Sunday, September 22, 2019

Latoya Ruby Frazier: Flint is Family; Tulane Critical Visualization and Media Lab: Gordon Plaza: The American Dream Denied

Unlike massive wildfires or cataclysmic oil spills, some environmental disasters are silent killers. Flint Michigan's poisoned tap water crisis falls into the latter category, as does the ongoing Gordon Plaza toxic soil disaster in New Orleans' Gentilly district. Two exhibitions at the Newcomb Art Museum explore how residents of both places have coped with the insidious catastrophes that have impaired their lives and robbed them of their faith in the American dream. An introductory series of photographs by AnnieLaurie Erickson ("Norco," below) and Jonathan Traviesa provide a broader context for a region where chemical industries and environmental protests are increasingly pervasive. 

In Flint, the crisis began in 2014 when city officials switched to a cheaper water source. The new tap water soon caused old lead pipes to corrode. Lead toxicity quickly spiked to extreme levels, forcing Flint residents to use bottled water for ordinary everyday tasks. LaToya Ruby Frazier spent five months with three generations of Flint women as they attempted to live normal lives, leaning on each other for support while navigating an ecological crisis of vast proportions. Empathy sets the tone in works like “Andrea Holding her daughter Nephratiti” as well as other scenes where bottled water attains a pervasive, iconic presence. Human interest views are set against news photos of protests and the Flint water system that recall crime scene documentation. Yet, Frazier often avoids the near-cinematic drama that defined classic photojournalism in favor of a softer, more sociological approach.

Like Flint, Michigan, Nola's Gordon Plaza development in Gentilly was once a hopeful place. Built atop the site of the old Abundance Street landfill, its attractive, affordable homes were well received as they became available in 1981. Most residents knew nothing of the site's history, and their dreams soon crumbled as soil tests revealed high levels of deadly toxins. Here dreamy works like Hannah Chalew's collage drawing of tidy homes atop layers of toxic waste share space with more clinical and journalistic displays. This Tulane Media Lab expo reminds us that Flint and Gordon Plaza are everywhere, tragic legacies of the all too common tendency to value money over human health and well being. ~Bookhardt / Latoya Ruby Frazier: Flint is Family; Tulane Critical Visualization and Media Lab: Gordon Plaza: The American Dream Denied, Through Dec 14, Newcomb Art Museum, Tulane University, 865-5328;