Friday, April 27, 2007

Site #18: "Deep Water Dates" Courtney Egan: Broad at Banks, Mid City

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Google map

"The history of flooding in New Orleans reveals some fascinating, comforting and unsettling stories. How come I've never heard these stories before? On a visit to the Historic New Orleans Collection, I met with the encyclopedic John Magill, who told me a memorable tale about the Bonnet Carre river crevasse of 1871. A giant break in the levee upriver pushed so much water into the lake that the Hagan Avenue levee broke and flooded areas of the city that were populated then, such as Mid-City, for MONTHS. People resigned themselves to living in their flooded homes, on the 2nd stories or on top of furniture. Food and staples were delivered to them by boat. Like Katrina, this flood was also a media sensation, with reporters from all over the nation arriving in droves to chronicle the event.

An informative paper about the history of drainage can be found here.

An interesting detail: a group of women in 1899 lead a successful battle to pass a tax, heavily opposed by many property owners initially, to fund the creation of the Sewerage and Water Board. The new S&WB's implementations - the pumping system, for one - so improved the sanitation of the city that yellow fever abated, life expectancy instantly increased, and commercial growth boomed. The population of the city almost doubled within the next 25 years.

The other effect of the S&WB and the population boom was that people began settling in some of the lowest areas in the city, where land had become "habitable" because of the new drainage technology. Where did the memory of horrible past flooding go? Some floods happen slower than others, allowing more evacuation time and less loss of life ­ supposedly in the 1871 flood, the waters rose about 1 foot every 36 hours.

How will we remember Katrina in 30-40 years? How will it affect where we continue to live and how we live?

The idea for this piece initially came from wanting to make permanent in some way the Katrina water marks that are slowly disappearing around the city. Shawn Hall put the history bug in the project, waterlines through time. I still may try to make more Katrina markers, and only do the "through time" parts in a few neighborhoods, like in Broadmoor, which became a 9-foot deep lake during Sauve's river crevasse of 1849, and in the lower 9th ward, which suffered uniquely from Hurricane Betsy in 1965 and from other flood events due to its geography and the intrusion of large man-made canals in the area.

During the May rainstorm flood of 1995 I lived near this installation, between Tulane and Banks on N. Rendon. My car flooded over the engine. I called work to let them know I wouldn't be in, and no one knew there had been a flood! They all lived in higher areas. The water during Katrina, only 10 years later, was 7 -8 feet deep around this corner, maybe more. This neighborhood is always impacted by floods, yet the people and the businesses return. Broad St. is a busy thoroughfare, with cops passing constantly on their way to the courts and the jail, which made installation nerve-racking, until we realized that the cops didn¹t care about two white girls with a drill working on a phone pole in the rain. A local guy, "Sergeant Joe," stopped and talked to us about his Katrina experience and other flood experiences, on his way home to celebrate his birthday. I hope the colors in the piece attract attention and get more people interested and aware of the long history of flood events in the neighborhood." Courtney Egan

Friday, April 20, 2007

Site 17: "O No!" Jonathan Traviesa; Jefferson Davis Parkway Neutral Ground, Mid-City

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Google Map

This is the re-installation of Jonathan's "O Water!" piece found below (Site #3)

"Some time in mid-March, I discovered the glass pitcher for "O Water!" broken. A shard was still (grimly) hanging from the orange rope with many more scattered pieces on the grass below. Near the sand map of Louisiana (which at this point had now overgrown with unexpected healthy-looking grass) a fist-sized scrap of concrete lay - probably the weapon used by ?____curious kids? For a split second, I felt the sting of losing something. Then I almost immediately felt very fortunate that a simple art installation out in the general public / raw environment had lasted as long as this one had. I removed all the glass shards for safety reasons and went home.

A few days later I thought about glueing the pieces together and reinstalling it because it had originally intrigued and amused many people who encountered it. I couldn't quite resolve the idea to reinstall the pitcher and fill it up with bayou/lake water again because it seemed too repetative an action after the form had been violently altered and crudely repaired. Only when I LOOSELY connected the silly act of destruction to the pitcher with the senseless violence circulating the streets of New Orleans did I feel justified in reinstalling the pitcher and the sand map. This time however, instead of water being tentatively suspended above our land in the smooth rounded form of the original unbroken pitcher, the scrap of concrete rests inside the mangled/mended pitcher - a symbol of fragility and violence hanging in the air." Jonathan Traviesa

(Thanks to the Florida group with Monica and Marco who assisted with the reinstallation of "O No!" as part of their ArtInAction tour.)

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Site #16: "Emerge" Beth Dary: City Park, Mid-City

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Approximate Google Map (Please email for specific directions)

"This work is an environmental installation of a variety of cast paper “pods” into the landscape of a low-lying “wet” spot on the grounds of New Orleans’ City Park. “Emerge” is my attempt to seed something of potential growth for a landscape that was flooded and badly damaged during Hurricane Katrina. I have also chosen the park site as it holds some of my first memories of times spent exploring this city’s undeniable beauty with my family when we moved to New Orleans.

These pods, many of them unfinished fragments, are part of an earlier body of work that was interrupted by the storm. The use of elements of a partially completed work connotes an interruption and cutting off of a work in progress, much the way so many lives were caught in a particular moment at the time of the storm and dropped elsewhere out of their usual and intended context. It is likely that, for a casual passerby, the distinction between “artistic” and “natural” phenomenon will blur -- the sculptural elements of the piece, made of cast plant fibers and inspired by objects found in nature like a gourd or seed pod, are placed in a way that could be a part of the life cycle of the plants in the area.

The decision to place them back into the environment was both a way to complete a work in a different way than originally intended and a metaphor for “letting go.” It is also hoped that this work, all composed of organic materials, will be transformed in the process, whether it is appropriated by birds or insects for nesting materials, absorbed back into the earth with the ebb and flow of the watery area where they have been placed, or perhaps even collected as a curiosity by a visitor to the park." Beth Dary