NEW ORLEANS: A FOUR DAY FEAST
Thursday 27th May – Sunday 30th May, 2004
The Brunswick Street Bookstore, 305 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy
Small paper sculptures of southern food dishes on display upstairs at the Brunswick Street Bookstore. In total, twenty-seven watercolored drawings have been folded, cut and shaped into three dimensional serves of famous New Orleans cuisine, from drinks and side dishes through to main courses and desserts. Serves of jambalaya, red beans & rice, boiled crawfish and hot beignets all featured in this bookstore buffet.
Opened by Des Cowley, Rare Printed Collections Manager, State Library of Victoria
Thursday 27th May, 6.55pm
I'm pleased to be able to say a few words here tonight, because this exhibition combines two enthusiasms that, up until now, have been quite separate. Firstly, I've been an enthusiastic — and let’s use the word — fan of Louise's work for the past several years — State Library of Victoria having acquired all eight collaborative artists' books that she and Gracia Haby have produced to date. And, since 1996, when I first traveled there, I’ve been passionate about all things to do with New Orleans.
New Orleans — the Big Easy, Crescent City — the litany of hallowed names and places just roll off the tongue: Buddy Bolden, King Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Jelly Roll Morton, Earl King, James Booker, Dave Barthomolew, Fats Domino, Allen Toussaint, Earl Palmer, Irma Thomas, the Meters, the Neville Brothers, the Rebirth Brass Band, Marva Wright, Nicholas Payton, Los Hombres Calientes, Galactic... Storyville, Preservation Hall, Congo Square, Tipitinas... I could go on... but for the sake of you all, I won’t.
Most of my friends — and this probably says more about my friends than humanity in general — first traveled to New Orleans for the music. Yet when I looked back over my old diaries, I noticed that, as I read on, there were fewer and fewer references to music, and more and more references to FOOD. After all, your record collection prepares you for the music, but nothing can prepare you for the cuisine. I began to realize that our culinary journeys through the French Quarter made up a sort of map of our lives there.
On any one day:
We awake around 8am and set off down Ursulines Street for the Croissant D'Dor, mainly for the pastries, but maybe also because we love the way the waitress calls us BABY in her southern accent. Afterwards, we stroll down to Decatur Street. Across the road, at the corner of St Anne Street, is Café du Monde where, on a good day, you might see Dave Robicheux and Clete Purcell, seated outdoors overlooking the Mississippi, discussing their latest case over café au lait and a plate of beignets. Down Decatur Street, we pass Jackson Square, and turn left up St Louis Street, mainly to get to Johnny Po' Boys, but mainly also to avoid passing the Louisiana Music Factory, because we've bought too many CDs already. At Johnny’s, we order the fried oyster Po' Boys, or the soft-shell crab Po' Boys, cheek to jowl with the local lunch-time crowds. Further up the street is Ralph and Cacoo's where, on my first night in New Orleans, I ordered the gumbo AND the jambalaya, not because I'm that hungry, or because I know what the hell they are, but because, after years of listening to Professor Longhair and Dr John, I am dying to hear myself utter these words out aloud in a place where they have meaning. It's at Ralphs that we later sample the 3lb plates of boiled crawfish, the blackened alligator and the hush puppies. We love the hush puppies so much that we purchase a strange packet of hush puppy mix and, weeks later, back in Melbourne, we attempt to make them — ours taste like crap. A right turn into Chartres Street brings us to Napoleon's, where we — and let's be honest here — pig out on the best muffulettas that the French Quarter has to offer. A couple of blocks up Chartres, we turn left into Pirates Alley and stop off at the Faulkner Bookstore which, in 1925, was briefly home to William Faulkner. It's not like we can afford any of the first editions, but, after all this eating, we feel a strong urge to appear cultural for a moment. Walking back to the apartment for a brief rest, we pass the Voodoo shop, but the lady behind the counter looks so scary, we don't go in, even though we'd really like to. In the afternoons, we make our way to North Rampart and marvel how many buses pass by heading for Desire (alas the streetcar no longer runs), before boarding the No. 82 bus to the Fairgrounds to hear some music - after all, that's why we are here. At the Fairgrounds, we spend our time chasing Rhythms editor Brian Wise away from the Crawfish Monica stand, because he’s formed a strange and terrible addiction to this dish that is only on offer for seven days per year during the Jazz and Heritage Festival. Us, we head for the Crawfish Bread stand, in search of our own addictions. At night we walk down to Iberville Street to the Acme Oyster Bar, where the freshly shucked oysters appear so large that my only concern is whether it will be possible to swallow them whole. Then it’s off to the House of Blues to see Etta James, or to Tipitinas to see the Neville Brothers, or to Donna’s Bar and Grill to see the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, because, after all, we've come here for the music. Late at night, we might make our way over to North Rampart and drop into the Funky Butt, share a plate of deep fried mushrooms, or catfish and red beans, killing time till 2am when blues singer Henry Butler might finally take the stage. Around 3am, we all meet back at our apartments on Ursulines Street, which are actually the original 1830s slave quarters out back of the main house, and, there, overlooking the tropical courtyard and running fountain, in a scene that could have come straight out of a Tennessee Williams play, we drink beer — Voodoo, because the psychedelic label somehow reminds us of Jimi Hendrix, or Turbo Dog, because we just love the name — and reminisce about our day.
A four day feast indeed!
So what are we to make of these culinary sculptures and works on paper that we see here tonight, how do we read them? As many of you would know, it was not Louise who traveled to New Orleans earlier this year. It was Gracia Haby and her family who travelled there. And this four day feast is Louise's gift in exchange for the stories and narratives they brought back with them.
But just like my own daily travels in the French Quarter, I like to think of these works as little maps, or perhaps fragments of a larger map that Louise has steadily been compiling for some time. When Louise first visited the State Library's Rare Books Collection, it is no co-incidence that the first thing she asked to see were old atlases. And so, together, we pored over the hand-coloured plates of Abraham Ortelius's 1574 edition of Theatrum Orbis Terrarum, full of strange maps of lost lands, and oceans dotted with ships and sea monsters.
Maps are important to Louise, and if you look hard enough at her body of work to date — whether it be artists' books, prints, zines or a web site — you can see them peeping out of all sorts of unexpected places. And while her art grows out of the domestic, the rituals of everyday life, it equally traces the subtle lines and journeys taken by herself, her family, and her friends — whether down Brunswick Street, or on the No. 69 Tram, or further afield to Portugal or to New Orleans. There is a very short short story by the Argentinean writer Jorge Luis Borges, about a country where the cartographers are so exceptional that eventually they make a map equal in size and detail to the country itself.
Last year, Louise exhibited a book that measures about 4ft high and about 3ft across. In it she had meticulously recorded, in tiny handwriting, everything that had happened to her over a year. It was called: A Whole Year. I estimate it took about a year to write.
At the heart of Louise's art, I suspect there is something of the mad desire of those cartographers to record life not at a scale of 1:100 or 1:000, which is how we remember it, but on a scale of 1:1, which is, in all its beauty and hum-drum ordinariness, how we live it.
Opening Night Playlist
Featuring music compiled by Michael Gray & Peter Haby
Fats Domino, Walking to New Orleans
James Booker, A Taste of Honey
Billie and De De, Peanut Vendor
Professor Longhair, Rum and Coca-Cola
Sweet Emma, Ice Cream (Vocal by Percy Humphrey)
Dejan's Olympia brass band, Marie Laveau
Dejan's Olympia brass band, Muskrat Ramble
James Booker, African Gumbo
Rebirth jazz band, Mardi Gras Medley
Going to the Mardi Gras
Lil’ Liza Jane
King Nino, Buster Holmes
Frankie Ford, Whiskey Heaven
Fats Domino, Jambalaya (on the bayou)
Percy Humphrey, Bucket’s got a Hole in it
Dr. John, My Indian Red
Dr. John, Goin’ back to New Orleans