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New Frontiers 

Throughout the lifetimes of entire generations of New Orleanians, St. Claude Avenue has always been that rare artery that seemed preternaturally hardened against any sort of change. It is a street that looks almost as it did when I was a child, and probably even when Louis Armstrong " or maybe even General Beauregard " was a child. In the annals of urban blight, it's the aristocrat of squalid decrepitude, a mighty bulwark against gentrification. Yet, even while that remains the case today, the St. Claude gallery district is adding a tad more color to its aura.

That color is bright red in the case of the Good Children Gallery, where Les Enfants Rouges, an exhibition of new work by LSU faculty and graduate students, provides a probing look into the creative processes of the newest wave of experimental artists from the state capital. Actually, this is a very cool show, all the more so because so few of these artists' names are known south of I-12. While the gallery itself is pleasantly stark and minimal on the outside, all is aesthetic ferment within. A cheery tone is evident on entering as, looming large in the rear of the gallery, a wood and ceramic ice cream cone that appears to have sloppily dropped its top scoops, radiates an aura of errant delight. An obscure message, 'Waste What Want What," which also happens to be the name of sculptor Tim Berg's piece, glares from a neon sign above it in an electronic evocation of consumerism gone awry.

That tone of acerbic frivolity continues even in more Orwellian works such as Barton Gilley's Talking Head, a life-size figure in a suit standing rigidly behind a podium like a generic spokesperson. The face is a pasty flexible mask whose voice and expressions can be controlled by a video game remote, thus providing its operator with an unusual degree of control over an apparent authority figure. But there is more to the show than socio-political angst. It is spring after all, and Loren Schwerd explores the ties that bind in Love Seat, a pair of old-time wooden chairs of the sort that might have had woven cane seats, only here the cane is woven in a nestlike mesh in a kind of graphic elaboration of how two become one " a scene that is either scary or sentimental depending on how you look at it. Visually very different, if similarly scary or sentimental, is Holly Streekstra's Eternal Morning, a white bridal wreath with a continuous video of a bride and groom slowly dancing. The video is a negative print, making it seem even ghostlier against the vintage white satin, paper and plastic wreath still bearing the fateful date Oct. 14, 1967. Sweetly chilling stuff. All in all, it's an interesting and visually intriguing show. Curated by LSU assistant professor and sculptor Malcolm McClay, it's a piquant mix of social and personal explorations.

In the rear gallery, LSU assistant professor Jeremiah Ariaz's Shadow Root: Retracing the Santa Fe Trail installation of images and objects " including photos of prairie grass, drawings and the actual remains of a vintage wagon wheel " explores his personal connection to the land around his hometown of Great Bend, Kan. Named for a spot on the Arkansas River crossed by the Western pioneers, the town occupies prairie still rutted by the wheels of old Conestoga wagons. What Kansas shares with Louisiana is a profound sense of place as a crossroads etched with the pathos of conflicting as well as complementary interests, the blood and tears of history spilled in obscure byways, a terrain etched with meanings that transcend most theories of contemporary art and politics. This work by Ariaz is a charged prelude to what could potentially be a much larger project.

click to enlarge This detail view of Holly Streekstra's Eternal Morning reveals a video negative of a bride and groom slowly dancing within a vintage bridal wreath.
  • This detail view of Holly Streekstra's Eternal Morning reveals a video negative of a bride and groom slowly dancing within a vintage bridal wreath.
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