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Post-Katrina Mold 

Anyone who follows trends in contemporary architecture has to have noticed how sculptural the designs of some of the world's most celebrated architects have become in recent years, as structures suggest stainless steel waves, and towers of glass spiral upward like giant corkscrews. Ever since architects such as Frank Gehry, Santiago Calatrava and Zaha Hadid started giving us buildings that looked more like science fiction than the stark boxes of yore, architecture has drifted into the realm of sculptural imagination, as if form had finally been liberated from function.

Much of this has come about through technological advances in computerized design programs now used to give buildings a more fluid dynamic. French-Lebanese New Orleans architect Ammar Eloueini helped pioneer this process, taking digital design further than most. An early proponent of animation programs, Eloueini says their sense of motion allows time -- or timing -- to be part of his process, so it's probably no surprise that many of his commissions, for instance, the Paris and Berlin showrooms of high-tech Japanese fashion designer, Issey Miyake, are often for performance or retail spaces. That sense of motion is especially evident in his CoReFab #71 chair, a design that starts out in his computer as an animation, an almost infinitely variable state of perpetual motion. Selecting the version you want involves a video image capture, "so you have a sequence like a movie that can be stopped at any point." The chair itself, made by a robotic computerized injection-molding device, features structural patterns that suggest gothic or Moorish arches pressed into the service of science fiction. It also appears to be attracting its fair share of notoriety, as the Museum of Modern Art recently acquired one for its design collection. As fascinating as all this is, the plans and models at the CAC do not really explain the exotic techniques and esoteric concepts they represent, so more explanatory text would have been helpful. Still, this show and the work by Cuban expat artists Carlos EstevŽz and Mario Petrirena in the main upstairs gallery, Speak (Again) Memory, are subtly substantial and well worth the time it takes to explore them.

A no less imaginative, if far less technological, approach is taken by Takashi Horisaki. A native of Japan and former New Orleanian who studied art at Loyola, Horisaki was attending graduate school outside the city when Katrina struck, and when he visited last year he was horrified by the scale of the destruction and lack of progress that still afflicts some areas, including parts of the Lower Ninth Ward. "New Orleans was the first place I lived in America," he said, "and I still consider it home. I felt I needed to do something. People in New York where I live think everything must be fixed already." Armed with impressive determination, and a $5,000 grant from the Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens, he proceeded to do what he did as an art student -- he began casting what he saw in latex (liquid rubber). Specifically, he got the owner's permission to make a replica of an old, partially collapsed house at 1941 Caffin Ave.

It takes time to coat the old house with successive layers of liquid latex and cheesecloth, a process he began in early May and will continue until the end of June. When finished, the rubber skin will be cut into 12-by-4 foot sheets fitted with grommets like a tarp, and attached to a plastic pipe framework at the Socrates Sculpture Park -- an aesthetic reminder of Katrina and how much remains to be done. Complicating matters are the layers of bureaucracy that must be navigated to delay the house's demolition by the Army Corps of Engineers. So far so good, but Horisaki and his crew of volunteers are wary of the lack of coordination that sometimes afflicts government agencies. And since the final project is expected to cost about twice the amount of the grant, he had to dig into his savings, so contributions of help, money or materials are welcome. For more information, see www.takashihorisaki.com or his blog at http//socialdress-neworleans.blogspot.com.

click to enlarge Takashi Horisaki and his volunteer crew cover a ruined - Lower Ninth Ward home in latex to be reassembled at the - Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens, New York.
  • Takashi Horisaki and his volunteer crew cover a ruined Lower Ninth Ward home in latex to be reassembled at the Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens, New York.
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