Jun 26, 201211:09 AM
The Lighter Side
Exploring the humor and peculiarities of the Big Easy
Midsummer's Neighborhood Art
I've recently had the pleasure of experiencing a few art installations within walking distance of my abode in the Bywater. What sets apart the installation from other forms of artwork is that they tend to be temporary, reminding one to stop and smell the roses. Or stop and look at the art, for heaven's sake. Nothing lasts forever.
Installations and performance art mystified me when I was a freshmen art major, as I didn't grow up with many of them in my backyard, like kids can increasingly do here in New Orleans. When I first studied How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare I thought it was a colossal joke (okay, I still kind of do), as I didn't really understand how a dude dolled up in gold leaf and cradling a dead bunny while explaining art to the poor animal was, well ... art, but it led me to have a more open mind for such things. Though I'm still not really into dead-animal art (looking at you, Damien Hirst).
But as I came to understand performance pieces and installations, they became one of my favorite experiences. When looking at an installation, instead of focusing on one thing, like a painting or a sculpture, you're focusing on the space itself and what the artist has done to transform that space.
The space at The Music Box was transformed into a "shantytown sound laboratory" or nine structures made from a collapsed 18th-century cottage. Each housed its own musical instrument. It has been wildly popular in the neighborhood, being visited by art and music fans all over the city, as well as musicians stopping by to record and be inspired by something different. It was the work of a collaboration of many uber-talented artists led by curator Delany Martin and street artist Swoon.
Swoon's cut-out figures and graffiti art surrounding the space are intricate and stunning. I loved them as much as the little shantytown itself.
Photos do not do it justice. These are not your normal drawings or paintings, they are cutouts. The craftsmanship that went into these figures really blew me away.
What struck me was the attention to detail. Every little area or space was given a special touch, some kind of trinket or pieces to look at. And everything seemed re-purposed. There was nothing new here, nothing bought at Home Depot. Everything was delightfully old, kind of shabby and antique, and there was a constant buzz of folks experimenting with the musical instruments, creating a random hum of rings, clings and beats.
Unfortunately it's all going away to the next phase of the project to another more permanent musical house called Dithyrambalina. I can't wait to see it.
Another installation I got to experience recently was the Stonehenge: St. Claude, which was a replica built in a vacant lot at St. Claude and Bartholomew. It paid homage to the original behemoth Stonehenge out on the Salisbury plains of England. Artist Dave Rhodes created the memorial to "honor ancient engineers and builders who achieved what is still to this day an unbelievable and mysterious feat". The whole time I just pictured said ancient builders of giant standing stones looking down upon us and the structure of particle board and thinking "bless their little hearts".
People gathered on the summer solstice to watch a little bit of yoga or "performance art" at exactly 6:09, or when the sun was at its most sunniest. That's when the magic happens. I'm not sure yoga by itself can be classified as performance art these days, but I think what gave it an edge was the cigarette hanging out of one dude's mouth as he stretched into warrior pose. How very Bywater. And I say that with the utmost sincerity, because while this neighborhood has its yoga studios, organic food co-ops and other ways to stay healthy and grounded, it also freely gives the opportunity for debauchery and hedonism, which is probably why I feel totally and absolutely at home here. We like to chug a Miller High Life after our organic raw spinach smoothies.
And I think what added to the piece for me was stumbling upon a movie set on my leisurely stroll down N. Rampart street to Bartholomew and seeing Liam Hemsworth preparing for some kind of scene with a vintage (are the 80's vintage yet?) Trans Am.
I'm sure this says something about gentrification, society and the movie industry in New Orleans today, but I just chose to ignore it, chillax and enjoy a midsummer's day's walk around my neighborhood, while enjoying the longest day of the year with an orange creamsicle snoball.
A real work of art right there.