Lately it's hard to know what's what. Not all of us are here anymore, and even those of us who are here may not really be all here. Some of this disorientation may be psychological, and some of it is geographical, but a certain percentage increasingly looks mathematical, and very deviously so, as I first began to notice during the news coverage of Mayor Nagin's recent trip to Atlanta to meet with Katrina evacuees. That was when CNN reported that at least "44,000 families who fled Hurricane Katrina are living in Georgia, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency." Hmmm.
In America, "family" means three or four people, but in New Orleans it could mean dozens. Some Georgia officials upped the number to between 60,000 and 80,000 "families." That's hundreds of thousands of people even if "family" only meant three. Last week The Times-Picayune ran a story about 150,000 New Orleanians still living in Houston, one Texas city out of many, but the kicker came late last month when FEMA's former Gulf Coast recovery chief, Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad W. Allen, told The Washington Post that "almost none of the 1.5 million people evacuated from southern Louisiana after Katrina have gone home."
I was stunned. That's one-third of the state's population, every last man, woman and child from here to Morgan City! Allen's comment seemed to confirm that we are all actually living in Georgia and Texas. We only think we are here. But this is based on FEMA statistics, so it's hard to know for sure. All we can say with certainty is that either we're not really here, or they're not really there. No wonder we're disoriented! And the current show at Barrister's, comprised of unoccupied clothing and pictures of people whose whereabouts are ambiguous at best, only underscores the disorientation.
Curated by Dan Tague, who appeared to be busily running around the gallery but is actually known to be in New York City (as part of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council's Gulf Coast Artist Residency project), All Dressed Up features clothing as conceptual art. For instance, Daphne Loney is represented here with The Scarlett Letters, a white dress covered in red thread script. Because the fabric is wavy it's hard to read the writing, probably some sort of girl talk, but it's interesting because you feel like you're intruding on a private conversation without the wearer even being there. Another life-size dress, Julie Anne Pieri's Self Portrait in Pink, is made of shiny material with white lace trim. Sewn into almost every square inch are packets of Kleenex tissues, which billow like white sails on a pink sea. This was baffling until Tague -- or his astral body -- materialized in a Mohawk haircut to explain how Pieri, a nice Metairie girl, got stranded at the Superdome after Katrina, an experience so searing it left her with a fierce desire for a clean dress and a supply of tissues to cry into. Like Tague, she's here and in Manhattan, maybe simultaneously. But Kimberly Dummons' Denim Bag, a sculpture of a female torso clad in patchwork denim fabric and hinged to open like a trunk, very subtly exudes seemingly endless elemental, existential, racial and gender-specific portent.
Jonathan Traviesa's photo self-portraits as N.O. Stereotypes include a comically convincing 9th Ward Guy who recalls those pre-Bywater days when some Ninth Ward characters could have stepped right off the pages of a Damon Runyon story. And although Fabrique en la Nouvelle Orleans by Aristides Logothetis actually predates Katrina, this rope ladder made from what looks like local Wembley brand ties recalls those helicopter rescues while functioning as a kind of mental-conceptual jungle gym for calmer times. Items by Andrea Loest, Maxx Sizeler, Gas, Heather Weathers and Jessica Goldfinch suggest painstakingly exact recreations of works exhibited in other shows not so long ago. But Dennis Couvillion's photos hark to urban landscape classics in images like Phone, in which a poster of a babe in an evening dress with Sky vodka appears in the upper part of a New York phone stall as the jean-clad legs of the dude inside protrude just below -- a view so gender-bending that it's disorienting. But that, of course, is neither here nor there.
- Jonathan Traviesa's N.O. Stereotypes: 9th Ward Guy harks to the days before it was called Bywater, when some of the neighborhood's characters could have stepped from the pages of a Damon Runyon story.