Sharing experiences with water in the form of shipping and flooding, New Orleans and the Netherlands share a long history. Our locally invented pumps, built to keep a wet city dry, were adopted by the Dutch long ago, but the Dutch have excelled in water management while we have fallen behind — until Hurricane Katrina motivated us to adopt some of the Netherlands' techniques. An increasing number of Dutch artists have visited New Orleans, intrigued by the similarities and differences between the two countries, and although much of its population also lives below sea level, the Netherlands is northern European and orderly, whereas New Orleans is tropical, spontaneous and messy. Dutch artist Lotte Geeven brings scientific tidiness, as well as a cerebral spontaneity, to her massive Vigor installation at May Gallery. The product of a two-month residency funded by domestic and Dutch institutions, Vigor is very thorough, with its own print publications including a hefty softcover book and five-issue newsletter in addition to the main installation and accompanying video.
That installation, The River (pictured), initially suggests a 30- by 38-foot swimming pool transformed into a multicolored bar graph. In fact, each long, rectangular basin of colored water represents a river that feeds into the Mississippi River, bringing its own hues to the Big Muddy, seen here as the widest basin. The accompanying book contains excerpted lines of poetry pertaining to those rivers, and the newsletters document discussions that influenced the installation's conception. The video features a group of people carrying a large, mysterious, silvery sphere in a nocturnal meander past The Roosevelt New Orleans hotel and on to the foot of Canal Street. This purposely ambiguous attempt to insert an alien element into the city's familiar environs reflects a technique sometimes used in psychogeography to cast the defining characteristics of a place in high relief, although here it may have been seen simply as yet another parade. But the ships on the river also are a parade, and Geeven's imaginative investigations insightfully reframe our familiar hometown in a poetic new light.