Co-Lab, July 2010
Fluent~Collaborative and Co-Lab Present
A performance work by Ashley Hunt
About the Performance:
“Notes on the Emptying of a City” is a performance that acts as a dismantled film, in which a single narrator pieces together the sounds, images and voiceover of a documentary before a live audience. Based upon material generated in the city of New Orleans in the months following Hurricane Katrina, it opens a unique space of reflection at a time when the urgency of Katrina seems to have receded into a comfortable past as new economies of disaster and risk form around states of emergency around the world. In the performance, a figure sits alone at a desk with a printed text and a laptop computer. What looks at first like a traditional slide lecture quickly turns into storytelling — a narrator recounting his experiences as an artist working with a group of social justice activists in the storm’s aftermath. Spoken over slides of ruined and emptied architecture, he reflects upon being a witness, an observer, a listener and a speaker among other speakers; upon the cataloguing marks left by soldiers and police; and upon the prison that the city had refused to evacuate before the storm. Between each account, the narrator cues a video, replaying the testimony of citizens — a neighbor, an organizer, a group of protesters — each speaking to their experience and making a claim to their place in the city. Together, the testimonies, the narration and slides weave into a live form of journalism, one left open for inspection and discussion by an audience.
About the Creation Process and Theme:
In the months following Hurricane Katrina, Ashley Hunt joined a number of organizations in New Orleans — Critical Resistance, Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the ACLU and Human Rights Watch, in order to help document what had happened at the Orleans Parish Prison during and after the flood. Following this trip, the artist produced a short documentary entitled, “I Won’t Drown on that Levee and You Ain’t Gonna’ Break My Back,” that soon became the centerpiece of a campaign seeking amnesty for people arrested during the storm. As this short film took on a life of its own, Hunt continued to work from this material, thinking and writing his way through a number of thoughts that had been triggered by this experience. One of the resulting essays was published in the Journal of Aesthetics and Protest #5, 2007, and was intended to become a script for a film or video installation, but through a series of experiments with performing the materials of that film live, it wound up as the script for “Notes on the Emptying of a City,” which acts very much like an essay film that has been taken apart. With its different pieces held together by the thread of their performance and the active viewership of an audi-
ence, its form is compelling yet uncomfortable, supporting an important yet uncomfortable subject matter. As performance, it activates the relations of the room like only performance can do, and the presentation typically leads to lively discussion and debate.
About the Artist:
Ashley Hunt is an artist, activist and writer who engages the ideas of social movements, modes of learning and public discourse. Among his works are the ongoing “Corrections Documentary Project” (1999–present), “On Movement Thought and Politics” (2004–present), a collaboration with Taisha Paggett, “A World Map: In Which We See…,” (2004–2010) and “9 Scripts From a Nation at War” (2007), a collaboration with Andrea Geyer, Sharon Hayes, Katya Sander and David Thorne, commissioned originally for Documenta 12. Recent exhibitions include the Tate Modern, the Nottingham Contemporary, the 18th Street Center for Art in Los Angeles, the Gallery at REDCAT, the 3rd Bucharest Biennial, and various community-based venues throughout the United States.