The following are some thoughts I jotted down during our time in New Orleans two weeks ago:
New Orleans Day 3: Ways of writing –
‘and so the challenge lies with writers to use a different vocabulary, to find ways of speaking about art from this city,’ said Willie Birch in a particularly difficult-to-guage public discussion with Prospect 1 curator, Dan Cameron at the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) last night. The artist himself, a New Orleansian, left the city and gained national recognition in what would be considered more as America’s art ‘centres’ (or ‘centers’ depending on whether you’re writing about the country or from it) before returning to his hometown in 1994 where he decided to stay. This unique situation presents something of a crux within the biennale’s architecture – the view of which at the best of times thus far has been conceptually very murky (no Mississippi-esque puns intended) – in that, as a child, Birch was never allowed to even enter the park surrounding NOMA due to not the museum but the park’s racial segregation regulations. To now see his work prevalently hung in the reception hall of that institution is something of an obvious, yet equally heart-warming coup.
The insider/outsider artist binary was as expected addressed in the proceeding conversation as Birch and Cameron spoke about the effects of the biennale on a population who are not known for their appreciation of the contemporary. From the above quotation and further comments made by Birch, it would seem a knowledge of the vernacular is essential before even beginning to row down the post-Katrina torrent. But what are these new ways of writing New Orleans? How does one begin to deconstruct or dare I say critically challenge Ronald W. Lewis’s community museum ‘of Dance and Feathers’ stuffed with decades of Mardi Gras Indian paraphernalia pieced back together after the flood submerged his life’s collection; or the placement of documentation of a high profile community performer’s work in the Prospect 1’s list of contributors
Driving the stormy streets of the Lower Ninth Ward (the actual neighbourhood surrounding the levee break), looking at our maps trying to find the Robin Rhode piece rather than observing the devastation still so evident is perhaps the best way of dealing with urban catastrophe – by not dealing with it? Not saying it? Not writing about it? Is this the new art criticism – to be tongue tied?