Thursday, December 4, 2008

Site #33 Cynthia Scott "New World Wailing Wall" 2761 Dreux, Gentilly/New Orleans

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"New World Wailing Wall" was unveiled in January 2009 as a Prospect 1 Satellite exhibition and was dismantled in May 2009 to clear the site for the next installation (Susan Neely's "Home", which will unveil in early Fall 2009).

"I can personally attest to AORTA’s premise that the creative process involved in making a large, publicly-sited art installation can heal personal trauma because it has helped to heal my own. The process in this case was markedly different from installing a piece in a commercial or even a nonprofit gallery setting in that the Director of AORTA, Elizabeth Underwood, being an artist herself, was familiar with the specific needs and problems that can arise in both large scale installation and work created for outdoor settings. At every stage of the process I felt understood and supported in tangible ways – help that actually helped.

Ms. Underwood made sure that she fully understood my concept and what was needed by me, then recruited volunteers to assist with constructing the piece. When none were available, she got up on a ladder and worked for many long hours herself. A minor misunderstanding about exactly what could and could not be done on my particular site was skillfully negotiated with the site owners. Due to her extensive neighborhood outreach before the project began, I felt totally at home in the space and welcomed by the neighbors.

The weather was harsh during my installation. Several times, stronger than anticipated winds – and even a freak snowstorm – took down parts of my piece. Each time the Director made sure I knew about it and offered any help she could provide in order to bring it back to wholeness. She was very clear that a “failing” sculpture in this struggling neighborhood would not serve to boost morale!

Despite the weather and my frozen fingers, during the long hours of construction I found a place of peace from which I could draw strength to work on my own storm recovery. Making a piece with many repetitive elements served as a sort of construction meditation, and being able to talk to neighbors on the weekends (when they were around more) relieved the solitude. Even so, I anxiously awaited the “reveal,” because there was no guarantee that the sculpture I had so painstakingly worked on would be something they wanted to look at, or live next to. Would they find it as healing for their lives as I had for mine?

The reception that Elizabeth organized got a great turnout. Neighbors seemed really happy to be in the space, snapping pictures of themselves and me in front of the piece. The Google Earth drawing I had made on the slab turned into a giant grown-ups party game as people identified their own properties and ran to stand on the appropriate squares. At one point I turned around to see a small woman standing at some distance from the group staring at the piece, obviously pausing from walking her dog. When I walked over to thank her for coming and invite her to have some refreshments, tears started rolling down her face. “That’s about the height the water was here,” she said, indicating the wall. Dismayed, I started telling her about the purpose of the piece, but she stopped me. “No, I get it. It’s beautiful.” Then she spent the next hour or so walking around the 35-foot long piece, touching it, and talking to the neighbors. When she left it seemed to me that she had a lightness in her demeanor. So maybe it worked.

What I learned:
- It wouldn’t have been possible to make a piece of this scale and complexity in this time period without the help of others.
- Consulting a structural engineer would have been advantageous!
- (When doing site specific installation in the landscape) prepare to work in all types of weather, even in the sunny South.
- People who have no background in art have a great capacity to “get” abstract contemporary art and are underestimated by the art establishment." - Cynthia Scott

AORTA Projects and Cynthia Scott would like to thank our site sponsors Susan Neely and Doyle Gertejensen for their generous investment in this project. We would also like to thank Ron Palmer and Luis Colmenares for their tireless support and of "New World Wailing Wall".

"New World Wailing Wall" was supported by a generous project grant from Transforma/National Performance Network thanks to the generous support of the Andy Warhol Foundation of Visual Arts.