Shotgun Review

From Santa Monica: Mirror House

By crystal am nelson September 19, 2011

There is something to be said for an artist who, in the midst of all the memorializing of the tenth anniversary of September 11, decides to focus on the no less tragic, but less sung, Hurricane Katrina. British artist Kelly Barrie, now based in Los Angeles, has made a singular haunting statement about Katrina’s aftermath in the form of a large-scale photographic drawing.

Commissioned by the Santa Monica Museum of Art, Mirror House started as a press photograph of a house and a large tree submerged in hurricane floodwaters. Barrie recreated the photograph through a performative process using photo-luminescent powder on seamless black paper and dance-like movements to draw with his feet as a visceral response to the source image and the events that created the photograph’s scene. Barrie left the completed drawing on his studio floor, where time and ambient interference such as insects and pets and wind from an open window enhanced the trailing effect of his sweeping feet. All this movement mimics the stains roiling floodwaters leave on damaged homes and personal mementos left behind. The final steps in the process included photographing the drawing on 35mm film while exposing it to sunlight in varying intervals and building a digital collage with the scanned negatives. These final two steps enhance the weathered condition of the final image, drawing further parallels to the damage New Orleans sustained from the hurricane.


Mirror House, 2010; digital c-print; 94 x 24 in. framed. Courtesy of the Artist and Santa Monica Museum of Art. Photo: crystal am nelson.

The final effect is gothic, suggestive of an old daguerreotype of Dixieland’s distant past when lynched bodies hung from trees and floated in rivers. Only upon reading the wall text does one realize the image is from the contemporary landscape, the flooded streets of which also bore the dead in the weeks following Katrina. In this way, Barrie reminds the viewer the past is always present. His reliance on highly detailed wall text, in which he explains his source material and process on a piece of vinyl almost half the size of the image, seems problematic at first; ideally, memorial art needs no interpretive text. Yet its inclusion emphasizes the problematic of public memory and memorial rituals on a national scale. Who decides who or what is publicly remembered? Barrie’s tribute to Katrina exposes the United States’ answers to these questions as well as the pathology of this country’s history, selective memory, and rituals in honor of that selective memory.  



Mirror House is on view at Santa Monica Museum of Art, in Santa Monica, through December 10, 2011.

Comments ShowHide