New York

Marjetica Potrč

Max Protetch

It’s an irony that should be lost on no one: Ljubljana-based artist Marjetica Potrč, best known for community-driven interventions in urban and rural areas within the developing world, has recently turned her attention to a US city: New Orleans. “Future Talk Now: The Great Republic of New Orleans,” Potrč’s third exhibition at Max Protetch Gallery, indexed her recent engagement with this traumatized place as she continues to apply her deft fusion of architectural and sculptural language to the project of finding solutions to problems afflicting territories in economic and ecological crisis and transition, or in the grip of deep poverty.

Currently a fellow at the Vera List Center for Art and Politics in New York, Potrč has made the Big Easy the center of her research over the past year, also participating in “Something from Nothing,” a group exhibition of site-specific projects organized by Dan Cameron at the Contemporary Arts Center of New Orleans. While there will always be some debate about the instrumentalizing of art to facilitate processes of redevelopment in New Orleans (a contradictory political and economic issue for many cities, historically and in the present), practitioners such as Potrč (or, say, Rick Lowe and Sam Durant, who are developing a project in New Orleans that suggests a relationship to Lowe’s “Project Row Houses,” a community-based enterprise in Houston) invariably seek to establish sustainable localized community partnerships as a precondition. Potrč, in other words, is the antithesis of a parachute artist.

Here, Potrč used the commercial gallery context as a hub or transmission site for her utilitarian remixing of indigenous codes of habitation to create sets of tools for survival that also propose an imaginative eco-activism. Amplifying local architectural vernacular, Potrč placed her vividly colored “sculptural” case study of a New Orleans shotgun house front and center. Two caryatids (one seeming to represent a black woman, the other a Caucasian woman) support the structure. For Potrč, apparently, these figures allude symbolically to the role of citizens in the reconstruction of their home city. The purple, blue, red, orange, and yellow shotgun shack is equipped with a satellite dish and a rainwater-gathering apparatus, reflecting the environmentally committed, do-it-yourself approach of some New Orleans residents.

Water is the key ingredient here, the element that binds together the city’s natural, cultural, social, and economic tributaries. Potrč articulates the interdependence of water and community through four digitally collaged topographical photographs of wetland areas, each paired with one of the artist’s visionary drawings. The photos effectively register the sinking territories of the region, but it is in the drawings that Potrč achieves a hallucinatory poetic. Amidst her fluidly drawn and slyly humorous microcosms, Potrč injects phrases such as CLUSTER=COMMUNITY, CITIZENS GROW DEMOCRACY, COMMUNITIES MAKE SENSE, NOT THE MEGALOPOLIS, AND SMALL-SCALE ECONOMY! ACRE, AMAZONIA: FLORESTANIA IS OUR CITIZENSHIP!, the latter referencing Xapuri: Rural School, which she developed during a residency in that northwest Brazilian state, a highlight of the 2006 Bienal de São Paulo. The exhibition also featured a quasi-documentary video, Future Talk: The Great Republic of New Orleans, 2008, showing the New Orleans wetlands with a textual overlay that offers a poignant narrative suggesting the empowered voice of a citizenry vowing to reconstruct for themselves, on their own terms, using bottom-up methods and indigenous resources: “We are the ones who build the city.”

Joshua Decter