by Reggie Michael Rodrigue
Dumpstaphunk. It’s a band: a New Orleans band, to be exact. It is headed by Ivan Neville, who descends from New Orleans musical royalty. If you haven’t heard of him or guessed yet, Ivan is Aaron Neville’s son and a nephew to the rest of the Neville Brothers. You could say that the Neville Brothers represent a hefty brick in the foundation of contemporary New Orleans music. They, along with Dr. John, are the progenitors of a mix of soul and funk that typified Crescent City music in the 70′s and the 80′s. The Neville Brothers’ legacy flows through Ivan’s Dumpstaphunk: a heady, sweaty, stanky (this is no typo) fusion of musicians and musical styles that coalesce under the banner of funk. It’s dirty music for a good time in a downtown dumpster, and it typifies the aesthetic of New Orleans. Pick up two, three or four pieces of funkiness, slap ‘em together and make some magic.
You may be wondering why I’m going on about Dumpstaphunk. Isn’t this an art blog after all!?! Yes it is! However, the aesthetic of Ivan Neville’s band has much in common with the multimedia installation/group exhibition/mindf*!k I’m about to school you on. Its title is “Constant Abrasive Irritation Produces the Pearl: A Disease of the Oyster.” The irreverently reverent title comes from a quip rebel comedian Lenny Bruce made about the state and function of artists in repressive societies. Bruce correctly identified that, for the powers that be, artists generally represent a disease on the body politic, even though they typically bring beauty, truth, meaning and/or fresh perspectives into the world.
The exhibition is currently running at the residence/speak easy/restaurant/exhibition space known as The Pearl in the St. Claude Arts District of NOLA. Jay, the owner, in conjunction with curator John Otte, decided the Bruce quip would be the perfect title for an unconventional group exhibition at the Pearl (wink-wink, nudge-nudge), which is a satellite space for this year’s Prospect New Orleans 2 Biennial.
Walking into the Pearl in the midst of “Constant Abrasive Irritation Produces the Pearl: A Disease of the Oyster” is like walking into the visual equivalent of Dumpstaphunk. The place is loaded to the rafters with old junk, modern technology, personal mementos, home furnishings, a bar, a kitchen and a ton of art that either jumps out and grabs you by the eyeballs or sinks into the miasma of it all in the warm and woozy darkness of the space. Every nook and cranny is chock-full of funky goodness, so much so that it’s difficult to differentiate what is art and what is not at times. There are exhibition cards that accompany each piece of art, but like everything else in the Pearl, they tend to be consumed by the overwhelming profusion of it all. The things that do pop-out from the din are the videos, which are deployed on walls, in the bathroom, behind doors, on the ceiling, on screens and television sets, over a jacuzzi and even inside a trash heap. It’s as if the television program “Hoarders” were presenting a “very special” edition devoted to psychotic art collectors, and it is pure unbelievable, unrestrained f*!king New Orleans genius of the highest caliber!
The artists participating in the exhibition are Adrina Drina, Johnathan Bouknight, Susannah Bridges-Burley, Elliot Coon, John Curry, Dawn A DeDeaux, Lee Deigaard, Jessica Goldfinch, Kim Phillips, Courtney Egan, Margaret Evangeline, Fereydoon Family, Jessica Goldfinch, Dave Greber, Brain Guidry, Sally Heller, Kathleen Loe, Aristides Logothetis, Jenifer Odem, John Otte, Anastasia Pelias, Michele Schuff, Gary Stephan, Paige Valente, and Dalona Wardlaw.
It’s truly difficult and unfair to point out individual artists’ works that surpassed others in the exhibition since the whole crew deserves acclaim. However, a few noteworthy pieces come to mind. Unfortunately, I couldn’t spend the enormous amount of time I needed to get all the details of the exhibition down the night I visited.
So, here’s a haphazard and incomplete list of the art that struck me.
First and foremost, Courtney Egan’s video projection of flowers blooming in the Pearl’s bathtub. OMG! This piece is STUNNING! It is a poetic marriage of technology, nature and site specificity that will forever be running in one corner of my mind for the rest of my life!
Aristides Logothetis’ mixed media collages, referring to money and guns and shrink-wrapped in plastic, are chilling and discreet reminders of the darkness, violence and insatiable greed and desperation lurking in the shadows of the city. Conversely, Lee Diegaard’s small scale fauna-related videos in the hallway and behind a door were a surprising treat.
An oval video showcasing a continuous and wavy reflection of leaves in water that was being shown in the barroom was mesmerizing. I believe Dawn Dedeaux produced this one, but I’m not entirely sure. A truly exquisite and unusual abstract painting involving crystals and torn canvas (I don’t know who completed it) was also in the barroom along with a powerful “chevron” painting from Brian Guidry. An edited version of the 70′s nature program “Wild Kingdom” by Guidry is also on display. The artist deleted all the human speech from the program which focuses on Jane Goodall’s African gorilla research. The editing underscores the unnatural and stilted behavior of humans in a natural setting.
In the side yard, a really powerful and anxiety-inducing video by a performance artist was on view. In the video the white artist exposes himself through a chain-link fence to a crowd of black people in what I believe is South Africa. They begin to write on his body. Some of the writing is hopeful and inspirational, while others are vindictive and malicious. While viewing, I was wondering if a shanking was about to go down, but that never came. In a city like New Orleans, where black and white people work and play so closely together, yet are still so far apart in many ways, the video really hit home . We still have a long way to go in terms of racial equality, and there are no easy solutions, reparations or punishments to hand out. The video posits that what is required is a sincere willingness to open oneself to another in the face of fear and any illusion of separateness.
Anastasia Pelias’ three channel, schizophrenic video mash-up of her favorite oyster shucker consoling her while shucking after the BP oil spill is anything but reassuring. It’s proximity to the kitchen gives one some pause about what’s going on in there. Jennifer Odom’s white sculpture beside Pelias’ film looks like a barnacle encrusted cushion devouring a stool.
Last but certainly not least, is Dave Greber’s insanely clever video which satirizes the fact that many people want to cover-up the horrors of the BP Oil Spill and forget about it. In this giddy video, a cadre of smiling people dressed in white walk hand-in-hand on the post-spill beach while flowers bloom around the video’s edges. It called “Join Us Today.”
In the rush of my night in the St. Claude Arts District, in the chaos of the short time that I spent at The Pearl, I lost track of many things. I didn’t have time to make sense of all the chaos. However, looking back on “Constant Abrasive Irritation Produces the Pearl: A Disease of the Oyster,” I see a microcosm of everything that I love and hate about New Orleans, everything that time forgot and the future has yet to reveal. This exhibition is an artistic crossroads and nexus point from which all the currents of the Crescent City flow. It’s a monumental achievement housed in a dive bar and a love letter to the city written on faded and crumbling walls. Long live the dumpstaphunk! May we find the pearls of wisdom in it every time we dive in! Abrasions, be damned!
The exhibition began on Saturday October 22, 2011 and will remain open on Saturdays and Sundays (5 pm – 9 pm) and by appointment. In addition, The Pearl will serve as a gathering place for the public throughout the Prospect 2 run. Tapas, drinks, coffee and tea will be served every Saturday and Sunday 5pm – 9pm. Additional Sunday night Pearl parties to be announced.