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Divining the Deluge



One of the more striking things about Hurricane Katrina was how different people were not only affected differently, but also reacted differently. Some who had previously seemed a little sketchy suddenly turned heroic, braving raging floodwaters without a second thought, rescuing anyone they could. Others who had been perceived as high-minded leaders abruptly became noteworthy for their absence, paralyzed and struck dumb by the same cataclysmic forces that transformed toads -- or lounge lizards -- into princely, mythic figures.

Artists split along similar fault lines. A few seemed to find motivation if not inspiration in the cataclysm, while others who had once seemed resourceful somehow couldn't relate. Some had to move away because they lost not only their homes and studios but also their jobs -- the three strikes and you're outta here syndrome. But those who faced floods and losses and kept on going, cranking out new work as if energized by the madness all around them, are an interesting lot. Certainly Miranda Lake has been nothing if not prolific in the wake of the deluge, despite no end of obstacles. As she put it: "Since Hurricane Katrina, life as a painter in New Orleans has become complicated to say the least. ... Surrounded by mile upon mile of destruction, I find myself searching for signs of hope and renewal. This new landscape disorients and confounds, yet also provides incredible inspiration for the internal landscapes."

Some of those internal landscapes appear in this Diluvian Reign expo at Jonathan Ferrara. Here Lake casts a wide net in work that reaches across recent history and her own inner life to retrieve many peculiar and unusual specimens. What it all means is up to the viewer and how he or she looks at the world. Like a lot of New Orleans art, this stuff is intimate and surreal, grounded in the shadowy recesses of memory and the subconscious. Actually, for the second time in recent months, I am reminded of a quote from French philosopher Gaston Bachelard's essay, "Water and Dreams": "The aliveness of a city depends on the bond between its water and its flow of dreams." And while it's hard to know exactly what he meant by that, it sounds fairly prescient. Dreams are like water, after all, because they are slithery and hard to control, appearing placid one minute, then suddenly turning into raging tsunamis. In New Orleans, of course, the flooding was actually caused by daydreaming, as a federal agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, zoned out at the wheel. And the resulting nightmare is still with us.

In works such as Harvest Shore, Lake's imagery wells up like tidal eddies where dreams and memories are deposited like flotsam. Here strange pods rise from a landscape of brown stains and meandering rivulets that transform the old maps, leaving only traces of them recognizable, as a boy fishes with a stick on a pier to nowhere. This is typical of Lake's mix of familiarity and dislocation punctuated by flashbacks in the form of old photos. Collaged from maps, ledgers and receipts, and fleshed out with encaustic wax surfaces, her ethereal images suggest dream fragments impacted by gritty realities. For instance, in The New Normal a disgruntled sparrow tries to walk uphill over some colorful rocks that strangely resemble shells and sea urchins. The bubbles following in its wake suggest that it may really be under water after all.

In Department of Homeland Security, children wearing Mickey Mouse ears, and dressed for winter in the 1950s, parachute from an old DC-1 as it plies across a crimson-mauve sky. Suspended from giant sea urchins with parachute cords that are garlands of stars, they gaze at us with the cheerful blankness of mid-century kids as they land on a vast crazy quilt of scrambled maps. And it's all whimsically charming, except of course for the title, which is chilling. Children, sea creatures and birds are all symbols of transformation, but those crazy quilt maps are what we have to navigate now. Perhaps the little Cowboy and Indian kids, in the collage painting of the same name, have the right idea. In a moon-balloon festooned with starfish, they rise above the chaos, suggesting that with better dreams, better days may yet be on the horizon.

In a moon-balloon festooned with starfish, Miranda Lake's -  Cowboy and Indian rises above the chaos, - suggesting that better dreams for the future may lead to - better days ahead.
  • In a moon-balloon festooned with starfish, Miranda Lake's Cowboy and Indian rises above the chaos, suggesting that better dreams for the future may lead to better days ahead.

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