traditional post-psychedelic baroque caricature style.” In 1982, Bunny Matthews created the emblematic characters, Vic and Nat’ly Broussard for the Times-Picayune’s Dixie magazine. For decades, Vic and Natly’s commentaries have amused, and often provoked. Observing life in the Creole City from his exurban Abita Springs redoubt, Matthews has said that he holds high standards for New Orleans, where he believes most people are too accepting and forgiving. His outspoken style often prompts controversy, yet he remains unapologetic. He believes that lines are meant to be crossed and through his work, he aims to educate and enlighten his audience, forcing them to react, to think and to change. Due to a recent illness that limited his ability to produce new work, this show is a retrospective of sorts. He's one of a kind, and he's Naturally New Awlins--we wish him the best! More Here & Here