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Paul Chan: Waiting for Godot in New Orleans: A Field Guide [Kalamu Ya Salaam, Nato Thompson, Christopher McElroen, Anne Pasternak, Paul Chan] on.
Table of contents

In a way, this is the first conceptual map for the project. These key words and phrases became the coordinates for finding the grounding that eventually became the work. Anabasis is the name of a work by the Greek writer and historian Xenophon. Flatness refers to the challenge of collapsing the distinction between foreground and background, or figure and ground, to create a compositional field devoid of any hierarchical order, where every element is equidistant from the imaginary membrane separating the outside and inside of the work.

This is not a map. But it is something that I drew which eventually became an emblem of sorts for Godot. It is barely a drawing and hardly a score. Gogo and Didi.


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Whenever I had a spare moment during the production or when no one was around, I would take this out of a battered manila folder to look at it, and wonder. Skip to content. The first map I made was in It was done with a group calling itself Friends of William Blake. On the boarded window of an abandoned shopping mall, another.

They added up to a visual network, art as a connective tissue for a torn-apart town. Chan himself was everywhere in the city this fall, clearly at home in its multicultural dynamic. Born in Hong Kong, where he lived until he was 8, he spent his adolescence in Omaha. He went to school at the Art Institute of Chicago and Bard College, starting in photojournalism and branching out into drawing, graphics and video. The fantastic digital animations that first brought him art-world attention a few years ago refer to Beckett, Goya and Henry Darger, and blend images of biblical birds, suicide bombers and Biggie Smalls.

Background: Community as Victim

They have the driven, eschatological urgency of outsider art. And New Orleans, an outsider city if ever there was one, where the self-taught artist Sister Gertrude Morgan preached in the streets and painted biracial heavens and hells at her home in the Lower Ninth Ward — the house is still there; it survived the flood — is right for him.

But he has landed in other vision- shaping places as well. In he went with an antiwar group on a medical mission to Iraq in defiance of United States sanctions. Photographs and a video came out of that. In he was arrested after taking part in a demonstration at the Republican National Convention in New York.

More recently he has created gorgeous, shadowlike film projections of an everyday world in gravitational crisis — one was in the last Whitney Biennial — with bodies pulled down and objects floating away. At the same time he finished a filmed interview, broken by intervals of abstract color and light, with the civil liberties lawyer Lynne Stewart, who was convicted of passing information from an imprisoned client, Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, to terrorists.

A canny tactician, Mr. Chan insists that his art and his political work run on two separate, possibly conflicting, tracks.

Poets, artists & technology: Paul Chan's Badlands Unlimited by Harriet Staff | Poetry Foundation

Political action is collaborative, goal-specific and designed for power, he maintains. Art, by contrast, is individually produced, ductile in meaning and built to last. It is the opposite of ideologically instrumental; it is made to melt power.


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In New Orleans, though, the two trajectories merged in a multifaceted project that was various in form and meaning, communal, physically ephemeral yet socially and politically continuing. It was a species of political art, one that enlarged and united both halves of that disparaged and despaired-of term. Keeping the halves separate, you might say it was art that brought Mr. Chan to New Orleans and politics that kept him there. He came to the city for the first time last year to give a talk at Tulane University, where one of his shadow projections was installed.

During a short stay, he visited the Lower Ninth Ward and was stunned by what he saw, both the ruin and the reclamation work.

Waiting for Godot in New Orleans : A Field guide / edited by Paul Chan

Anne Pasternak, the director, said yes; Nato Thompson would oversee it as curator. View all New York Times newsletters. He agreed to rework the production for an outdoor setting. Three actors from the New York cast would appear, including Mr. Chan would design new props. There would be two performances at each location, admission first come first served, and free. While all these arrangements were pending, the artist sought the advice of locals with strong thoughts on the project, among them the artist Willie Birch, the community organizer Ronald Lewis and Robert Green Sr.

Initially, they were skeptical of what looked like to be another carpetbagging venture: privileged outside artist comes into a stricken city, makes a dramatic gesture for which he gets credit, and departs, leaving nothing useful behind. Photo by Donn Young.

Paul Chan is a video and installation artist whose work deftly provokes the audience to reflect on politics and society. In , Paul Chan, Creative Time and the Classical Theatre of Harlem staged Waiting for Godot in a street intersection and in front of an abandoned house in New Orleans to critical and public acclaim. The discussion was moderated by Tim Griffin, editor-at-large of Artforum and included Robert Green, a resident from the Lower Ninth Ward, who was instrumental in the production of the play. But if staging Waiting for Godot in New Orleans made immediate sense, it demanded a sensitivity to the psychological and cultural situation of post-Katrina New Orleans.


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So Chan nourished in other ways. He taught a contemporary art history class at the University of New Orleans which on his request was not just cross-registered at other colleges and universities, but open to the public. More importantly, Chan learned to embed and grow his process out of New Orleans social culture. In New Orleans you had to hang out, you had to learn to hang out, not so to do stuff and get things done, but just spend time to hang out, and be with people with no particular purpose in mind.