9.02.2006

Local Project: Floodwall

If there is one aspect of the aftermath of Katrina that pleases me, it is the motivation that I see in creative locals, as if the city's artists have awoken from something. Everyone has 'fresh eyes'. While I've been chipping away my angst using puppets and frames, Jana Napoli has been collecting drawers from the piles of trash which pile up curbside, even today, as people continue to trickle back home. I've seen the vomited contents of thousands of homes in the last year, children's toys, personal photos, furniture, you name it. Jana Napoli saw a chance to record the history of these homes.

Her project is dubbed Floodwall, a wall of 600+ dresser drawers collected from piles around the city, each labelled with an address, photographed, and curated. Now she is calling on the owners to share their stories, to tuck away a piece of local history in the back of the drawer...
I've been struggling with how to share my own Katrina experience, every time I start to write I get overwhelmed, trying to take on too much at once. So I'm gonna let it trickle out here on the Jenny blog, as creative mortar...for now here are a couple of snapshots...

A pair of shoes on the floor of the bedroom that I grew up in, my parent's house in Metairie. Taken on September 15. I still cannot wrap my mind around the fact that a year has gone by.

This is my aunt's pool in Lakeview, one of the worst hit neighborhoods. The city filled with water, chemicals, and death, which receded leaving a film of crud, which baked in the sun over the weeks following the storm. This was taken on October 15. Me and two other guys cleaned it out in March, to give you an idea of how slowly these things progress...truly the nastiest work I've ever done. I really genuinely expected to find a body under the black muck.

9 comments:

herself said...

Wow. These and other photos of the destruction I've seen are overwhelmingly tragic. To have disaster come and destroy the home and city you and your family have lived in, loved, and made your homes is beyond awful. Is New Orleans gone for good, Jeffery? Given the government systems and priorities we have, and with the low geography of the land, and the increasing strength of storms, should we could we let it go and start over to create a new New Orleans on higher ground, even while mourning the loss of all it's beauty and history?

gl. said...

wow, uba. the floodwall project is awesome. but so is your story, or at least the parts you choose to share with us by means of photo and text, which i know cannot be the whole of it. and yet even these artifacts which seem so small are worth sharing.

leonard cohen:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.

mefull said...

Wow myself, I think the floodwall project is great, very thoughtful.

Jeffery, I can't imagine what it must have been like to go throught that, and to still have so much to clean up after a year, it must seem overwhelming sometimes. I wouldn't blame anyone that wanted to leave that, but those who stayed have some grit. There seems to be a strong sense of community there. I sometimes wonder how people would react if something like that happened out here.

Ubatuber said...

I don't know if NOLA could thrive in another place as it does here Shelley, so much of the culture and music and history and vibe has to do with being at the mouth of the river...but thats kind of the question on everyone's mind right now, in the dark and scary recesses...for lots of reasons, the main one being levee-related for me...the media shows lots of levee restructuring, rebuilding, etc., to the small areas of the levee that broke during the storm...no one talks about the rest of the miles of levees, which sit there, untouched and probably weakened from Katrina...basically if a storm comes along in the next year or two, we're in serious trouble...
GL, Cohen rocks :) great quote...and Mefull, yeah, very few people leave the city, and most folks that move away seem to return, lots of large families here...NOLA beckons...some kind of spell I think....or we're all crazy from the booze :P

sven said...

I think I've had this comment window sitting open on my desktop for a week now, while I try to think of what to say...

Most of what comes to mind is too shallow. It feels like I'd have to unhinge my jaw and crack my face to say anything big enough to be adequate. Like when I start to imagine the grief and horror and disbelief wrapped up in the wake of Katrina, I feel like... Like I don't actually know you well enough, my friend Jeffrey, to presume to know how this really affects you.

It seems like getting by day-to-day probably involves a lot of almost-deliberate forgetting. So there's an ignoble desire to not be responsible for breaking the silence. But, then, I also don't think I can live with not responding at all.

So, for lack of anything better: OUCH. Oh my god, Jeffrey. OUCH. It hurts to see those photos. Thank you for posting them.

(Damn! Excellent Leonard Cohen quote, gl.!)

Ubatuber said...

Sven, buddy, thanks for the comments. It means a lot to me. Especially the unhinged jaw bit, I feel the same way when discussing it. I understand it must be difficult to respond to. And honestly even I don't know how it has affected me. Sometimes I think that the 'me' that you all have come to know may not really be me...I mean I know it is, cause its me, and I have my wife to remind me that I'm still me, but...I'm not really sure how to explain it...like you've all gotten to know me at this unbelievably stressful and chaotic time in my life, where I'm sort of struggling to rebuild my identity, or sense of self...Katrina took something from me and I fucking want it back...
These two pics are striking to me too and I'm the one that took them :) I have probably a couple of thousand pics in my Katrina folder, broken down by day...lots to sift through...Sometimes I think "OK, people are getting tired of hearing about Katrina...", sometimes I think I'M getting tired of hearing about it, but it is such a daily struggle here, such a huge part of my life now...everything I say and feel and do has everything to do with the storm....ditto for everyone in the city and surrounding areas...people here have short fuses now, and drive like lunatics, an entire city of post-traumatic stress that will probably come back around every year for the rest of our lives during hurricane season (which ends in October), so yes, we are ready to flee...its kind of like discussions of physical pain, that folks say when your brain reaches a certain threshold of pain, it shuts off...no more pain...presto...there were so many small moments for us personally during the days following landfall, that would have been tough to deal with on their own, but all piled up it was unbearable...
To give you a sense of where my mind was socially at the worst of it...as days went by, and we're watching the news on a huge TV in a stranger's house in a strange city, report after report of horrible news bits, watching my hometown burn and drown, and seeing no hope...no rescue...no cavalcade of white helicopters carrying our Inspirational President to the heart of the city where he could uplift us and save us with beautiful words and thousands of troops, marching in and carrying babies to safety....and when it didn't happen, day after day, my mind began to think about war....real honest to God Civil War in the good ole' US of A in the year 2005...if I was abandonned I was prepared to fight....in those moments, which went on for nearly a week, I truly understood the passion of a good soldier, let me tell you...I was ready to enlist...it is very alien to me now, as a peacekeeper, not a war-mongerer, but I remember the emotions like it was yesterday, and I understand why I felt the way I did...
My brain hurts now, like its pressing on my skull...but this stuff has to leak out or I may end up with a heart attack :) I will say this to you & Gretchin, and Mike, and Ale, and Shelley, Grant, Mark....I cannot imagine getting through this last year without you guys, and without the blog and the Jenny project...my little 'imaginary' escape world....you've kept me sane, you've kept me creative, you've kept me alive....thank you all from the bottom of my heart...

sven said...

A number of times in the past months I've found myself thinking "Hey... Jeffrey probably saw some part of the New Orleans devastation first hand. (That's dumb -- he's indicated that he was hit significantly.) Um, should I be saying something? Maybe mailing down a care package of epoxy putty?"

Just talking stopmo doesn't really seem like much of a way to help -- but I get the need for someplace else to go in your head. So, if this helps, then... Oh (relief) good.

Back 13 years ago now, a close/best friend of mine committed suicide. That was a very hard summer. You mention fantasy worlds... There was a sense that the line between waking and dreaming was much thinner. And a sense that I was in a separate reality from all the muggles going about their routines...

Completely different scenario -- an individual loss, rather than an entire city being turned upside down. I'm guessing (guessing) that on the one hand it means that everyone around you has more of a shared reality; there's less sense of being isolated with one's grief. And at the same time, because everyone's simultaneously trying to cope, there's probably a sense that you shouldn't talk about it -- you shouldn't add to other people's troubles. And as time goes on, there's maybe a sense that you're supposed to be over it already.

...Is any of that sort of what it's like? Or is it different?

Ubatuber said...

Well, lets see...you got the first part right, the shared reality of it...its true that as an individual I don't feel isolated with my pain, but as a city I think we all do...does that make sense? We as a city feel isolated from the rest of the country, but amongst ourselves, not so much....which brings me to the second part, the 'no talking about Katrina'...its actually quite the opposite...it may have to do with the community, with old-fashioned Southern hospitality, but everyone asks and everyone has stories to tell, very few people are shy to talk about what happened here b/c we all went through it, so there is this sense of shared pain? Like it doesn't belong to any individual, it belongs to all of us at once?
It is very dream-like, extremely surreal...to have your life change in the blink of an eye, like scientists say evolution happens....BAM here's something new...definite feelings of helplessness there...

I had this terrifying recurring nightmare just after the storm, had it three times I think...In it, my wife and I are in my parents house, at some kind of party for my baby niece...whole family is there at the table...my wife and I are in a separate adjoining room when all of a sudden I hear this roar, powerful and loud like an engine...deafening...I walk to the window, pull back the curtain and see a flaming plane, huge...just massive, filling the sky overhead...one of those unbelievably realistic dream moments....I can see the Superdome in the distance....the plane rockets past, headed straight for the heart of the city...I start screaming, telling my wife to get everyone away from the windows, but no one can hear us....and then it happens, and I wake up...

sven said...

Yowza. That's a hell of a nightmare...

(I'm imagining what we could do with it in stopmo. I've had a couple of really bizarre ones myself of late, and have been idly playing with the idea of doing old-skool surrealism with their content. Ex: A dream where there's a second me that I'm interacting with, and where a there's a little latex doll that inflates into a full-grown woman wearing a wedding dress. Weird...)

Thanks for filling in more details about life post-Katrina. I hope that if you're inspired you'll share more photos on the blog and keep talking about it. As an outsider, it's hard to understand -- I really appreciate the bridge in.

(Ugh. That sounds stand-offish to me... But the sentiment is real, even if I'm having trouble saying it in a way that doesn't come off as artificial. Expedient excuse: My parents just left after a two day visit, and I'm still reconstituting a pureed brain...)