We all know how Hurricane Katrina affected the people of this region, but only the earliest storm-weary returnees got to witness a remarkable phenomenon of nature that was as dramatic as it was fleeting. Called the "Katrina Spring," it was an amazing out-of-season flowering of a vast array of local plant life. What were mere muddy stumps in September came back blooming, as if on steroids, in November, a time when most of them normally would be hunkered down for a long winter's sleep. This Understory show, while not specifically about that event, deals with its roots in the tenacious and near-defining role plant life plays in shaping this city's sense of place. Works by Aileen Boos, Christopher Brumfield, Shana Hayward, Susan Norris-Davis, Jonathan Traviesa, David Webber and curator Megan Roniger explore the secret life of local flora in any number of ways.
Native plant specialist Norris-Davis' delicately realistic pen-and-ink drawings are expertly executed botanical studies, but each one also is accompanied by an eloquent essay (available on request), a personal narrative that reads like a short story dealing with the interplay of this city's plants and people in the wake of Katrina. Roniger's mixed-media renditions of area vegetation like cat's claw, angel's trumpet and oleander suggest a kind of pop-baroque minimalism, with flowers and leaves reduced to patterns of iconic forms that hint at things infinite and eternal. And then there is the untitled installation by Boos that capitalizes on the borderline-sinister beauty of the psychotropic angel's trumpet flower, deploying vaguely humanoid ceramic and cloth replicas of them in an arch-like phalanx of angels (pictured) or migration of souls, with a shadowy chorus for counterpoint. All of this is appropriate to a place where the most gorgeous flowers can cause madness if ingested and where the most common vines can strangle trees or rip apart houses, or anything else foolish enough to linger in their path. — D. Eric Bookhardt
Through Sept. 5
Understory: Group Exhibition of New Work Dealing With Local Plant Life
The Front, 4100 St. Claude Ave., 920-3980; www.nolafront.org