Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The art fool within is skipping down the city's streets with such glee, suppressing cranky, curmudgeonly mama for long periods and capturing some amazing works with her camera. The city is in the throes of some great, thought-provoking contemporary art. It's tough not to get excited! It's the art fool's impulse to see everything the Prospect .1 Biennial has to offer, to get up and go to every gallery, every museum, every installation, all of it, allofitassoonaspossible!!!!!

What can I say? I've been indulging the little fool lately, even as I've been tussling with her a little on some of the critical aspects of it all.

-Pete brought up some valid points about the atmosphere of the Lower Ninth Ward:

The area is still pretty darn bleak, and full of odd sights. This could well have been considered an art installation anywhere else in the world. In New Orleans, it was just a motorcycle on a slab.

I have some worries about the surreality of the area in the context of the many art installations that are currently on view there. At least one work could be construed as simply exchanging one canvas for another that just happens to be on an abandoned house. Thankfully, most of the other works are not like that...but, in driving on Caffin Avenue on the lake side of Claiborne, I had to wonder if the art tourists are being urged to stay awhile and open their eyes to see most of the Lower Ninth for what it is: a decimated neighborhood to which former residents are largely being discouraged from returning, in large part because of the squandering of any infrastructural investment in the restoration of the wetlands and the strengthening of the system of levees, pumps, and other barriers that should have been here all along. Piles of worn-out tracks from bulldozing equipment still abound, and egrets are walking amongst the tall grass and standing water on many of the empty lots.

After all, many recovery failures on the part of all levels of government, and a good amount of poor upkeep of these structures that were supposed to help keep the homes here free of storm surge, are ultimately responsible for the surreality of the landscape here, three years and counting after the Federal Flood. The work on display in the Lower Ninth Ward certainly draws inspiration from the emotional costs of the losses surrounding it, but most of the artists involved leave the bigger questions surrounding rebuilding in the area to the people who are actually doing something about it. One possible exception still leaves many questions unanswered...

... which leads me to my next critical bone of contention....

-What should artists' responses to a disaster consist of?

Are artists obligated to respond to disasters and any other issues of the day in a form that keeps their ideas within the gallery environment, or can they successfully branch out of that? Loaded question, I know...and I've seen good examples of both kinds of art as part of Prospect .1 and as a satellite exhibit, respectively.

Looks like a massive pile of money, doesn't it?

It's actually part of a work by one of Arthur Roger Gallery's artists, on view in the Old U.S. Mint right now. The description of it takes great pains to point out that its creator, Srdjan Loncar, is one of the "relatively few New Orleans artists chosen to be included in Prospect .1":

"Value" is one of two major works that Srdjan is creating for Prospect .1 and is remarkably relevant to a time of serious financial crisis.

"Value" is about money "Value" is an interactive installation occupying the two rooms just inside the entrance of the Old U.S. Mint. An impressive pile of money is comprised of crafted digital prints of money on wooden blocks and a separate grouping of painted Winchester pistol cases.

"Value" encourages "clients" to deconstruct the pile by purchasing a case to be filled with "money". 500 cases are being
specially composed by Srdjan and are being offered to "clients" during Prospect .1 at the Old U.S. Mint.

And now for a completely different concept....

Welcome to Mel Chin's Safe House!

Yes, it is a working door with a combination lock on it, made by artist Mel Chin. No, it isn't officially part of Prospect .1, but running coincident to it in a St Roch house belonging to a homegrown contemporary art program known as KK Projects. What the Safe House contains is an idea meant to get the lead out of New Orleans through the implementation of the Fundred Project.

The artist explains his response to 8-29 and its aftermath:

Maybe that detachment was important; I was meeting people who were going down there to work and clean. That was wonderful, but I didn’t know if that kind of response was right for me. And that detachment helped me to see it another way. It made me go back again and again and research and find people outside the arts community.

When I was working on Revival Field in Minnesota in 1991, I met an important scientist named Howard Mielke, who is now at Tulane/Xavier Center for Bio-Environmental Research in New Orleans. He has been studying the soils of New Orleans for twenty-five or thirty years. He’s an expert on the effects of lead and testified about lead to Congress in the 1980s. I called him to ask about how bad the lead content of the soil in New Orleans was post-Katrina.

Howard had accomplished a project called Recover New Orleans. He tested and treated twenty-five properties in one of the city’s most dangerous zones, with a high murder rate. It also had the highest lead levels. I said, “Howard, we have to do something. How much will it cost to reclaim the soil in New Orleans?” He asked, “all 86,000 properties?” He said that would cost about 250 million dollars. To which I replied, “I can't raise that much, because I'm an artist, but I know we can make that much.” I didn't say it would be real money or anything. So I promised him that. It would take a big landscape effort, a landscape art effort.

And that's how this project was born. Its code name is Paydirt. Paydirt encompasses the overall operation, which raises awareness and money and then executes the transformation of the 86,000 properties. The Fundred Dollar Bill Project supports Paydirt.

I describe the Paydirt operation as having two sides, one covert and one overt, all still one project. Fundred is covert only for the time it needs to be, to gather the expression, the voices of kids. The other side, the landscape side is overtly trying to be actively engaged in transformation, the physical and scientific and verifiable method to transform a city in need.

Download the Fundred Dollar Bill templates and the lesson plans here.

I would LOVE to see $300 million of kid-created money purchased by the government so that the lead levels in the ground here are safe, because if it is successful, think of what ELSE we could get here with the help of the kids!

It's not like there isn't a precedent for trading in money not made by the government...

1 comment:

Cait said...

There was an interesting piece at the Prospect 1 event at Silverman's Studio on Saturday night that involved mosquito larvae.

...because nothing says art like West Nile!