Amid the crinkly, mysterious sepia photographs hanging on the gallery walls like unlikely pictorial artifacts is an artist statement. The opening lines read, 'We were born in the Age of Reason. But, we live in New Orleans. Time here has no context, the whole city is like a photograph, frozen in an old moment, but continually aging." It is an apt commentary from a photographic duo that somehow melds Victorian sensibilities with post-apocalyptic, science fiction proclivities. Indeed, if a post-apocalyptic society had somehow sprung up from the ruins of south Louisiana in the late 19th century, it probably would have looked a lot like Louviere + Vanessa's recent photographs. Here strange figures inhabit a strange landscape that is also familiar. Anybody who has ever taken a Sunday drive would recognize it as the expanse of wetlands, fields and tangled forests that lie just beyond the fringes of suburbia, yet Louisiana has a way of looking prehistoric, a fitting environment for our state bird, the pterodactyl " I mean pelican. The figures in the photographs seem to have memories of some apparently lost civilization, a scant few artifacts of which remain behind. In Superne
, a fellow wearing goggles and wings made from elephant ear plants presses a long stemmed flower to his face as if it were a high altitude oxygen mask. He's got the general idea but the details are a little off " those leafy wings won't get him much higher. In Chlorofemina, Loup Garou
, a woman appears loping across the fields on makeshift stilts, eyeball to eyeball with a lost seagull that can't be happy about all this. Deprived of modern technology, she and her male counterpart resort to the old, original technology now known as shamanism, a form of sympathetic magic in which people tried to influence nature through rituals that involved assuming the form of animals or mythic beings. These images are from their Chloroform
series involving human figures who often appear with artificial snouts and appendages reminiscent of feral beasts, body parts cobbled from the surreal remnants of tropical plants, strange flowers, dead leaves, stalks and the like.
A truly strange beast appears in their Creature series " images of a ghostly animal stalking the savage wilds of St. Bernard Parish. Resembling something like a skinned greyhound in shape and a gecko in its sickly, pale coloration, it's actually a foam/plastic taxidermist's form of the sort used for animal trophies, but you'd never know it in these eerily diffuse and distressed photographs. Here the Creature suggests a pale personification of all that is unknown and unresolved in man and nature, an archetypal hellhound reborn as a bloodless marsupial. If the photographs in this show suggest a tribal shaman's remake of Blade Runner, much of their mysterious allure stems from the near-shamanic methods used in their making " methods that include the diffuse and imprecise imagery of a cheap plastic Holga camera, distressed negatives and prints made with pigment, wax and blood on exotic Japanese papers made from tropical Asian plants.
Artists ranging from Joseph Beuys, Odd Nerdrum and Dieter Appelt to Edward Curtis and Frederick Sommer have been influenced by tribal shamanism, and notions of the apocalypse have haunted artists throughout history, but Louviere and Vanessa appear at least as concerned with their inner implications as they are with the outer appearances, and their work involving post-apocalyptic imagery predates Hurricane Katrina by several years. Philosophers have long relegated the imagination and the psyche to the realm of nature because dreams and madness, like storms and hurricanes, are beyond the bounds of reason. If the imagery contained in Louviere and Vanessa's photographs sometimes suggests surreal narratives from the subconscious, their extensive resume of exhibitions in galleries and museums across the globe suggests wide interest in their brand of magical theater even as they remain somewhat obscure in their own hometown.
Louviere + Vanessa's photograph Chlorofemina, Loup Garou suggests a post-apocalyptic society where shamanism has taken the place of technology.