No Body Home in New Orleans

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This piece in today's New York Times anticipates a piece City Paper will run Wednesday on a photography exhibit by Donna Hurt. Displayed in the new gallery at the Art Institute of Charleston on Meeting and Market streets, Hurt's show features a couple of dozen photographs (11 inches by 14 inches) that document the carnage of domestic life weeks after the flooding subsided. What she finds are small tributes, or totems, left behind by those related to the dead or sensitive soul's agonizing over the loss of human and civilized life.

The critic (that's me) muses that these totems, like ancient relics, seem like an attempt to appease forces beyond our ken. But what if the forces were of our own making? In other words, people blame not just Pres. Bush but global warming. Katrina may be more than a disaster. Like Oedipus gouging out his eyes on discovering that he killed his father to marry his own mother, Katrina is a tragedy. Then again, Oedipus acted out of ignorance. We've known about society's impact on the environment since at least the 1970s. If Oedipus is a tragedy, what does that make Katrina? A farce?

From the Times . . .

The break came fairly recently. Sometime between the New Orleans mayor’s race in spring 2006, when thousands of displaced citizens voted absentee or drove in to cast a ballot, and the city election this fall, when thousands did not — resulting in a sharply diminished electorate and a white-majority City Council — the decision was made: there was no going back. Life in New Orleans was over.

Now, they are adjusting to places where the pace is slower, restaurants are fewer, existence is centered on the home, and streets are lonely and deserted after 5 p.m., as in this city in southwest Louisiana. These exiles, still in semi-limbo and barely established in a routine, describe their new lives less in terms of what it now consists of than of what they left behind.

From City Paper . . .

One might notice a sense of humor inherent in Hurt’s shots. Especially when bathed in outdoor light, there is coy kind of rebellion, a buoyant impishness. But even as they seem to defy nature, they also affirm it. Like the court jester in King Lear, these tokens mock power only in the security of knowing that the king — or God, if you will — is in charge.

Or is he? It’s widely believed Katrina resulted from global warming, something we did, not God. If the objects in Hurt’s photos are totems, who are they totems to? Nietzsche said that God is dead: He is of our own making. He is not independent from us, he is us. Seeing these small but powerful depictions of post-Katrina New Orleans, it seems we have also become him.

Not very funny if you ask me.

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