by Reggie Michael Rodrigue
Our friends, my wife and I were returning to the Good Children Gallery from a surreal, hallucinatory and mind-altering visit to the Prospect.2 Satellite exhibition at the Pearl, a St. Claude residence/speak easy/artistic petri dish. We were making our way through the darkened streets of the St. Claude Arts District. On their own, these streets take on a dream-like life in the dim embrace of the night. The side streets off St. Claude Avenue are tight, cluttered and poorly kept. Yet, the houses are painted in a kaleidoscope of celebratory colors which one can dimly make out under the streetlights. Colored lights installed on porches and inside living rooms and bedrooms add a festive, yet lurid glow to the surroundings. On streets like these, one can imagine meeting the love of a lifetime, a killer, God, or the Devil himself. Our trip to the Pearl only served to heighten my awareness of all the nocturnal beauty and danger that surrounded us. I felt like a cat. My senses were taut as violin string and ready to vibrate at the slightest provocation.
We were in the midst of making a right onto St. Claude Avenue, when we saw it. My friends, Brian Guidry and Emee Morgan, and my wife were openly wondering what all the fuss was about. We could see something slowly creeping up the avenue toward us, followed by the deep blue strobe of police lights. What felt like instantaneous recognition took hold of me. Unfolding before us was artist William Pope L.‘s performance of “Blink.” I started shouting and blurting out all I knew about the performance so that they would realized the significance of what they were seeing. I thought we would just drive past so I shoved my smart phone into Emee’s hands, instructing her to film the performance because she had the ideal drive-by vantage point from our car. Luckily, our driver, Brian, decided to stop the car – right in the middle of an intersection! It was a moment of pure frenzy, exhilaration and anticipation. We jumped out of the car, and Emee started shooting the video above.
A group of people emerged from the inky night like a team of sled dogs bursting forth from behind a black curtain. They were towing a black, used ice cream truck, which Pope L. has used in previous performances. The truck actually still works; however, the artist decided to have his volunteers tow the truck through the city to make an artistic point. After the team of volunteers towed the truck past us, we could see the slide show of images projected on a screen, mounted on the back of the truck. We were left with an image of a carousel horse followed by an image of a street car. A police car slowly followed “Blink” back into the depths of the night. All that remained before us was a line of traffic and memories of a lonely parade float throwing hope and inspiration to a city in need of it.
Pope L. specifically conceived of “Blink” as a performance/installation for the Prospect. 2 Biennial. Beforehand, he put out a call for New Orleanians to send him pictures in response to two simple questions: “When you dream of New Orleans, what do you dream?” and “When you wake up, what do you see?” Pope L. received over 750 images to be put into the ice cream truck slideshow which is meant to act as a magic lantern for the city through the entire run of Prospect. 2. It’s final destination is a site on the campus of Xavier University in Mid City. First, the volunteers had to tow it there from the performance’s starting point in the Bywater District, however. The volunteers spent the entire opening night towing the truck across the city – a herculean task if ever there was one.
Pope L. is an internationally recognized multi-media artist who deals with issues of racial identity, human rights, class and consumerism. He has gone on record, stating that “Blink” is about celebration, struggle and community. Watching the performance drift by us that night, I couldn’t agree more. I felt all three in my bones that night. I would have felt them without seeing “Blink,” after all, these are the major themes of New Orleans itself. However, being there that night – being fortunate enough to see it with my own eyes – both amplified and solidified these ideas and feelings in my mind and my soul. “Blink” left an indelible mark on me that I think I will carry for the rest of my life.
William Pope L.’s “Blink” is on view at 3520 Pine Street in the Xavier University Arts Village until the close of Prospect.2 in January.