Tavares Strachan’s contribution to Prospect.3 is a declarative statement, a penetrating question, a sculpture, and a call to action. The centerpiece of Strachan’s installation, “You belong here” is a 120ft floating neon artwork that has traveled via barge on the Mississippi River in New Orleans for the past three months.
It’s equal parts whimsy, grandeur, and contemplation.
Who “Belongs here?” Where is “here?” Why “You?” Is you also me? Is you us?
The You Belong Here barge is one of the iconographic images from P.3: Notes for Now, and like so many of the artists and artworks in this ambitious iteration of Prospect New Orleans, it’s a joy to seek out, an even better joy to stumble upon.
From the Ashé Cultural Center on Oretha Castle Haley Blvd. to Xavier University, and many points in between, Prospect New Orleans once again, brings a world class art exhibit to the entire city. Half the fun is cruising around town and finding each of the 18 venues. You’ll be rewarded no matter which ones you visit. I recommend seeing them all.
All told, 58 artists and more than 120 works are on display in venues as varied as the CAC on Camp St. to the May Gallery on N. Robertson. There’s even real life drama cleverly disguised as performance art that spans three distinct neighborhoods (St. Roch, Mid City / Tremé, and Gert Town) where blighted houses play a staring role, and where the artist (Lisa Sigal) expertly creates a narrative and meaning that could easily be the thread that holds the city-wide exhibit together at its most basic level.
Are we here together or apart? Are we seeing the same things? And yes, … these questions matter.
As Sigal said during Home Court Crawl — a Blights Out performance set among a block of urban detritus in Mid City, “this is about beauty and it’s about tragic deterioration, but I feel these are the very things that the people of New Orleans have stopped seeing.”
It’s thoughts like this that permeate through nearly every installation at P.3, a commonality that is both tragic and uplifting. Tragic because no doubt, we here (as for many in this world) live among neglect and decay. Uplifting because as with art, especially with this collection of artists who span the globe — there is much hope and possibility.
P.3 is a reflection on New Orleans, a reflection of its past, and a blue skies picture about potential for the city and for the global community in which it exists.
Lisa Sigal’s work, Blights Out is as much about despair as it is about hope and new ways of seeing. That sentiment is one of the common threads running through P.3. Curated by Franklin Sirmans, and expertly installed by the P.3 creative team.
Video installations comprise some of the most thought provoking (and in one case) mind blowing experiences at P.3. You’d treat yourself to one heck of an interesting day if all you did was manage to see the video art in this year’s exhibit.
If there’s a can't miss, I think it has to be The Propeller Group at UNO’s St. Claude Gallery.
Other strong video installations include Los Jaichackers at The Joan Mitchell Center on Rampart (just at the edge of the French Quarter), Dillard University’s Art Gallery, the May Gallery, and the McKenna Museum of African American Art, which features works by Carrie Mae Weems. At McKenna, be sure to see Weems’ work Lonnie and Lincoln and Me.
With one full week remaining, it is possible to see all of the artists at P.3, but if you’re pressed for time, or if you only have one day, I suggest the following installations as highlights of this year’s triennial.
The Propeller Group at UNO’s St. Claude Gallery: Their surreal, and sublime video “The Living Need Light, And The Dead Need Music” follows a funeral procession through the narrow streets of Saigon, Vietnam. It’s a visual and auditory feast for the senses. Costumed revelers, joe-cool musicians, fire eating exhibitionists, mourners, and a slim and sultry hostess, cavort through Saigon to the sounds of trad jazz and Nola’s own brass-hop / funk R&B.
This isn’t the defining piece at P.3, but it’s one you won’t soon forget. Imagine this: On opposite sides of the globe, two former French colonies mix brass bands, religious symbols, and a celebratory attitude about death and remembrance. The video is supported in the adjacent gallery with actual instruments from the film, and photos of local high school students playing them on the forlorn streets of New Orleans.
If you go to St. Claude, I bet you’ll watch it twice.
Skybox by Charles Gaines at the CAC: This multimedia presentation shifts text and light as three laminated boards of historical writings transition from illegible to legible to interstellar and back again. Sit, by yourself in this darkened room and ponder the thoughts of great thinkers for a few cycles.
Lisa Sigal’s Blights Out in Mid City, St. Roch and Gert Town: To totally immerse yourself in the Blights Out installation, you’ll want to see a performance put on as part of Home Court Crawl. I’m not sure if there will be a repeat performance or not, but I am sure that Lisa Sigal has brought New Orleans and New Orleanians one of the most captivating and most sincere pieces of art that we can experience. It’s open to all, and it’s open at all hours of the day and night, which makes it all the more real, and depending on the darkness perhaps a little haunting.
Photographers Keith Calhoun and Chandra McKormick at the Ogden Museum: Artists with a firm New Orleans connection. A married couple who run L9 Center for the Arts, in the Lower Ninth Ward. 35 photos from Angola.
Mary Ellen Carroll’s Public Utility 2.o at the AIA Center for Design: is ambitious. It’s hard to grasp at first glance, but rewarding with a longer visit. The shear number of hours that went into this piece is overwhelming. Crunching historical facts, and some of America’s original “Big Data,” Carroll and Imani Jacqueline Brown have built an installation that explores the history of Interstate 10’s Claiborne Ave. overpass, and uses it as a rubric for conversation about access to services for poor communities throughout the City, and across the Nation.
It’s concept art to be sure, but this concept is worth taking in.
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In preparation for P.3, Curatorial Director Franklin Sirmans turned to Walker Percy‘s 1961 novel “The Moviegoer“ for inspiration. There’s a quote on the 2nd floor at the CAC that sums Sirman’s thinking as he put together this collection of artists. I think Sirmans took on a monumental task, and did very well. His vision is true to New Orleans — it’s past, present, and future.
The themes in P.3 are universal. Artists talk about the search for self, searches for others, crime, punishment, geography, culture, history, hope, and connection.
The exhibit is in New Orleans, but make no doubt about it: P.3 is international in scope and appeal.
In the most African city in the country, and the most European city in the country, P.3 has given us a platform from which we can have conversations about a global community.
Prospect New Orleans: America’s Triennial.