Make America What America Must Become, an exhibition of Gulf South artists at the Contemporary Arts Center New Orleans, lays bare the fuzziness of time, the vagueness of the boundaries that separate what once was from what now is. Curated by Katrina Neumann, George Scheer, and Toccarra A.H. Thomas, the exhibition features work from over thirty-five living and working across the Gulf South including Coulter Fussell, Luis Cruz Azaceta, OZONE 504, and Lauren Cardenas.
“The future is a constant wake,” offers the audio from a film of the same name by Ariel René Jackson that echoes throughout the gallery spaces, “unrelenting in our care for the dead.” In the video, two feet push the dirt beneath them back and forth, covering and uncovering the ground on a seemingly endless loop. Developed in collaboration with choreographer Michael J. Love, the film proposes softer, more tender ways of unearthing the past. How do we move through time? What is the quality and tone that characterizes our engagement with those that came before us?
Time moves different, Langston Allston proclaims in his text-laden painting Second Line, an epic love letter to New Orleans that sprawls across an entire wall. Rendered in ink on vinyl, the work brings to mind an old map I saw recently, which showed the French Quarter when it was still a fortress surrounded by walls. Cluttered with snapshots and musings—from a chimney sweep at the crossing of Bienville and Dauphine to the jovial Rex, Lord of Misrule, overseer of drunkenness and debauchery—the map was less concerned with navigation and more so with the characters, rituals, and relationships that make up the city’s landscape.
Text in another portion of Second Line proclaims, In New Orleans, the revolution looks a little different too, because it’s everywhere and it’s on Sundays. Weaving a delicate and cutting portrait of a city suspended in time, Allston examines public space not in terms of its intended use but through how it is re-appropriated, reclaimed, and transformed. The empty space beneath Claiborne Bridge becomes a weekly site of resistance, a stage upon which freedom is enacted. There’s music, fast cars, bright paint, cheap drinks, hot sausage, dirt bikes, pit bulls, good gas, the text continues. For one day the guns & fines & cages don’t make the rules… People do.