Nocturne, part two: a week ago, Prospect.3, the third iteration of New Orleans’ ambitious biennial, began its blazing run through January 25. Recruit Franklin Sirmans, contemporary art curator at LACMA, came up with this turn’s concept, Notes for Now, a vision “as grand, deep and complex as the Big Easy itself,” wrote Julie Baumgardner of the New York Times’ T Magazine.
To frame the citywide exploration, Sirmans turned to the poetic existentialism of Walker Percy in “The Moviegoer,” a 1961 novel about a young stockbroker in postwar New Orleans. On the eve of his 30th birthday at Mardi Gras, Binx Bolling breaks from the humdrum by diving into a search for inner self, a journey that finds him philosophizing through the French Quarter, Chicago and the Gulf Coast.
“What is the nature of the search? you ask,” Bolling asks. “Really it is very simple, at least for a fellow like me; so simple that it is easily overlooked. The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life. This morning, for example, I felt as if I had come to myself on a strange island. And what does such a cast away do? Why he pokes around the neighborhood and he doesn’t miss a trick. To become aware of the search is to be onto something. Not to be onto something is to be in despair.”
Sirmans picks up were Percy left off, “trying to understand ourselves through each other.” Moving away from the post-Katrina perception of the city, he engaged a diverse cast of creative visionaries like Theaster Gates and Andrea Fraser, all of whom explore distinct points of inquiry through 58 installations in 18 venues.
Bahamian artist Tavares Strachan considers notions of settlement and dislocation with three simple words, “You belong here,” emblazoned in pulsating neon lights on a river marge floating on the Mississippi. Dualistic, the installation can be read as an affirmation or a veiled question. See its swansong sail tonight from 6:30 to 10 p.m.
“Nowadays when a person lives somewhere, in a neighborhood, the place is not certified for him,” Percy’s Bolling says. “More than likely he will live there sadly and the emptiness which is inside him will expand until it evacuates the entire neighborhood. But if he sees a movie which shows his very neighborhood, it becomes possible for him to live, for a time at least, as a person who is Somewhere and not Anywhere.”
The day I feel as though I belong Somewhere, I will throw a party and put on this party dress. Until then, inspired by Strachan, I’ll keep questioning.