I spent less than 48 hours in New Orleans before departing for Mexico but that did include one full day.

The morning offered a trip over to see some houses converted into domicile-scale installations, the houses possibly being unsuitable for living after Katrina. These works were all organized by KK Projects under the auspices of the Prospect 1 New Orleans biennale, so it was my first taste (surprise!) of the art fair. By far my favorite, the one that gripped me immediately, not only because of its visual appeal but especially because of its audience participation and interaction was Mel Chin’s safe house:

One enters through this bank vault door which locks shut at night to view thousands upon thousands upon increasing thousands of hand-drawn $100 bills on templates, by passers-by, participants, and New Orleans area kids and children. Talking with the assistant coordinator to the project Amanda Wiles, she suggested that they were attempting to collecting $300m in these hand-fabricated bills which would be delivered via armored truck to some Congressional body in exchange for the real funds needed to reduce lead levels in the soil and environment of New Orleans which ranks as one of the most lead-polluted cities in the US, and it’s well documented that lead poisoning in children can lead to behaviorial problems and learning disabilities. Still, $300m, that requires drawings by 3million students or participants, or approximately 1 in every 100 Americans! Whoo. That’s a lot of art.

[Visit Fundred.org if you’re an artist or educator to see about bringing this project to your peers or students]

What’s difficult to digest is I know you’re thinking ‘wow that sounds like a lot of money to reduce lead content in soil’ right. Didn’t we just pass a bill to spread around $700billion to the financial sector, auto makers, and other industries? Isn’t $300million less than 1/3 of $1billion? Where does that bailout money really go?

Anyhow, adjacent house-installations included some crazy detritus-strewn environments which I was told the previous month contained some elements of water or pools or something which would have better aluded to a post-Katrina environment. Or something like that. Hey, things were crazy:

Quite frankly though I think this city does a better job – as a city, as if the city were an organism – of defining that post-Katrina space, and it doesn’t have to be blunt or overblown, many times in fact it’s subtle, silent, minimal (and beautiful):

that hole up there… is the whole building empty? hollowed? drafty?

The evening began afresh with a jazz band in a jazz bar, total New Orleans style:

Life immitates art, they look like the painting on the wall behind them!

Stumbled upon some car that had many thousand pieces of bric-a-brac and kitsch stuck to it. As well as some text which I was told had to do with saving vampires from themselves; some preachy bit of words about how eternal life is a really bad thing and vampires should repent then somehow commit suicide or give up their souls or something so they can become mortal and die peacefully. But it was the stuff that caught my eye:

(rear-view no longer working!)

Makes me wonder if they worked on the automobile in silent, behind closed doors in a garage, until it was deemed worthy of being seen, or if it was a gradual development, some watches here, a spider-man here, some homeboy figures there, and is it considered done or continually being worked and reworked?

And again, this city photographs beautifully at night: