COMMUNITY ART IN THE POST-DISASTER LANDSCAPES OF TODAY

Friday, April 27, 2007

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

(Click on photos to enlarge)

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

9 comments:

sean said...

Courtney -
What a great project. I can't wait to see it when I am back in town. I also really appreciate the information contained in your "statement." Pictures are one thing but it seems a proper viewing is so dependent on the physical experience of relating ones body to the markings on the pole. I love how the piece confuses the personal and official/institutional presentation of information. In some ways I see the project functioning as an institutionally sanctioned monument but the placement on the worn pole and the punched vs. engraved text relates quite nicely to the human hand of a single individual. What a concise embodiment of the aspirations of AiA. Kudos!

ARTinACTION said...

I couldn't agree more, Sean. I feel that this piece to be very concise, very graphic in its purpose, and wonderfully executed. As a New Orleanian it very cleanly drives home the truth of this environment - how this is what we live in, what we choose: floods, swamp, nature, wild loss, and history. The tactile physicality of the piece - the plates (tonally & texturally) combined with the intense physicality of the pole as well as the neighborhood itself (it is teeming with signs of life and death) make the experience of this piece very personal and poignant. It's a historical marker and it's a personal moment. One's body makes it whole. One's body survives or doesn't survive a flood. How we choose to live is very elegantly questioned. No judgements are drawn, just questions raised. I find how something so simple can be so complex to be very reflective of life here now.

I'll be fascinated to watch the plates change in the weather and also to see if anyone posts signs on this pole. Thus far, it's remained unadorned, I feel in respect to the piece. Before she installed it signs for demo etc were constantly nailed here.

courtney said...

Thanks for the comments. I am hoping to do two more of these, probably later this summer, in other locations in the city. I'm thinking Broadmoor around Napoleon and Broad, or intersection of Louisiana and Claiborne, and in the Lower 9th.
I also hope to make more Katrina markers for anyone who wants one, to put up in their neighborhood as reminders, as the waterlines (very slowly) disappear. They are bright and hopefully catch the attention of passerbys.

Karen said...

I would like one for my house..

I think you know my daughter, Ida

Greg said...

I like the simplicity of these... and graphic too, as others have said. The bold colors attract eyes, but their scale is subtle enough so as it becomes a curiosity for further exploration. The stamping of the text into the metal gives a lasting value to these time pieces placed in an everchanging environment. No less prevalent today as when the city began, New Orleans constant battle and lifeblood is the water that surrounds it. What is fascinating is the way in which the people of the time choose to approach the issue.

ARTinACTION said...

Karen, if you email me directly with your contact information I can link you to Courtney to talk about getting water line plaques. artinaction@elizabethunderwood.net

Greg, thanks for your comment. I agree with you that the colors of the plaques really work to delight the eye while delivering an utterly sobering message. Which to me seems a lot like life here in New Orleans. Every day we are seduced and mortified. Every day we choose to stay or go. It seems that this is what gives life here such urgency - and works like the "Deep Water Lines" work as a gift honoring that.

ARTinACTION said...

FYI: Emailng me with contact info for "Deep Water Lines" plaques applies to anyone interested.

sbobet said...

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

sbobet said...

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