My second article for Oxford American Magazine’s website just got published today! It’s on the intersection of Global Art, business, Regionalism and the Southern Open 2012 in Lafayette, LA. You can check it out here.
by Reggie Michael Rodrigue
It’s my feeling that “louisianaesthetic” is beginning its existence at a historic and auspicious time: a nexus or a flashpoint. This statement may sound grandiose. However, if you look around yourself, turn on a television, surf the web or simply talk to your neighbors, friends or loved ones, you, dear reader, will be made aware that you live in a time of social, political, spiritual, economic and ecological upheaval that is unprecedented in the history of civilization. What ignited the Arab Spring and the economic protests across Europe earlier this year has materialized in America. It is the drive for social and economic justice, and it is being expressed at this moment in the Occupy Movement, which first began on New York City’s Wall Street and has quickly spread to other locations across the nation. The internet and its social networks are acting as furnaces to these protests for justice, dignity and human rights. Stoking them, digital technology is allowing the participants the opportunity to build a national community rapidly across the traditional barriers of geography, social class, race and ideology to find common ground against corruption and injustice. The proof lies in the fact that the Occupy Movement has attracted both hipsters, grandmothers and the AFLCIO into its fold.
Within the Occupy Movement, art has played its part in the airing of grievances. Within the movement you won’t find any Venus de Milo‘s, any Mona Lisa’s, and you certainly won’t find any of Damien Hirst‘s diamond encrusted skulls (the newly crowned symbols of a new gilded age). What you will find is an art committee in charge of presenting a visual/aesthetic face to the public through the promotion of signage. Many of the participants in this movement are artists themselves, and they all recognize the importance of art in their protests. Throughout history, it has been the artist’s job to be the canary in the coal mine or the barometer for social health. Today our artists have begun to speak en masse, to pronounce that the prognosis for our society is dire, and that change must occur.
One of the most moving things I have seen in the past few weeks is a blog on Tumblr titled “We Are the 99%.” It is a reference to the absurdly immense financial gap that exists between the elite 1% of our country who own and manipulate most of the capital of the nation and the rest of us 99% on the bottom who are struggling to stay afloat while the nation’s economy and infrastructure crumble. The idea behind the blog is simple: a visual record of some of the faces of the underclass with their stories and grievances scribbled on pieces of paper near their faces. What is striking about the blog is that the pics show a wide range of people of different, races, ages and creeds. Yet, all of them are struggling. One of the most heartbreaking posts I read was about a man whose family had been reduced to buying fish antibiotics from a pet store in order to self-medicate members of the family who fell sick but were unable to seek out proper medical attention due to a lack of health insurance. Through reading this blog, I actually found out that among the underclass, this is becoming a common way to get some semblance of medication for an illness. FISH ANTIBIOTICS!!! Another thing I have recently discovered is that 1 in 4 children in this country suffers from malnourishment because his or her parents cannot always afford to put food on the table. 1 IN 4!!! The problem is so pervasive that the children’s television program “Sesame Street” introduced America to a muppet named Lily in a special on PBS while I was beginning to write this post. Lily is poverty stricken and doesn’t always know where and when she’ll see her next meal. A bunch of signs, a blog and a muppet don’t exactly add-up to fine art, but they are all creative outlets that are moving people to open their eyes and press for change.
It is my hope that in some way “Louisianaesthetic” will have a similar impact on whoever uses it. I have created it to be an open resource for the public to dive into contemporary art in South Louisiana. It is not meant to be only idle entertainment. It is meant to be a continuous barometer of society and culture within South Louisiana through the lens of art.
At this moment in our history, we need visionaries. We need people who can show us where we’ve been, where we are and where we’re going. We need artists and their art to articulate and express what it means to be alive today. When you connect with the present through art, you become transformed. This is because art is knowledge and power. Art is refined, human consciousness. It is the vessel in which we put all of our grief, all of our triumph, all of our wisdom, all of our fears, and all of our hopes.
Personally, I feel that South Louisiana art has something special to teach us and the rest of the nation. It is often cited that the temperament of the people of South Louisiana is different from the rest of the South and the rest of the country. We come from a people who have made it through hard times and still managed to celebrate life every day, through their music, food, festivals. Our cultural heritage and “joie de vivre’ was forged by them. We carry on those traditions. I definitely feel that these things are carried on in our contemporary art. The very best of South Louisiana contemporary art is about crying and laughing, mourning and dancing, dying and singing. It is about living fully in the face of adversity. It is about innovation and adaptivity. In this light, I find it no coincidence that contemporary art in Louisiana is on the rise within the state, as well as within the nation and the world. It is the aesthetic knowledge we crave at this moment. The knowledge that despite everything falling apart around us, we can still celebrate life lived. We can express. We can innovate. We can adapt.
In the coming weeks, a big event will take place on a smaller scale. Prospect New Orleans 2, the second installment of America’s only international biennial, will take place across the city. An annex will also be in place in Lafayette. Prospect 1 was an artistic juggernaut, encompassing an unprecedented amount of exhibitions from international artists across the city. Due to budgetary restraints and political infighting, Prospect will return in an incarnation that is much smaller and much later than was expected at the end of the last one. However, my guess is that it will be much more focused. It will be leaner. It will be wiser. And it will show the world that despite all the hardships that Louisiana has bore, it still knows how to celebrate life and present a vision and a sensibility by which to live, love, work, feast, play, dance and die. “Louisianaesthetic” will be here to chart and shape the trajectory of an art whose time has come.