When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and other parts of the Gulf coast, artist Takashi Horisaki had just moved to New York City. New Orleans was the first place he moved upon arriving in the United States, so he couldn't help but cry over the devastating effects of the flooding: cars still on top of houses, debris still strewn across streets, and almost no economic recovery outside of tourism. Horisaki felt that he had to comment, and the result was a full-scale replica of a house in New Orleans' primarily African American Lower Ninth Ward neighborhood. Originally debuting ten years ago, Horisaki's new exhibition of the installation at Spring Break Art Show's BKLYN IMMERSIVE, titled Social Dress New Orleans – 730 days after 10 years after, reminds people of the economic conditions in the Lower Ninth Ward pre- and post-Katrina, while also commenting on the current racial tensions and gentrification in Brooklyn and beyond.
"I wanted to use this latex casting method to copy a condemned but not-yet-demolished house because then I could roll it up like fabric and ship it to New York relatively easily," Horisaki tells Creators. "I wanted to show people outside the area hit by Katrina what the state of affairs was nearly two years after the hurricane."
Horisaki began working with latex casting while in college, before eventually using it in his first large-scale piece, a replica of the entryway to an old school in St. Louis. It went on like paint and dried in the space of an hour or so, though the New Orleans' summer made this rather difficult in creating Social Dress.
After biking around looking for houses to work on, Horisaki found one in the Lower Ninth Ward, located at 1941 Caffin Avenue. Horisaki put up a sign asking for volunteers and donations, including paintbrushes, baby powder (to keep dried latex from sticking to itself), and food, like fried chicken. Horisaki says that former residents would drop off sandwiches or some materials and then tell us their stories of the neighborhood. Horisaki taught volunteers how to use the latex casting method, which included layers of latex applied to both sides of a layer of cheesecloth; which, when applied to the house and later torn off, removed the structure's outer surface.
Early volunteers were students looking for experience in art production. Many of these students were local, with some living with their families in FEMA trailers. As news of the project spread on local media, more volunteers arrived, some from out of town.
Horisaki says the hardest part of the entire process was peeling the latex off of the house. They only had a few days to carry out most of this work, and because the house was so deteriorated, the latex had really soaked into the surface, making removal incredibly difficult.
"Fortunately, a local business owner drove by the site while we were working on peeling these off, and seeing how hard it was, asked if we could use some extra hands for the day," Horisaki recalls. "He then paid his employees to help us remove a bunch of the pieces quickly, putting us back on track. This is how I always feel New Orleans works. If you plan everything out, something will go wrong, but if you need help, there's always someone who will come by to lend a hand."
Looking back, Horisaki thinks it may have been fate that led him to the Lower Ninth Ward house. For years, residents in this lower-income neighborhood that is overwhelmingly African American had petitioned the government to address the MRGO, a canal connecting the Gulf to Lake Ponchartrain (which famously flooded the region), but to no avail. Many residents felt that the MRGO had contributed to the levee failures, which was later supported by engineers' assessments.
Ten years on from the original exhibition, the economic disparity persists. Horisaki says the Lower Ninth Ward as a whole is still underdeveloped, while parts of it, like Bywater, have become gentrified. It's a story unfolding in all of America's major cities. Horisaki believes that this story intersects with many of the concerns of the Black Lives Matter movement, and that it is a useful counterpoint to the development along Fulton Street's historically African American neighborhood in Brooklyn.
"We need to start thinking about this in more connected ways, and that's what I hope to remind people about by showing this house today, and in a neighborhood that is being affected by rapid gentrification," says Horisaki, referring to the site where the installation sits. "It's important to remember that that clean pretty new mall is built on top of a base of policies and backdoor deals that led to the situation of New Orleans post-Katrina."
[Editor's note: Creators has redacted the name of the site, as we are unable to satisfactorily determine the factual accuracy of representations contained in this article.]
Social Dress New Orleans – 730 days after 10 years after is part of Spring Break Art Show's BKLYN IMMERSIVE, on view until May 14th. Click here to see more of Takashi Horisaki's work.