Friday, October 10, 2008

Global Warming at the Icebox, Part 2

Second in our series on the Global Warming at the Icebox exhibition, this post will focus on Chicory Miles’ installation, The Churning of the Milk.

Just past the entrance to the Icebox Gallery hangs a series of white organza panels, approximately fourteen feet high by four feet in width. Each panel has been dyed up to about shoulder level with a brown color. Miles, a native of New Orleans, evokes the waterlines that stained her city upon her return after Hurricane Katrina. As viewers make their way through this grouping, they come to a video. The video contains images of milk being agitated, sometimes superimposed with satellite imagery of Katrina, dead frogs, or infants breastfeeding. Once again, the opening din prevented me from hearing the accompanying sound component.

The video is based on a part of the Mahabharata, the tale of The Churning of the Milk Ocean. In this part of the story, several deities band together to churn the Milk Ocean in order to create an elixer of immortality. As a result, they also create a toxic potion. To paraphrase Miles, she saw in this story a parallel in how we as humans have tried to control nature, and how this attempt at control often leads to deadly affects, such as Hurricane Katrina.

As an artist, I am extremely drawn to work such as Miles’. The eloquence of raising the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina’s effects on New Orleans to a mythic plane gives viewers a feeling of witnessing the unfolding of a fairy tale. It becomes a visual art equivalent to literature’s genre of magical realism.

And yet I can’t help but wonder, does all this magic remove us further from the catastrophic proportions of what really happened? The real tragedy of New Orleans was not that the levees gave out, it was that our government turned its back on the city while people suffered. By elevating the account of New Orleans to that of the supernatural, does it remove us further from what really happened?

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