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Preview: Space Rites 

D. Eric Bookhardt on an interactive installation and community performances in the Lower 9th Ward

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One of the great things about the Prospect.3 art expositions is the surprising unaffiliated events they inspire (some of which are included as P.3+ satellite program events). New Orleans Airlift always seems to rise to the occasion, and this year its Space Rites in the Lower 9th Ward explores previously uncharted territory.

  In a substantial old baroque church on St. Maurice Avenue stands a tall altar stacked with dozens of defunct TV sets transformed by lead Airlift artist Taylor Lee Shepherd into glowing oscilloscopes that respond to sound with gyrating graphical vortexes of light. Dubbed "resurrection technology" by Rev. Charles Duplessis, who incorporates them into his Sunday morning services, their metaphysical aura was evident on the evening of Oct. 26, when the Murmurations alternative folk choir joined the Lower 9th Ward Senior Center Gospel Choir for the first concert of the series (pictured). Old-time religion met avant-garde innovation as the Murmurations' haunting polyphony interacted with the female gospel group's spirited singing — they substituted "9th Ward spirit" for "old time religion" in the song of the same name. The church, arranged by Jeanne Nathan's Creative Alliance of New Orleans, is the perfect venue for such festive down-home otherworldliness.

  Airlift also staged an elaborate 8th Ward street culture festival coinciding with Prospect.3's opening on Oct. 25. Organized by Airlift director Delaney Martin and independent curator Claire Tancons, Public Practice promised "queens, rappers, dancers, horses, snakes, doves, cars and bikes" but delivered even more: Imagine a tricked-out St. Roch version of a renaissance faire. It also complemented former St. Roch gallerist Kirsha Kaechele's adjacent six-figure gun buyback, underwritten by spouse David Walsh's famously quirky Museum of Old and New Art in Tasmania. Here Kaechele's flair for extravagant surreality created a serene setting for cops to receive Saturday night specials and sawed-off shotguns to the silky sounds of a solo cellist under muted blue and purple lighting — a world apart from the boisterous carnival of rappers, drummers and dancers reverberating outside.

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