Video from New Orleans Part 2: Dawn DeDeaux's Goddess Fortuna

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The most stunning, physically imposing, and technically virtuoso parts of Dawn DeDaux‘s project for Prospect.2 are also the most difficult to photograph. As you enter the open-air courtyard of the Brulatour Mansion at 520 Royal Street, with nothing but a dark sea of stars overhead, your senses might need a moment to appreciate the creeping, metaphysical scale of what you’re about to experience.

Click above for a BURNAWAY video by John Duke documenting Dawn DeDeaux’s The Goddess Fortuna and Her Dunces, In an Effort to Make Sense of It All. We recommend watching the video in full-screen mode.

Slowly, you realize that sculptures line the walls—not simply at ground level, but also the second- and third-story balconies above. Sixty-six life-size hooded figures gaze down into the square courtyard, surrounding you on all four sides. Highly literal, yet adventurously so, these gothic scarecrows are one the artist’s interpretations of A Confederacy of Dunces, the novel by John Kennedy Toole that provides inspiration for the project as a whole.
The video above begins with DeDeaux’s installation in the courtyard’s center: a bed with sheets disturbed as if by sleeplessness and a gushing fountain spout mounted in the middle. Conjuring forth associations with the four elements and the waters of the unconscious, the bed-fountain also provides comic relief. In contrast to the societal superego embodied by the grim jury of dunces, its liquid spray doubles as a sly reference to masturbation and the nocturnal bumblings of Ignatius J. Reilly, the novel’s hilarious protagonist.
Meanwhile, moving images and recorded sounds invade the senses from all directions, pouring in from random windows and two open doorways. In the first room, a cheerful jukebox (ironically labeled “artist of the week”) plays local music by Peter Fountain on clarinet. The second dark corridor leads to a projection with an original score that mixes a primal, somewhat sinister beat with contemporary hip-hop, particularly New Orleans Bounce (click here for a BURNAWAY article discussing the genre). All music included in our video comes from DeDeaux’s installation.
The Brulatour courtyard is a secluded respite within the otherwise bustling chaos of the French Quarter; during our time there, nearly two dozen visitors wandered inside. Some of them appeared to be familiar with the gallery scene, but most were simply stumbling between bars. Still, a volunteer attendant was present to greet everyone and inform them about the art. I enjoyed a lengthy conversation with two strangers who shared my love for Toole’s book.
You can’t leave that final room without the sense that public art is rarely done to such a hauntingly exhilarating degree as DeDeaux’s The Goddess Fortuna. Its sense of place is so intimate and so deliberately studied, in terms of physical logistics and thematic vision, it puts other uses of the term site-specific to shame. Above all, it exudes generosity, the kind of love for a city that knows how to make it look good without apologizing for its dirt.
Dawn DeDeaux’s installation, The Goddess Fortuna and Her Dunces, In an Effort to Make Sense of It All, continues through the end of the Prospect.2 biennial on January 29, 2012.