(Not?) In My Backyard

Something is wrong in the backyard at Longue Vue House and Gardens. Fifty-three oil barrels creep across the lawn, leaving brown stains and mottled grass in their wake. The plant carnage is Deepwater Horizon Response, an installation by artist Mitchell Gaudet.

  "This is my first quasi-political, environmental statement other than the Katrina piece," says Gaudet, whose portfolio also includes Watermarks, a series of steel and glass poles marking post-Hurricane Katrina flood levels along Elysian Fields Avenue.

  Gaudet, who lives in the Bayou Savage wetlands, created Deepwater Horizon Response as a way to wrap his head around the oily menace. "There's been times when I can actually smell petroleum products. Even in the city of New Orleans we can smell it," he says. I've been watching it on the news like all of us have been doing ... and being on the water I just wanted to understand how much oil was coming.

  "I wanted to do something like a physical manifestation of the possible amount. I wanted to do something with barrels because everyone thinks of oil being in barrels, but it kept getting bigger and bigger, and I kept running out of room where I was going to put the installation."

  The 53 barrels represent the amount of oil entering the Gulf every minute for 88 days, according to BP's worst-case scenario estimate (100,000 gallons per day). Gaudet compares the stains the barrels leave behind to an oil slick.

  The piece has raised eyebrows among Longue Vue visitors unprepared for a view of the "sinister black line" of barrels with their tea. Gaudet welcomes the reaction. "That's probably the best response to get," he says. "Down in the saltwater marshes, I'm sure people are horrified by this." — Jennifer Kilbourne

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