Sacred, Similar Sites

A second Saturday review: Castjohn places Deborah Luster's 'Tooth for an Eye,' now on St. Claude, against Kyle Eyre Clyd's 'The Archivist's Glove.'  


Deborah Luster’s Tooth for an Eye: A Chorography of Violence in Orleans Parish is a collection of photographs not only in archive at Antenna this month, but also prints in tondo.  The word tondo derives from the Italian rotondo, or round. 


The choice to reduce the tragic but lovely tondos to archival form is an interesting one, and something this reviewer experienced fully at the “Memory Project” opening on Second Saturday in November.


Like the traditional tondo, Luster’s prints are 2’ in diameter.  Their size is appropriate for their memorial nature – it adds gravitas to the work. Their shape is different, poignant, distinguished. It was a good format for these sites of death she documented.  They are a little more sacred than the traditional rectangular, or certainly the square form.  There are only a couple of the prints on display at Antenna, the complete collection is compiled in a book.  


Art openings are relatively uncomfortable events. Those there to see the art oftentimes feel isolated. Luster’s archive was a remarkably freeing experience in the gallery, right in the middle of the opening.  The book’s display, the single pair of white cotton gloves, and being surrounded by fellow gallery-goers of and above a certain age proved to be a unifying experience.  


Even performance art, which seeks sometimes to connect with and to connect the crowd, is mainly alienating.  If it isn’t thrilling enough to hold you spellbound, to the point that you don’t even notice other people in the room, it rends everyone pretty self-conscious. Teetering on the verge of intellectual and emotional breakthrough isn’t always something one want’s to share with strangers. And good art can do that for you, if you are paying attention and if it is done well.


The term chorography is not a misspelling.  It is not a dance of violence that Luster is referring to. Chorography is a time-forgotten specialization within geography which takes into account “topographical/ architectural/ material/ cultural phenomenon” of a place. It has broken into many different fields of study as society has progressed, but Luster revived the methodology for her work.  In Tooth for an Eye the chorographic approach helps elucidate the trauma of our homicide rate on the many aspects of New Orleans and its people.


The strange thing that happened in the gallery was that the archive, as the theme of homicide, was treated with seriousness. A single pair of gloves was provided to turn the pages, and if you placed them on your hands you became the guide for a crowd that might amass. A few people gathered, some fleeting, some stayed to the end of the book. No one started and stopped at the same time, but a quiet reverence happened among those of us who looked. Almost instantaneously, respectful conversations arose amongst those who looked. It was quiet, observant, humble, and a very communal experience. Going through the archive felt a lot like a wake.


The gloves, the quiet amidst ruckus, quieted voices amongst much other business seemed a little too familiar and unfamiliar at the same time.  Personal death and private death are very different in this city. There’s family death and then there is news death, which is absurdly prevalent.  It is not necessarily wrong to become jaded to it; the specter of death hangs and hangs over the city like a pall. People in Los Angeles overlook smog, it happens. But the experience of Luster’s work adeptly convened a community of witnesses. 


Suddenly we talked about the sites, related them personally, “That was on my birthday” and the like. We personalized the news death there in the room, in front of the book. The gloves had a ritualizing effect, warning each of us that this space, these memories were profound and each turn represented a life lost. The archive took on importance because we were forced to consider its singularity.  Like the lives lost, if we mishandled their singularity, they would be damaged and lost.


Later, across the street at Good Children, I stumbled upon Kyle Eyre Clyd’s work The Archivist’s Glove. The work consisted of several obviously mimeographed pages, and maybe that was the point.


Solar Anus is a Bataille theory about analogy and similarity.  It would be suitable to the show. Clyd’s work began with several paragraphs worth of reading, presumably about the glove.  The show which was about analogy stood across the street from the thing it analyzed, the real archival glove, and it paled by comparison. 


The experience of actually wearing the glove left reading about it obsolete.  Most of us don’t brave the weather, the parking, the discomfort of the gallery, whatever trivial concerns threaten to keep us out, to be told what’s important or sacred. We come out to experience it, to see through other eyes and to grow somehow by sharing a new consensus.


Both exhibitions are on view through December 8, 2013.  

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