Monday, February 6, 2012


When I came to visit New Orleans before Christmas, I stumbled across a Pecha-Kucha event attached to the Avant-Garden local arts market where I heard for the first time about something called The Music Box in a neighborhood called the Bywater. It was one hell of an interesting and ambitious project, phase one of an art project called Dithyrambalina:

The Music Box is an interactive musical village in the city of New Orleans. It was built by over 23 artists. Each structure houses an invented instrument that investigates the notion of playing a house. The sound artists who made these instruments are experimenting with musical architecture. They are preparing for Dithyrambalina, a full-scale musical house collaboration with the artist Swoon.

This temporary installation can be explored by visitors of all ages who are encouraged to play the town. The Music Box also hosted a three-part series of performances. The Shantytown Orchestra was comprised of a changing roster of world class musicians under the conductor Quintron. During these performances musicians took their stations amongst the shanties and shacks where they played invented instruments for sold out audiences.

I knew it was closed for the winter, but I was still curious about what I'd see, so last Tuesday I took a walk up to the Bywater to see what I could. I'm glad I did, because that whim of a walk introduced me one of the most interesting artistic neighborhoods I've had the fortune to encounter since I fell in love with Williamsburg in the late 1990s.

If you want to see good pictures of what the Music Box looks like when the gates are open, I strongly encourage you to look at the links above. But even when it's shut, it can be quite striking.

Here's the front gate:

And another view:

And here's what you see when you peek through the wall:

I hope to be back when it's open -- this is an extremely beautiful structure with conceptual ambition unlike anything else I've seen in my recent travels.

The Music Box is on 1027 Piety Street in New Orleans.

I walked down Piety towards Burgundy to see what else the neighborhood had to offer. The houses were pretty and colorful shotguns, and in between were a variety of small restaurants, coffee, and art studios. The first art studio I encountered belonged to Christopher Porche-West, a photographer who has been shooting New Orleans for 30 years, and makes mixed media assemblages that encompass his photography with found objects. His work is interesting because he finds objects that each contain an aura of use, or of decay, or of otherwise having lived, and marrying this old photography to the pieces creates a tactile presentation of lost time regenerated as memory or art. It's very effective work. Here's his window display:

His website has a lot more stuff, and a lot of it is pretty interesting. Porche-West's studio is at 3201 Burgundy Street.

As I walked on towards the end of the neighborhood I saw a number of other examples of interesting homegrown art and design. I really liked this design, affixed to a traffic sign:

Down the street there was this piece of cautionary art, and yes, there is a mugger in the neighborhood right now, so be careful:

I got to the end of the road and started to turn around, walking back towards the quarter and enjoyed the art on this tattoo studio:

I also liked this graffiti across the street:

This is all just the tip of the iceberg. There was a beautiful wooden sculpture on St. Claude that looked like a ghostly bird or ship, but that I couldn't get an adequate picture of. There were houses painted with such care that they may as well have been art. There were artisan restaurants and junk shops assembling the creative detritus of the neighborhood's last forty years. And the people tended to embrace a genuine Bohemian spirit that is unusual in this slick, careerist era.

There was one more piece that blew me away completely there, but it's so amazing it's getting its own post. In the meantime, I strongly encourage a walk through this neighborhood. Interesting things are happening here.

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