Saturday, December 2, 2006

Site #8: "Croatoan" Stephen Collier: Tennessee Street/Lower 9th Ward

(Click on photos to enlarge.)

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"The word “croatoan” was painted on to all the dead trees that are lined along Tennessee Street in the Lower Ninth Ward. Tennessee Street was chosen because the only things that remain on the street are dead oak trees and the occasional cinder block. All of the homes have been removed. There are no signs of life on this once lively street. This desertedness echo’s the mysterious word “croatoan” first discovered by Governor John White in 1590. White found the word “croatoan” carved in a tree in Roanoke Island. This word was the only trace of the first English colony left there a few years before. The colony was never found. They are now known as the “lost colony”. The word “croatoan” has mysterious and unpleasant connotations. It is the same feeling one gets while walking down Tennessee Street in the Lower Ninth Ward."
- Stephen Collier


LatinTeacher said...


stevokeefe said...

Your photos are eerie -- very poignant.

Why do you say the word "croatoan" has unpleasant connotations? I think of it as almost Utopian -- like Eldorado -- people gone wild, or gone to a better place.

The book, "Gone to Croatan," from Autonomedia Press, is one of the most infuential books in my life. Most likely available at the Iron Rail Bookstore in the Marigny, it is a history of dropout cultures, including the slave/native communities of the Southeast U.S. that many say are the origins of the Mardi Gras Indian tribes.

It is the belief of many of us that New Orleans is a forgotton city of dropouts building our own hideous ShangriLa admist the ruins of the American Dream. To me, there is no more beautiful idea than croatoan. Thanks for spreading it around.

ARTinACTION said...

I really love this piece. Hopefully people will make the trek to see it face to face as these trees are marked for demolition soon. Then all that will remain is the trace of what went before, which is a trace of what used to be, and so on.

I loved taking photos of this installation. I think so much of what these pieces can do is create "photographable" environments - tableaus that inspire us to take pictures, write stories, sing songs.

Alternative Arts New Orleans said...

here is a "Gone to Croatan" essay by Hakim Bey, available online with alot of his other writings

Bey's idea of "psychotopology" seems to be a potent idea for site-specific work too.

Alternative Arts New Orleans said...

after reading what steve said - New Orleans as Croatan already - it seems sad because now residents have had to leave their Croatan for another place. the end of Croatan? maybe the word would work in all the flooded areas.

ARTinACTION said...

This is a lot to think about and I like that! Let me address a few things that come to mind right away:

I don't think S.Collier is necc. wrong for thinking that "Croatoan" has unpleasant connotations (as well as mysterious). There's a poignancy to a trace left behind that can trigger some uncomfortable emotions in people - it can resonate in an unsettling way - which isn't necc. "bad" but can definately be uncomfortable. It's not always easy to face darker things, the absence of what once was, the presence of what is not.

What I know about the origins of the word Croatoan as it was found on the East Coast is that it is not a symbol of a subterranean alternative culture but rather a remnant of one that used to be. I appreciate very much that it's been de/reconstructed to symbolize something other but I suspect S.Collier's take on it has more to do with the origins than the rescripting. I look forward to reading these texts though, I imagine there's a lot more to learn!

I can say that I do NOT subscribe to the notion that New Orleans is a sodden and somewhat sordid city made of dropouts building a fake paradise that will only destroy us. I think that's more of the sterotyping that the rest of the country is guilty of when it comes to New Orleans. Some people who like to think of themselves as "counterculture" might find pleasure in this image but I find it belittling and believe it justifies a dismissal, a decided ignorance when it comes to our very concrete cultural heritage and the importance of our daily lives. To me this idea just perpetuates my city as a marginalized abject object "thing", freaky and messy, and allows for horrible injustices like abominable public schools, police brutality, and the cutting of funds by Feds that we need to repair our levees and wetlands.

It's not that I don't appreciate that here there is a certain celebration of the body & all its gestures, as well as a tolerance of difference (and the body), that one doesn't find in D.C. or Austin or San Francisco for that matter. I just bristle at what sound and feel to me like over-simplifications that only fuel tired clichés that only give outsiders license to crap on my city.

That said, isn't it interesting how many meanings one word can have? To S.Collier he was spreading one meaning around but it is complex and multi-faceted, subjective and alive.

Anonymous said...

nice. that area doesn't have enough problems, apparently.

ARTinACTION said...

Oh, well, have you been to Tennesse Street? Especially lately? The workers who saw it & the few folks back in trailers dug this "Croatoan" stenciling and enjoyed the symbolism of it all - before the trees got demo'd. They have been cut down, as they were slated to be, which Stephen knew when he chose them. So the piece is gone, and to us that's a good thing.

One idea was to make an impermanent mark whose absence would signify a positive change. ie: if the trees get cut down it means that trailers are next and if trailers appear it means homes are next. When I first worked here there wasn't a soul in sight. It's changed very much since then and we feel glad to have been engaged in that change.

And though I'm very aware of how "graffiti" remains strangely controversial/marginalized I am 100% behind it as a valid creative response to what has happened to our city. If the people that lived t/here had a problem with it we'd be working differently. The important thing is to open dialogue, learn new things. be changed all the way around. Divisive, competitive, negativity is particularly meaningless in our post Katrina landscape. The hope is to open relationships, support eachother, and share creative ideas - not to close doors, judge, or belittle.

FYI: given your pretensions about "art" (ie: implying that graffiti is somehow "bad") you will want to avoid the AiA site upcoming. We just installed a huge piece including graffiti in the Holy Cross/Lower 9 neighborhood. With permission, of course. Interestingly, the families and kids who are back and also the constant flow of people that used to live there, have no problem accepting this kind of work as positive. It puts a spotlight on a continued problem that "art" (whether you think it's art is a moot point) didn't cause - and that the "art" gives these deserving people a welcome distraction from. I can enthusiastically say that works like this are doing some good for the people who live there. I know because they tell us.

Because I'm very sensitive to this issue of permission/ownership I always assume that someone won't like a piece, and I work very hard to give those people a forum. I always say "any reaction is valid". The point is that you're thinking about it. A lot of people don't even do that. So the work succeeds.

Perhaps you'd like to schedule a tour and meet some of us face to face, to allow those of us who live this story (as citizens/as artists) to tell you how it is we are coping with it, and to expand your notions of what an appropriate response to the devastation of Katrina might be (especially in a community that is already so radically "public" in its creativity: second lines, Mardi Gras, shrines, altars, etc). I'd be more than happy to accomodate you, give you a little of the history of the work here, and why here, so that perhaps you could do more than simply react in a reductive fashion against it. If you're interested in further dialogue please don't hesitate to contact me via the email. Beyond that, you might want to do a little reading into the socio/political aspects of graffiti as an art movement; it might diffuse the bad feeling you have about it or at the very least help you to engage in an informed debate about its merits/complications.

sbobet said...

sip bro...langsung ke TKP..
mo cek harsbobetganya nih

sbobet said...

sip bro...langsung ke TKP..
mo cek harsboganya nih