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Feet on the Ground, from Baghdad to New Orleans

Wating for Godot in New Orlean
Waiting for Godot in New Orleans photo by Donn Young and Frank Aymami, more photos here.

A couple of nights ago we bumped into artist Paul Chan at a mini film festival of Apichatpong Weerasethakul at Anthology Film Archives.* I remember having read that he had just completed a production of Samuel Beckett’s “Waiting for Godot” in collaboration with the Classical Theater of Harlem. At that time I was hoping to see the play, the only problem was that it wasn’t being performed in some alternative performance space in New York City but in an empty lot in New Orleans 9th Ward.

What does it mean to bring something like a play into a devastated landscape like New Orleans in a way in such that is becomes aesthetically interesting but locally sustainable?” – Paul Chan on producing/art directing Waiting for Godot, New Orleans 2007, Creative Time documentary video by Matt Wolf

The play was completed at the end of 2007, around the time when all of NYC art world was wheeling and dealing in Miami Basel, and to my understand it was successful in a way that it revived the spirit of the community. Their patience and hope was in some way rekindled.

This experience has been the most exciting of my life,” Pierce said. “This was the best of New Orleans, the humanity of New Orleans, all kinds of people coming together as one: 9th Ward residents, people who may never have been to the 9th Ward and everyone in between. New Orleans was one, unified in spirit. And I haven’t seen or felt that in a long, long time. For me, there were times when it wasn’t a play, it was so beyond the play… And theater did this! That’s what art is all about. Art is to the individual what thoughts are to the community. —Wendell Pierce, actor interviewed in Times-Picayune, November 10, 2007

Creative Time has since them created a micro site of the project complete with documentation of the concept and events that took place and continue to operate in the community such as the Shadow Fund for the rebuilding of the community. There is also a reader to accompany the entire event, so check back, it lightly references the Susan Sontag’s wartime production of “Waiting for Godot” in Sarajevo as being part of the reader.

I’m left wondering, where to next? He’d been to Baghdad in 2003 before the war**, at the Republican Convention in 2004***, and now in New Orleans 2007. One thing is for sure, where ever he goes you can count on him to keep his feet on the ground.

Creative Time Website: Paul Chan’s Waiting for Godot in New Orleans, A play in two acts, a project in three parts.

A Broken Tree. A City. Evening. “Waiting for Godot in New Orleans” review in the New York Times by Holland Cotter. Dec. 2, 2007.

A taste of the play in NOLA from a reader:

Paul Chan is represented by Greene Naftali Gallery in New York City.

Coming up later this year the New Museum will be exhibiting “The 7 Lights. April 9 thru June 29, 2008.

Paul Chan, 5th Light, 2007
Paul Chan, 5th Light, 2007. Digital video projection, 14 min. From Greene Naftali, New York. Photo by Jean Vong.

* Also at the event was Rirkrit Tiravanija, who coincidentally will also speaking at New Museum’s Night School along with Paul Chan and others.

**NYPL’s 2006 event: Paul Chan in conversation with Kathy Kelly on nonviolence and his work with Voices in the Wilderness. (Audio recording of the event available)

***Along with the Friends of William Blake, he produced a map for the “The Peoples Guide to the Republican National Convention” in New York City 2004, that map is still available as a PDF on Activist magazine’s website.

1 comment
  1. J. Harris says: January 22, 200811:21 pm

    Here is a taste of the play in NOLA. I don’t think anyone can understand what this play meant to the city. You had to have lived it, felt the heartbreak, the disappointment, the crushed hope – and still the people kept going forward. Because the alternative was unthinkable.

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