Walls & Wills

During my time at Deltaworkers I created one of a series of film ‘sketches,’ tentatively called ‘Walls & Wills’. The film explores a movement American Painting called ‘Genre Painting.’ The film is my way of making sense of the current class struggles present in America.

In New Orleans, one is confronted with an increase in class disparity, an issue which dominates contemporary America, amidst other issues like poverty, racism, police violence, a crumbling infrastructure and so on. Aside from this, the city has an abundance of cultural offerings and beautiful natural surroundings. However, a street that divides two rows of houses may be much wider than it appears in regards to living conditions and opportunity.

Genre painting in the Golden Age, developed as an independent art form in Protestant Northern Europe, alongside the Dutch Realists of the 17th century, such as the Haarlem School, The Leiden School and the Delft School led by Jan Vermeer. In America, the movement flourished during the 19th Century, a time of intense social, cultural, economic and technological change. The paintings reinforced popular notions of American Identity and fundamental national values. Economic uncertainty and class conflict eruptions were not omitted from the scenes but were rather dealt with in an often humorous or proverbial manner. For instance many of the paintings depict card playing and gambling scenes or the raffling for a goose (see William Sidney Mount Raffling for the Goose) to express the fluctuations of economic boom and bust. The marginalized place of women and people of color in the public sphere were played out in paintings like ‘Laundry’ by John Thomas Peele, or Thomas Waterman Wood’s’ Reading the Gazette.’ Many of the paintings also depicted the new role of the man in society, for example ‘Young Husband: First Marketing’ in 1854 by Lilly Martin Spencer.

American Genre painting took place in the transformative years following the Civil War.  Like the old master Dutch painters, they created clearly delineated scenes, humorous domestic and rural scenarios, and were often didactic and moralizing. After the brutality of the Civil War, there was an effort to increase empathy within the hearts of Americans again. What attracted me to these paintings were the depictions of the fraught relationships between blacks and whites, men and women, and immigrants and native workers – issues that remain relevant to this day.

In ‘Walls and Wills’ you may recognize the famous ‘ Fur Traders Descending the Missouri’ (originally titled “French Trader & Half breed Son,” but changed for its sale to the American Art- Union) created in 1845 by George Caleb Bingham. These paintings often depicted tranquil scenes and were designed to appeal to the urban spectator as a contrast to the tensions that were undoubtedly stirring in the South during this time of transition.

The artists of the time acted as poets, historians and sometimes comedians. Their paintings now function as historical records, albeit fabricated – photography is of course today’s equivalent. Strength and stability can help us to sustain our culture if we have knowledge and look to the past as a way of understanding the future.  In ‘Walls & Wills’ I take the viewer into people’s homes, through doors and windows to discover a past that struggles with class, race and gender. The camera sometimes emerges onto the streets to experience a more contemporary scenario. The film weaves together the past and present in order to re-experience these painterly interpretations or records of New Orleans.

I would like to thank Deltaworkers, the Mondriaan Fonds and Camp Abundance for ensuring my introduction into New Orleans culture was a stimulating and informative experience.  I have developed a heartfelt love for this city and have met many new friends and collaborators. It was an honor to have the talented drummer Doug Garrison perform live for the final screening of my film in June.

Rattus Norwegicus

The following is a transcript from a performance that Siri Borge worked on during her residency in 2017.

Before I start this story- there are a few details that you need to know. This is a Christmas story, and it takes place in Stavanger, a city on the south-west coast of Norway. We have the Christmas dinner and open our gifts on the 24th of December, not on the 25th.

This is a story about me and my friend Steffen, and it takes place Christmas eve, 2002. At the time I was 17 years old, and celebrated the evening with my Mother and her “friend”.

But few guests did not mean that I could get out of the dress code tradition, so all three of us were wearing our classiest outfit to make the dinner party feel like a real celebration. Despite the fact that we are all non-believers.

After the appropriate amount of time hanging out with my mother and her friend, I was allowed to go visit my friend Steffen, and they even gave what was left over of the Aquavite- a traditional Norwegian, 40% hard liquor, that taste like liquid wood. Not that a 17 year old cares that much about what free liquor taste like.

Steffen was 16 years old, all alone, in a big house, celebrating Christmas eve- for the first time in his life. He grew up as a Jehovah witness, and Jehovah doesn’t celebrate Christmas. Steffen came out as gay to his parents in the summer that year, and told them he would not be baptized. And as long as you opt out before being baptized, you won’t get shunned. But you will not be invited to go to the family cabin in the mountains during Christmas either.

I walked right into their house, finding Steffen rolling a fat joint on the kitchen table. He had also dressed up for the occasion, wearing black pants with a plaid skirt, black nail polish and eyeliner. It must have been lonely but at the same time liberating for him. It certainly was for me. The days leading up to Christmas, he had stayed away from the house, staying with one of his lovers. I proudly presented him with the Aquavit, and complimented him on his rolling skills, which had improved greatly the last months. We smoked up, talking about boys and stupid parents, and about how Christmas would be when we moved out. We felt very mature.

Walking upstairs to use the restroom, i passed his bedroom. The door was halfway open, and the odour leaking out into the hallway was quite intense.

“Steffen, you pig!” I said when I came downstairs. “If you’re going to have pet rats, you could at least clean the cage! It stinks!” I told him.

Steffen looked at me surprised “I cleaned it a couple of days ago, it can’t be that bad!” He said.

I stuck my finger in my throat and rolled my eyes too make a point, and he went upstairs to check the cage.

I heard a high pitch scream coming from upstairs, followed by him dramatically running down the stairs.

“WTF is wrong?!”

“THE RATS….” he cried, “The rats! They killed one of their own!”

Steffen had two white female rats, and recently introduced a third rat to the party. They are social animals, and the owner thought it would be best to give this rat to Steffen, so it wouldn’t be too lonely after it’s sister died.

He went on describing the bloodbath in the cage, and how the the new rat had looked him straight in the eyes while holding the lifeless- and now headless cadaver of his pet rat between her paws. They were both bloody around their mouths, so they had been in on it both, he concluded.

“I used to have 3 rats, now I only have 2 and a half!”

What follows next is events that might have been very different if under adult supervision, if we were not stoned, and if we had internet in our lives. Here goes:

Me: This really scary thing happens when proteins from meat gets into the diet of a pet rat. It will actually become more aggressive, and crave blood. They can’t help it, it’s a chemical reaction.

Steffen: And they ate another rat, so they are basically cannibals now.

Me: So, basically- you will be alone in a house with cannibalistic killer rats.

Steffen: What to do?

Me: Well, we have to kill them.

Steffen is a patient and empathetic boy, and he truly did love his pet rats. Before me he did not really have any friends outside of Jehovah witness where most limit their social interaction with non-Witnesses, making his rats the friends who comforted him after numerous pray circles, with Steffen as the centrepiece where family and other witnesses tried to pray away the gay. However, being 16 years old, and home alone in this big house with cannibalistic rats was too much for the kid. He concurred.

Steffen: How? The vet is closed now, but I won’t spend a single night with them!

We discussed over drinks the best way to do this. Neither of us had any experience from farms, and even though Google did exist in 2002, we did not really know how to use it.

I suggested hammer to the head. It seemed so brutal at the time, and since I did not want to touch the rats, and Steffen never hurt a fly in his life, this was too violent for his taste.

We looked for poison, there were none. Ibuprofen overdose? Nah, they won’t eat it. Drowning? No. Rats are great swimmers.

Then we figured that since people die all the time from carbon monoxide poisoning, without even knowing that it’s happening- this would be the most humane way to kill the rats.

As luck would have it, Steffen’s mother left her car in the driveway, and the keys was just lying there, between our shitty hashish and liquid pine tree liquor on the kitchen table.

I resolutely grabbed the keys and and said to Steffen: Get me a towel, and a bucket with the two rats in it. We met by the car, and I remember the bucket with the rats being a beige, vintage plastic bucket with brown flowers on it. I later learned that his mother had a full set of cleaning supplies with the same pattern on it.

Anyways, Steffen turned on the car and let the engine run in park. I placed the towel over the bucket containing the two rats, doing my best not to look at them. I glanced over at Steffen who gave me a determined nod, and proceeded to put the exhaust pipe tight between the towel and the bucket.

At first it went precisely as we expected, there was no sound or movement, and we waited for the rats to fall asleep.

Suddenly they started to run around in circles in the bucket, very very fast, and I looked over at Steffen who was just as terrified as I was:
Me: What should we do?! Can I stop??

Steffen yelled: NO, JESUS CHRIST, DON’T STOP NOW, THEY ARE PROBABLY PISSED OFF AND BRAIN DAMAGED!

I kept holding the bucket still, feeling like the biggest asshole in the world. Then, they started to jump. They were big rats, and they jumped so high that you could see their heads in the towel, like small ghosts. Steffen was screaming, and I was laughing nervously and loud.

After a while the jumping stopped, and the only sound you could hear was from the car engine. “Meheheheeeep”, the bucket said.

Steffen: This is NOT funny, Siri, don’t make that sound!!

I turned to him with a serious stare, and then we heard it again: “Meheheheeeep”. The final death rattle from his beloved rats.

Just to be sure I held the bucket for a little longer, put the bucket down, and shut off the engine.

Steffen removed the towel and looked into the bucket: “I’m pretty sure they are dead, the pupils have dilated”

Me: Do they even have pupils to begin with?

Steffen: Well, Siri, they shat themselves, I think that’s evidence enough!

I agreed.

With his head hanging low and the bucket in his hand, he headed towards the bio trash bin. Norwegians recycle everything, but this might be taking it too far…

Me: Steffen, are you crazy? Are you throwing dead rat bodies in the bio waste?!

Steffen: Uhm. Yeah?

I was not sure if this was a bad or a good idea, and I did not know where the bio waste actually went or how it was processed, but it would be a gruesome sight for his parents returning from their non-Christmas.

Me: Have you never seen “I know what you did last summer?!

“Do you want murdered cannibal rats to haunt you?!” Whispering: “I know what you did last Christmas…”

Off course he agreed.

This taking place in Stavanger in Norway, the ground was frozen solid in december, so a proper burial was out of the question.

After a quick brainstorming, we decided on a Viking burial. Burning the evidence. While I rolled a joint to take away, Steffen gathered his 2 and a half rats and the bloody saw dust from the cage in the bucket, turpentine and some old newspapers. In Norway the age limit for getting a licence is 18, so none of us were legally qualified to drive, and contemplating the fact that it would be completely irresponsible of us to drive while under the influence- we decided to steal his mother’s red Toyota and drove to the nearest lake with the bodies in the trunk. After all, it was freezing outside.

The streets were empty, everyone was inside, still opening gifts and eating seven kinds of cakes. We drove the car as close to the lake as we possibly could, our logic was to get water from the lake to put out the fire if it got out of hand.

Steffen did the honors and sat it all on fire. I remember it being a really beautiful night. The sky was pitch black and clear, so we could see the stars. I don’t think we said much while the fire was burning, just smoking and spitting. And Steffen was soundlessly crying, both of us still wearing our finest outfits, freezing in the cold night.

Then I realized that the bucket we brought with us to get water from the lake, still containing the dead rats were melting in the fire. Because Steffen really did set it all on fire…

What are we going to do? How will we put out the fire? I ask Steffen.

Steffen: Well… I kind of have to.. uh. Pee?

I will never in my life forget the sight of my dear Steffen, with eyeliner streaming down his face, lit up by the fire, lifting his plaid skirt, pissing on the remains of his cannibalistic Rattus Norwegicus. And to this day, his mother is still looking for that beige, vintage bucket with brown roses.

A city within a city

Let us say a body is a city.

The veins would be streets.
The blood and neurons become the people walking those streets.

Nurture and genetics define the basic make up of the surroundings.
Is the city set in a mountainous region or is it sinking away in swamp land?
Does it have a mosquito problem?
Or is it situated in an agreeable sea climate?
All this shapes the architecture of a place.

Memories and experiences make up the history of this town.
They embellish the streets like scars adorn a skin.

And the heartbeat, well, that is time, mercilessly propelling everything forward.

This body, this city of mine, is moving. Although the outlines are defined and recognizable, and I have answered to the same name since my earliest beginnings, my city is constantly adding and evolving detailing that changes the whole.

I used to believe there was a clear identity at work within me.
Let us call it the mayor.
I was the mayor.
I got a final say in most of what went on in my town.
I was the law maker.
I called the shots.

It was me that got to say: ‘This is my town. This is what I stand for.

In New Orleans, I am a city within a city.
I cycle over the bust concrete roads of Nola and simultaneously trace the paths within me.
What made me come out here was sickness and sadness.
Cancer is some kind of natural disaster.
As is heartbreak.
This city knows pain.
 It knows sadness.

Here is what happened:
My mother got sick.
And as I held her hand
through bright red IV drips,
the infected wound cleaning,
the projectile vomiting,
the fearful nights,
the tense check ups,
I kept fear at bay
by a schedule divided
into clear cut appointment.

Staring at screens and numbers
and eventually
seeing her grow back hair
getting an appetite again
and being declared
clean.

Then I took a breath.
The first one in months
without thinking about death
and then
my significant other
left.

I sat at my desk, hours on end.
Motionless.
I did not know what I stood for anymore.
All laws seemed useless.
My itinerary could no longer guard me.
The laws had become redundant.
What I had believed in
was wiped out.

Working hard does not secure a safe future.
Being kind does not mean you will be treated alike.
Loving someone with all you have, does not make them stay.

These are truths.

I became unfit to rule.
I gave the reign to the people in my body.
All they said was: ‘flee‘.
And I did.
Just like he had done.
I left myself.
And now I am here.

Basking in that spicy, sticky Southern heat.
Disappointment drips out of my pores.
I let it sit, dry up and sweat again.
There is no use wiping it off.
There is always more.
There is no permanence.

Acknowledging that history is fluid.
Paradigms and values change.
Learning to accept that ever shifting of my city.
To sit through the unease.
The limitations of my will.

Maybe that is my real trouble.
Not that my lover left me
but everything leaves eventually.

Nothing is set in stone.
Not even stone itself.

I try to figure out what this place is that I move through.

I hear high pitched baby possums chatter underneath the house.
I sit on the toiletbowl and bend over to the floorboards.
They fall silent when I chatter back.

First week, I try to walk to the supermarket in shorts.
I get whistled at.
Men holler.
Applaud.
Leer.
Two guys jump out of a car, trying to coax me into the backseat.

We’ll take you anywhere, baby.

It is too much.
I feel threatened and painfully aware of my sex.
I turn around, walk back without groceries.
Something inside me hardens.

I want to be free.
I crave some kind of peace.
And I need to be safe.

Desire and reality clash.
This city of mine feels confining.
I need new laws to abide by
to accommodate this new surrounding.
To set boundaries for visitors.
To meet my needs.

New Orleans is a great city for restless souls.
I end up at a jock strap lube wrestling night.
Gorgeous bodies wrestle in a kiddy pool.
Digging fingers deep down in each others assholes.
Winners making out with losers afterwards.
The dolled up crowd cheers them on.
It is all good sport.

I sing my heart out at St Roch Tavern karaoke night.
They have all the rock ballads I love.
Hole, Garbage, Eurythmics.
GT’s are only four dollar.
I binge.

I listen to bounce music.
The aggressive undertones resonate with my mood.
The repetitive lyrics are like reruns
of memories and memories and memories.
What once was good, haunts me now.

I am so tired of being stuck on mental roundabouts. 
I am so tired of feeling sorry for myself.

I need to change my narrative.

Release your anger
Release your mind
Release your job
Release the time
Release your trade
Release the stress
Release the love
Forget the rest

I watch the Walmart videos.
Girls in skimpy outfits bend over in aisles.
They shake the meat off their bones
in between canned corn and pickles.
The camera never shows their faces.
But their cheeks fill the screen.
They transcend their female form.
They morph into titillating objects.

Moving from seductive to acrobatic monstrosities.

They play out the objectification that they are subjected to.
Overturn it by exaggeration.

Lust becomes fear.
Want turns into awe.

I take bounce classes at Dancing Grounds.
My teacher is a wild eyed, broad grinning force of nature.
Moe Joe, she calls herself.
You gotta make them tits fight,’ she yells at us.
She shows us how it is done.

Her body is not just dancing, it’s undulating.
Like some kind of digestive organ
processing
that gritty substance
called life.

To see her sweat, is to watch something done right.
Her beauty is captivating.
Natural.
Wide and unapologetic.
Celebratory.

I fall in love with her.
To be in love, is to be in love with yourself.
You perceive yourself through the eyes of the desirable other.
And you like what you see.

I learn the essence of attraction within me.
What makes men jump out of their car.
Follow me into stores.
Whistle, whisper, stare.
I thought it was just the banality of sex.

A societal programming that accepts micro aggressions.
A masculine image that is groomed by behavioural patterns.
A shape I just happened to fit that is en vogue.

But it is not.
Not just sex.
Not just ass.

It is the power.

Shaking’s not sexual.
Moe Joe says.
The body is an instrument.
It’s a drum.
People hear the call and they respond.
It’s about interaction.

The stacking of a spine.
The muscles that guard a fire.
It is the light that draws them.

I become more body
less mind.

Tornado warnings go out weekly in Nola.
I bike through intricate thunder operas.
I wait out rains coming down heavy as black metal.
I let my own storms rage on Messy Mya, Big Freedia, Katey Redd.
Every song I let go a little more.

I shake on an overheated beat.
I go to pieces.
I tear down.
I feel spacious.

Moe Joe tells me about the time
four white cops stopped her
for playing her music too loud.
How she was tasered
and jailed for two days.

How dare I
white woman
compare my body
to a town with toxic history
with racial inequality and violence.

I read Ta Nehisi Coates Between the World and Me
I learn about being a black body in the world.
How fragile it is.
How dangerous.
How easily destroyed.
How often blamed for its own suffering.

I finish the book and feel my privileges.
Every time I speak about my own pain,
I am ashamed.
It feels like I have too many teeth in my mouth.
Like my pain is unreal compared to others.

But still.
Pain is pain.
I hurt.

That too is a truth.

I think about my own body in space.
How I have imitated female archetypes.
How I spent it like cash.
What I got in return.
If it was worth it.

How I should stop turning my self image into a capitalist dream.

I learn to listen.
I learn to talk.
I learn to accept
my ignorance.

America is a slogan country.
Heading into town, I pass two signs daily that intrigue me.

Resistance must now become like breathing

and

Consider you might be wrong

Now I want to talk to about the monuments.
You know, the ones they have taken down.
Three generals of the Southern War.
Jefferson, Beauregard and Lee.

What once were monuments of pride and power
represent something wholly shameful in a different decade.

I bike from pedestal to pedestal
talk to protesters that have a problem with the rigidity of:

out with the old
in with the new.

They tell talk about a history
that is not as black and white
as it now seems.

I see a black veteran
sporting a flag for his military history.
I see a white mother tying a bonnet
on her black daughters head.

The generals,
they made history
even after war.

Beauregard adopted a black child.
Jefferson set free the slaves he inherited.
They worked with the new government
as best they could.

But still,

losers usually don’t get statues.

Symbols have power.
Especially in a struggling city.
Even though you cannot rewrite history,
you can put it into a different perspective.

I watch masked men taking down the statues.
Veiling themselves because they got death threats
and would like to live a little more.

We people love everything
staying the same.
There is safety in history.

Even tainted stories carry comfort.
We want something to hold on to
in this continuous letting go.

I think of the pedestals within me.
The pictures I put on there of what I once held dear
that now oppress me.

There is no permanence.
Acknowledging that history is fluid.
Paradigms and values change.
Learning to accept that ever shifting of my city.
To sit through the unease.
The limitations of my will.

Nothing is set in stone.
Not even stone itself.

It is time to change the narrative.
I am a city within a city.
A body in time and space.

The mayor has not returned to her seat.
She is still out
in the streets
among the people.

My will has become a voice in a crowd
that is sometimes calm,
sometimes in uproar.

Time is a muscle.
The heart beats through pain and love.
It is all movement
to the body, to the city.

The city does not mind the change.

We contract.
We undulate.
We struggle.
We let go.

We shake.
We dance.
We change.

This is history.

Metaphors to work by, roles to live by

The practice of the artist is hard to define, hard to consider, especially when dealing with a vast research that encompasses and compares people’s attitudes, the state of ecology and nature in both the Mississippi and Danube delta’s. 

As I travel around Louisiana in mad dashes of activities, searching out scientists, alligator trappers, hermits, ecologists, artists and rocketship builders, a question keeps crouching in the back of my mind: Who am I?

What am I doing here?

 

Death is the sanction of everything that the storyteller can tell,” Walter Benjamin writes in his essay about Leskov; ‘The Storyteller‘. But am I really just a storyteller? We could just as well say I’m the collector of Benjamin’s other famous essay ‘Unpacking My Library – A Talk about Book Collecting‘. I think about the notes I took, recordings and pictures I made and experiences I stored in the memory. 

In my travels, I took on many guises. Bike rider, joke teller, manic dancer, lover, friend, cook, communicator, question asker, daughter. But when I think about the times when I was most productive, happiest, I was like a fisherman.

My fascination for the Mississippi river started years ago, I think it’s rooted in the stories of Huckleberry Finn, Tom Sawyer and in my genes. My grandfather was a truck driver and he always preferred being on the road than at home following daily routines; a bit like a fisherman as well perhaps.

I would record the river, its flowing, its washing away of land, its pollution, and something else that I can’t describe and that might be poetry. I threw out my Hydrophone and GoPro in the waters of the Mississippi, of the Gulf of Mexico, in DA BAYOU, and I listened carefully to see what would get caught in my net. The recordings I collect document a moment in time, a minute, an instant, a specific state that will never be recreated again.

Delta Vortex

Friday July 14 at 5PM, launch of limited edition t-shirt by Ashley Teamer, at Defend New Orleans Downtown, 600 Carondelet Street, Suite 140.

Delta Vortex

Each residency period we launch a limited edition t-shirt designed by an artist from New Orleans. In 2017 we’ve worked with Ashley Teamer.

Ashley created Delta Vortex: a metallic silver, yellow and blue design based on our logo. The t-shirt is silkscreened at Purple Monkey Design and has a hand-sewn label in the back. Different men’s and women’s sizes are available in a total edition of 50. Prices are $30/€25.

Ashley Teamer is an artist from New Orleans with whom we have been working in a myriad of ways since we started in 2014. Her current work revolves around female basketball teams. She also does a mean drag performance as Drifter.

We will officially launch Delta Vortex on Friday July 14 at 5PM at Defend New Orleans. DJ Grown Man will play some tunes!

Join us for music, drinks and more of Ashley’s work!

Spring Wrap-up

Tuesday May 30 8PM, performances and screenings by current residents Martha Colburn, Siri Borge, Elfie Tromp and Giovanni Giaretta and screening of DAT LIKWID LAND, the film of 2015 resident Jacob Dwyer, at Arts Estuary, 1024 Elysian Fields Avenue (in the backyard of NPN).

Still from DAT LIKWID LAND

The last Deltaworkers event during our 2017 season!

Martha Colburn is cooking up a musical and visual surprise.

Siri Borge got interested in how humans project their own feelings and habits on animals during her residency. On our wrap-up eve she will show a new installation and a performance dealing with this topic.*

Elfie Tromp loves the hyper-sexual female image in drag culture and modern day feminism. She owns her sexuality and like a good lil’ Beyonce adept she’s not afraid to sell her looks for a statement. However, the amount of catcalling on the streets of New Orleans makes her rethink the impact she has on her surroundings. In a new performance she explores different images of sexuality.

Giovanni Giaretta presents his new publication Elsewhere(s).

Jacob Dwyer is present to introduce his film DAT LIKWID LAND: a contemporary portrait of New Orleans in response to John Kennedy Toole’s novel A Confederacy of Dunces.

This event is free and open to the public.
Shout out to Arts Estuary for supporting Deltaworkers by letting us use their amazing space.

*Siri Borge’s residency is in collaboration with PARSE NOLA.

Politics of Imaging

Wednesday May 24 at 6PM, screening of Episode 3: Enjoy Poverty by Renzo Martens + panel discussion with Bmike, Big Chief Brian Harrison Nelson, Garrett Bradley and Kristina Kay Robinson, at the Joan Mitchell Center, 2275 Bayou Road.

Episode 3: Enjoy Poverty is a controversial 90 minute film registration of Renzo Martens’ activities in the Congo. In an epic journey, the film establishes that images of poverty are the Congo’s most lucrative export, generating more revenue than traditional exports like gold, diamonds, or cocoa. However, just as with these traditional exports, those that provide the raw material: the poor being filmed, hardly benefit from it at all.

We, a Dutch non-profit operating in New Orleans, constantly ask ourselves the question of how to share our resources in a way that makes sense as much for New Orleans as it does for us. We’ve invited a number of people who somehow deal with this question in their practice to discuss the film and its thematics after the screening.

Renzo Martens is a Dutch artist who currently lives and works in Brussels, Amsterdam and Kinshasa. In 2010 he initiated the Institute for Human Activities (IHA) that postulates a gentrification program in the Congolese rainforest.

Panelists: 

Brandan “Bmike” Odums is a highly sought after visual artist and filmmaker who uses these chosen mediums to tell stories and make statements that transform the minds of viewers as well as the spaces in which his work appears.

Brian Harrison Nelson is the Big Chief of the Guardians of the Flame. He studied at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts. He wrote and directed the short film Keeper of the Flame.

Garrett Bradley was educated in film at UCLA. She focuses on social economic situations, human conflicts and historical reflection and won several prizes, including the Artadia New Orleans Prospect Award and the Sundance Jury Award.

Kristina Kay Robinson is a writer and visual artist born and raised in New Orleans, Louisiana. Her written and visual work centers the intellectual geographies and spiritual technologies of Black, Afro-Indigenous, and diasporic peoples.

Archeologies and Other Stories on Roach-O-Vision

Monday May 1 to Wednesday May 31, continuous screening of Archeologies and Other Stories by Giovanni Giaretta on Roach-O-Vision, a livestream by Animal Planet.

Roach-o-Vision

It’s always dinner time for this family of American Cockroaches in New Orleans. Known also as the Palmetto Bug or Water Bug, American cockroaches are the largest common species of pest Cockroach. Watch them as they catch-up with movies on Roach-O-Vision. During the month of May they’re watching Giovanni Giaretta’s Archeologies and Other Stories.

To see the live stream go to www.apl.tv and scroll down until you see the Cockroach cam.

Cockroach Cam is in partnership with the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium in New Orleans. Every day from 10:30 – 11:00 am ET the roaches are fed. The Insectarium is part of the Audubon Nature Institute. Plan your visit here.

Many thanks to Animal Planet and the Audubon Nature Institute for making this possible!

 

The psychic center

“The idea was to start in New Orleans and from there we had no plan.” This is a line from Joan Didion’s recently published notebook South and West, written during her stay in the South in June of 1970.
Further on in her notes she writes: “There was no reportorial imperative to any of the places I went at the time I went: nothing “happened” anywhere I was, no celebrated murders, trials, integration orders, confrontations, not even any celebrated acts of God. I had only some dim and unformed sense, a sense which struck me now and then, and which I could not explain coherently, that for some years the South and particularly the Gulf Coast had been for America what people were still saying California was, and what California seemed to me not to be: the future, the secret source of malevolent and benevolent energy, the psychic center. I did not much want to talk about this.

I spent two months in and around New Orleans, Louisiana, with a plan that was similar in its ephemeralness to ms. Didion’s. I’ve been obsessed with the Medieval flagellants for quite some time now. From my studies, a number of themes emerged: the whip, the blood, spectacle, a claim on supernatural or mystical knowledge.

The image of the flagellants keeps haunting me, but I want to move this image to a contemporary setting, using a personal narrative of obsession as its basis.

The idea of the South as the psychic center appealed to me. It’s in many ways a religious place, a place where the occult still plays a role, where mystical, supernatural ideas keep their grasp on some people. In Cajun country, people whip each other during Mardi Gras. The whipping stems from the Medieval flagellants, some writers have claimed.

And so there we were. The flagellants believed they could overthrow the natural order of things by whipping themselves. Joan Didion believed she could learn things about California by visiting Louisiana. I believed I could learn things about the flagellants by visiting Becca, a Cajun ‘traiteur’, or traditional healer, in Scott, near Lafayette.

When I arrived – hungover, I admit with shame – Becca took me to a tree that was spiritually significant to her. Her identity is largely based on being part of the community, and for her there is a transcendent component to being part of Cajun culture. A travel writer from a different state who was drawn to Becca came with us to the tree. She talked about the energies she felt there, the colors she saw emanating from the tree. “Y’all are crazy if you don’t come check out this gigantic thistle”, she shouted from across the field. “There’s a ladybug on here!” We did not comply with her request.

Do you feel energy emanating from this tree?”, Becca asked me. I said I did not. It felt like a confession. Why was I feeling guilt?

Later in the car, I talked to Becca about the significance of the Courir de Mardi Gras for the Cajun culture, for the local communities. “It felt like an echo of a tradition”, I told her. Becca nodded in agreement. The travel writer chipped in and started explaining to Becca that Mardi Gras was actually only about money. “It’s transformed into something to lure tourists to Louisiana, which is good for those people”, she said. Becca was displeased by this notion. You should never try to explain someone’s own culture to them, I thought. So I took care to listen to Becca carefully.

That night, she read to me from a notebook. She told me stories about her life, how she was diagnosed with a mental illness, that she’s a cancer survivor. Being a healer helped her at first, but now she’s transforming into an artist. I wondered what I was, at that moment. I felt I came looking for a transforming miracle myself, but I wasn’t finding it. She told me about her amputated breast, which was very real, and she told me how her deceased daughter was giving her instructions – via a spiritual medium – about how to be the healer of Cajun culture itself. She wants to bring light and love to the darkness of her culture. “My daughter’s helping me heal the collective Cajun unconscious”, she said. Here then was mystical, supernatural information, and yet I couldn’t relate to it the way I could relate to the scar I imagined to be on her chest, or the grave Becca showed me where she would come to lie upon her death.

The next day, Becca took me to the place near where her daughter had violently ended her own life. I looked for a transcending experience, yet found beauty in this kind of emotional intimacy.

To Live in the South, One Has To Be a Scar Lover. That’s the name of the book Maaike Gouwenberg and Joris Lindhout made in 2011, referencing the writer Harry Crews.

Writing, researching, is traumatizing in an abstract way, because the fabric of your expectations is always being torn up. Thankfully, scars can be very appealing. Just wait ‘til you see mine.

Private Salon with Jan van Tienen

Thursday April 20 at 7:00PM, private salon with Jan van Tienen, at the house of Maurice Ruffin.

We choose our words –
Notes on family
Deltaworkers and the Dutch foundation for literature present a partial English translation of Jan van Tienen’s debut novel Nothing here remains.

A family is a blunt instrument that guides and moulds. It shapes one’s character, like a drunk man shapes a vase. There are intentions, but they are fickle and their effect is uncertain, and all the while the wheel keeps turning. Sometimes the clay starts to chip. Let’s study the fragments.

Please contact us at info@deltaworkers.org to order a copy of Nothing here remains or to attend a reading in New Orleans.