The Art of Anti-War
ar can affect us on all levels. The stock market - as clear an indicator as any - has gone schizophrenic in response to uncertain geopolitical times. Our cultural attitudes are also challenged. Locally, some have even petitioned to rename New Orleans' historical Vieux Carre the "Freedom Quarter" to protest France. But the most profound effect of war, the one driving economic and cultural changes, is that felt on a personal, emotional level. Art deals with that emotion.
Pondering the policy of war with Iraq and the looming threat of terrorism made unforgettably real on 9/11, artists of numerous disciplines in New Orleans are focusing on the intense emotional themes engendered by massive human conflict. Whether through painting, poetry, music, performance art or photography, the aesthetically inclined in our area have made their feelings and opinions known, and many of them express opposition to the option of war. The pieces surveyed here range in content from the bare expression of shock after the fall of New York City's World Trade Center to an explicit call for President Bush's removal from office, but all represent a basic resistance to combative military engagement.
Pati D'Amico & William Warren: On the Verge
At Barrister's Gallery, wife and husband team Pati D'Amico and William Warren display paintings, drawings and sculpture in their show appropriately called On the Verge. Besides opening on the verge of war with Iraq, the show's title also fittingly addresses a more general sense of "the impending" that's been with us since 9/11. It is a sense of there being an unresolved "tear in the world", as Warren describes it. Both artists view their show as a cathartic conduit for the pain associated with 9/11 and with the aggression resulting from it.
D'Amico's painting also goes so far as to criticize the Bush administration's handling of America's fearful response to 9/11. In "Franken Bush Rummy," she combines George Bush and Donald Rumsfeld into one stiff figure against an ominous background of twisted and dying trees. The smooth synthesis of these politicians' personas suggests the mechanical interchangeability of their increasingly inhuman interiors, an inhumanity that might be surmised from their current war footing.
In "Disbelief/Sorrow," D'Amico brings the human element to the fore. A figure looks up with strained face and hand held to mouth, an expression common to observers of the events on 9/11. In connection to Munch's well-known "scream," the artists dub this human expression the "gasp" - the pathos of our current existential crisis. To more adequately convey such basic human response, both painters explore a less photographically precise, and more emotionally charged, expressionistic technique.
Though many of the works on display are a way of looking back, Warren views some as prophetic devices. A number of his paintings depict events of an apocalyptic future resulting from the wars to which the US is committing itself. "Urban Warzone" casts an eerie light on a disjointed cityscape festering with intrigue and alienation. Warren doesn't identify the city as Baghdad - the current series of events may very well lead to other urban war zones, perhaps closer to home. As far as prophecy goes, one bit of foresight has already been confirmed. Inspired during a visit to New York City, his original drawing for "Departure of Souls" - in which spirits escape upwards from a city of towers - predates 9/11.
Warren's sculpture "The Burning Man" is particularly provocative. Bearing a grotesquely agonized expression on his face, an incomplete male form, made of fiberglass resin, falls in flames against the backdrop of a skyscraper. Perhaps better than any media footage of the twin towers catastrophe, this puts the viewer in the experience of falling from one of those buildings. In that this is the sort of horror that comes from organized human violence, it incites concern about the future. Through these stark depictions of victimization, On the Verge is meant to inspire further reflection on the consequences of war.
On the Verge, March 1-April 27 at Barrister's Gallery (1724 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., 525-2767)
David Sullivan: Supply & Demand
Drawn and arranged using computer applications like Illustrator, David Sullivan's works are then printed by inkjet onto vinyl or canvas. At the Waiting Room Gallery, Sullivan presents a number of pieces under the heading "Supply & Demand" in this aesthetically stimulating medium. These works reflect a whirlwind of issues - the image of a stylized whirlwind even appears in some of Sullivan's digitally rendered collages.
Another omnipresent figural element is what Sullivan refers to as the "Stabbing Machine," a tin can of a robot with sharp pick-like metal appendages for arms and an antenna on its dome head. In "Exploding Gas Bubble", the Stabbing Machine receives a signal to its antenna from a mean looking stock market ticker tape machine. Skulls appear in the robot's eyes. The instruction received is to "Kill Kill Kill." Sullivan sees the Stabbing Machine as a caricature of the masses, who respond automatically to factors of questionable moral value (greed) by performing actions of questionable moral value (war).
There are many more images to ponder in this and the other works. We find car part assembly instructions, ants, clownish faces, a rifle with nozzle pointing back to its user, barrels of oil, a two-headed feral beast, the jaws of each head interlocked. If one looks close enough into the depths of "Blunderbuss," very faint captured images of Saddam, bin Laden and George W. can be found. Sullivan explains why he did not feature these literal images more prominently. Though he views his work as protest, the protest is against more general human tendencies, of which those three prominent individuals are only the current "avatars."
Supply & Demand, Shown February 8-April 5 at The Waiting Room (906 Pauline St., 949-1805)
Tao Poetry Open Mic
On occasion, performers at the Neutral Ground Coffee Shop defy the notion of neutrality in that infinitely cozy establishment's name. Organized by Marc Irwin on Wednesday nights, Tao Poetry Open Mic invites local poets to make public their innermost churnings in recited verse. The function of this open mic is not anti-war rally, but, like others who read, Irwin himself has been known to voice his concerns about war, which he expresses in an unapologetically surrealistic rubric. In "After Hearing About the Threat of War", Irwin describes in unflattering terms the overpowering surge of war:
"A country's maggots have raised their flags on alien moons/ The tides push in a blind battle/ One man may beat the drum a million sore eyes have seen/ Gone down a memorized path to blood"
Irwin despairs the outcome of large scale military action:
"After the threat of war there is no peace, gulls cry at our brains/ Poetry or protest in the unrivaling air/ Maim the city for their fuel or fire/ The day may end in an unspent tragedy"
Tao Poetry Open Mic, Wednesdays, 9pm, Neutral Ground Coffee Shop (5110 Danneel St., 891-3381)
Strung Out Folk
The folk music of the (typically) four part ensemble Strung Out Folk has recently appeared at CafÈ Brasil, O'Flaherty's and the Neutral Ground. Mark Fernandez, Lisa O'Neill, Annie Ford and Christian Woods all write, play and sing, so don't be surprised if these musically talented folk switch roles at various points in the performance. And don't be surprised if the lyrics turn to war.
Written and sung by Fernandez, "Baghdad" takes the perspective of an Iraqi boy, accustomed to poverty and the loss of close family in the wake of the 1991 Gulf War and its attendant sanctions. The boy - described as "a monument to hate and cold oppression" - pleads with our President:
"And I would beg the King of America/ To show us mercy and not might/ In this hour when it's so dark/ And the world seems to breathe with a raging fire/ And I'm so cold"
Despite the chilling subject matter, the musical arrangement still somehow glows with the group's decidedly "down home" Americana quality, which serves to humanize the boy's experience all the more. The distance between the people of our nation and the people of Iraq's dissolves.
Fernandez believes music "can shock the consciousness" of its listeners in this way and "help people to be more aware." With all the conspicuously headlined hate in the world today, he hopes to use music as a means toward promoting love. Hate is what Fernandez is protesting, and, with the warmth and love in music, he hopes to "surround hate."
Aaron Ambeau directs 11 September 2001
French playwright Michel Vinaver's theatrical essay "11 September 2001" immerses the audience in the sights and sounds of 9/11 and related events, cubistically dramatizing the plane hijackings and the escape from the World Trade Center. The piece interweaves the speeches of Bush and bin Laden, among other world leaders, with monologues of terrorists and the families affected by terrorism. For three nights, Aaron Ambeau directed this performance at the Scottish Rite Temple as part of the ACTitude Francophone Theatre Festival. Ambeau views the performance of the 24 person cast as a "memorial" to the lives lost on 9/11. Though primarily a way of remembering, its attention to the individuality of those involved whispers a message. On Ambeau's interpretation, the piece "certainly says that ... the individual focus is more important." The events of 9/11 need not have led to a call for "retaliation" or "retribution," as many believe. We can also respond with a heightened appreciation for each and every human life.
Kathy Randels: The Second Black Lady Protest
Local performance artist Kathy Randels has initiated The Second Black Lady Protest. She performed the first in 1999 during the NATO bombing of Serbia and Kosovo. Argentine women have performed a similar protest. Dressed in black, they danced without partners to bring painful attention to the loss of their husbands and sons. In widow's apparel, Randels rips stars from a US flag and drops them in a jar of tears. As long as US forces are in Iraq, Randels will do this every Wednesday between 3pm and 6pm in front of the court house at Poydras and Camp.
The protest performance is subtitled The Fall of the American Empire - Hubris. Randels explains, "I think Bush is leading us to the fall of the American Empire. We have been a violent country from our beginning (genocide, slavery). We have achieved our strength through violence. So it is only fitting that our violence will bring about our demise."
Photographer Shannon Brinkman organized the documentation of a particularly eye-catching form of protest. A group of over 30 New Orleans residents and visitors disrobed and spelled out the imperative "NO BUSH!" with their bodies. This is New Orleans' contribution to a worldwide movement centered on fleshy political messaging. Many more examples can be found on baringwitness.org, where the messages include "PEACE," "NOT IN OUR NAME" and abstract symbolism. Why nude? Because it is an arresting demonstration of human vulnerability and frailty, and of the basic humanness we all share on either side of a conflict.
Zeitgeist: Introduction to Arab Cinema Series
Though no local artists are featured, Zeitgeist gives us access to the too often overlooked Arab or Islamic points of view. Between March and May, 35 documentaries, shorts and feature films put the lifestyles of these cultures on display. Expressing "dissident views," the works are guaranteed to be "politically charged."
Zeitgeist Multi-disciplinary Arts Center (1724 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., 525-2767)