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tearing the rag off the bush again
New Orleans: The Art of the Corpse PDF E-mail
When New Orleanians returned to their homes after the Storm they were struck by a smell that has no equivalent in recent American history: a stupefying blend of decaying animal flesh as layered as the city’s history. The sweet rankness of animal and human death floated around the city like it might have in the aftermath of a Yellow Fever epidemic of the 18th century, but added to it was the putrid efflorescence of 20th century grocery store meat blossoming inside thousands of refrigerators. For a week or so after the Storm, when the city wallowed in its filth and misery without help from the United States of America, which they had mistakenly believed they were part of, people helped each other drag the taped-up fridges unto the street. Rows and rows of white metal boxes cradling inside generations of maggots began to fill the narrow streets of America’s oldest city. Waves of putrefaction rolled over the streets. New Orleans sank into the funk like a corpse into the embrace of the earth. The rows of fridges lining the streets looked by moonlight like primed canvasses ready for painting. The city’s artists, who have been enthralled since John James Audubon by New Orleans’ embrace of decay and death (Audubon purchased all his American birds dead from the French Market) were not long in reacting. New Orleans music and art had always been inspired by funk: rotting vegetation, blooming night jasmine, the faint smell of the dead wafting from the city’s above-ground cemeteries, rotting crustaceans, transpiration, and sex. Now here was all this funk, magnified a thousand times. And here were all these metal tombs stretching as far as the eye could see, more numerous than the graves they resembled. The art appeared instantly and it was, appropriately, political. “Chem Trails Are Real: Weather Control is Here,” was scrawled below a jet leaving behind what looked like a trail of poison. Another fridge warned severely: “Do Not Open: Cheney Inside.” Inside others one could find Bush, Rice, Nagin, and Michael Brown doing obscene things within with the maggots and with each other. In a short time, there were thousands of art works in the city, an exhibition that stretched for miles, that had no official opening, that was constantly in progress. Today, most of the show is closed. National Guardsmen, volunteers, and city workers have incinerated the art after hauling it to vast refrigerator graveyards. New Orleans always renewed its armies of ghosts after every disaster of its 500-year history, but this last addition came with its own unique, absolutely new style.

ANDREI CODRESCU’s new book is New Orleans, Mon Amour: Twenty Years of Writing from the City.
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