Although it may not have been the intention of Erik Kiesewetter and Patrick Strange -- creators of Constance: Replicas+Replacements -- the New Orleans-made book of multimedia art and literature naturally coalesces into a sort of manifesto. The physical book stands up to the highest quality of professional printing and design. The layout is intuitive, the images clear and bright, the typography pleasing, the concept well-executed, informative and cohesive. All this I mention because the book, although more visual art than writing, reminds me of some of the best Modernist texts and experimental projects made by groups such as the Surrealists, Dadaists and lesser-known innovative artists and thinkers from the 1920s to the 1960s. Historically, movements are rarely planned, but labeled later -- with maybe the exception of the conceptually strategic Andy Warhol, who began his artistic career sketching shoes for department store advertisements and who named his space The Factory. Rather, movements are reactions to what is happening in the world and are usually brave, small-scale and self-motivated undertakings. In the current, to put it nicely, "climate" of New Orleans, there are several independent groups of people and individuals who are starting something. This is as it should be. It's no secret that art redeems us, opens a vein of communication and heals us.
The most stripped-down purpose of Constance is to give New Orleans artists and writers a new forum and space to show their work both locally and nationally. But if I had to define the manifesto of the book, it would be to show outsiders the true nature of New Orleans, as well as that of its artists and writers; to reveal slowly, person by person, image by image -- all the many contradictory and wonderful parts that make up the whole -- the kind of place New Orleans was, is and ultimately always will be. But Kiesewetter, a graphic designer, and Strange, a writer and editor, also stress that the city has unlimited possibilities, especially now with all aspects of our lives in flux. They are just as quick to state that the one commonality shown in this collection's artwork is a sense of "defiance," "resilience" and "perseverance" because it comes from the people who live or did live in New Orleans.
The name Constance has one specific source, but many underlying meanings. Constance is the name of the street on which Kiesewetter and his former roommate, Cord Bueker Jr. (one of the contributors to this collection), lived before Hurricane Katrina. Constance also refers to the strength of New Orleanians who came back to an unimaginable place and who continue to live here not knowing what lies ahead. The word also reflects the undying spirit of art-making. Art has always been a stabilizing force, an outlet that allows people to function better, and to live more fulfilling lives regardless of what may be going on around them. There is very little to be described as constant in post-Katrina New Orleans, as seen in both our emotional and ecological environments, but what is constant is the need for art and the need to make art.
As the creators clearly state, though the book includes many post-Katrina works and writings, this is not a book defined by Katrina, but rather by the creative people who live in New Orleans, sharing their unique visions and interpretations of the city they love, allowing non-residents a chance to form a new understanding of this place, to see beyond the stereotypcial images of debauchery, and now destruction, and to understand what really defines the ever-changing city of New Orleans. The collection emphasizes that New Orleans is not "a place defined by its hardships," but rather a viable and unique city where people continue to work, live and create. The optimistic cover art depicts a city after a storm, the sun peeking out of the clouds after a rain. The image suggests the tenor of the collected works: a new day, another day, forward movement. We often read accounts of our city's romanticized aura. This collection instead encapsulates New Orleans' attitude.
One of the many fantastic aspects of the book is the multimedia range of included work: everything from painting to writing, graphic design to graffitti art, photography to collage. The book reminds us that all work is valuable and significant. All work offers a new point of view and has something to add to the creative discourse. To emphasize this point, brief autobiograpies of each contributor are included next to their work, along with a poignant tally of where each person lived before the storm and where they have since landed.
I have no doubt that Constance will one day be archived as important documentation of New Orleans' creative history, but at this moment it acts as a living time capsule, the kind that doesn't need to be buried to enlighten.
The book-release party at Circle Bar on Friday features DJs Joey Buttons and Nate White spinning tunes, plus a secret special musical guest. Proceeds from book sales go directly to the printing of the book and to future volumes of Constance.
We've all struggled long enough, so I'll close with a quotation from Daisaku Ikeda that sums up what the people involved with Constance have already taken to heart.
Buddhism holds that everything is in constant flux. Thus the question is whether we are to accept change passively and be swept away by it or whether we are to take the lead and create positive changes on our own initiative. While conservatism and self-protection might be likened to winter, night and death, the spirit of pioneering and attempting to realize ideals evokes images of spring, morning and birth.
We could all learn a lesson about how to get on with things from this approach to life. G