This is part 4.875 of 5, or if you prefer, 4 7/8ths of 5. Almost there…
I said that the night got really strange after my life’s worth is exactly $20.52 US dollars. There’s strange and there’s New Orleans strange. The first is generic strangeness. The second is cool strangeness. New Orleans is cool strange. A thread of the celebration of life is woven into the fabric of the culture before and after their annual Mardi Gras parade.
I entered the A Gallery to an electric event.
The Louviere and Vanessa (L+V) opening well underway. It was like entering another person’s dream. Those who know their work would expect nothing less. The two artists are well-known for destroying their work until it is in a state that more precisely reflects the intent.
They use everything from gold to blood as part of the creative process. One of their most amazing and ambitious works is short films made from individual still images from Holga medium format plastic cameras.
The place was buzzing with art speak. Thankfully, I had spent dedicated time alone with the work of L+V that morning when I bought their art book. Having walls of their visual art blocked by a celebration of artists and art lovers was OK. Yes celebration is in italics.
You know those descriptive words for groups and gatherings of birds and other animals? My descriptor for a gathering of artists and art lovers at an exhibition opening is a celebration.
We overuse those common descriptors (pride of lions, flock of birds). Murder of crow and quiver of cobra are not as common. Then there are the less-common terms like, convocation of eagles, flamboyance of flamingos, and pandemonium of parrots.
Why don’t we use those more frequently? Even when we don’t see the species, we should say things like, “You know what that flock of generic birds reminds me of? A flamboyance of flamingos, minus the flamboyance.” Life would be richer if we dipped deeper into the available language.
A group of artists just sitting around should be called a potent. If at work, they should become a force or maybe an energy of artists. An group of artists could be called a muse, but then what would we call a group of muses? A muslei of muses? Finally, if I had my way, a gathering of bad photographers would be permanently branded a lack, or an inable, or maybe an apathy. Back to the show.
I scanned the gallery for L+V. I know them only through their work, and had no clue who they actually looked like. My assumption was that I should look for this man:
And this woman:
How difficult could it be to spot a six-foot tall human flaming candle and a female with ample and beautiful elephant ears? Piece o’ cake as they say in Ireland.
The gallery has a large main room, an upstairs, and a smaller gallery area in the back. I politely worked my way to the back room where I noticed an exceptionally crowded far corner. A few properly timed head bobs between talking heads and hands revealed to me two people trapped in a corner and surrounded by admirers.
I nudged my way forward as if recognizing someone I hadn’t seen since childhood. Eventually, I was one of the personal space invaders.
“Great show,” I said. “Will you please sign my copy of your book?”
“We’re not Jeff and Vanessa. They are over there,” he said, pointing toward the rear of the main gallery. The lady next to him grinned and nodded but said nothing.
“Idiot,” I spat, then quickly added, “Sorry, me not you. And not you.”
After delivering a mental self-slap, I worked my way back across the gallery lack-of-space toward the main room. Like a stealthy but lovable serpent, I slithered my way toward a man who looked exceptionally artsy.
Next to him was a woman explaining a photographic technique to adoring fans. I reached the couple as the women left with her group of fans – her adoration of fans. Or is a group of fans called a breeze?
I looked at the man. “Great show! Will you please sign my copy of your book?”
“Oh, no, I’m not Jeff. That’s Jeff by the front door. He’s the one in the bright red beret. You just missed Vanessa though. She’s off getting adored.”
I punched and kicked and bit my way across the room. There was blood. Along the way, I encountered another tight grouping of people around another woman. She was stunning. Assuming that it must be the adored Vanessa, I eased my shoulder between two people then twisted sideways, using my tightened core for a little oblique workout.
Drinks went flying and someone said ouch. A momentary opening opened up at the opening, and I filled it. I was just about to say, “Great show! Will you please sign my copy of your book,” when I noticed that this woman was not Vanessa. She lacked the elephant ears.
“Pardon me, but you look like Jessica Lange, except you’re much prettier,” I said.
She didn’t reply but chose to act like I didn’t exist. I found out later that this much prettier woman was the real Jessica Lange, star of the television series, American Horror Story: Coven, which is filmed here in the Uncanny Valley. Crap. Idiot! Mental self-slap number two! I just can’t win.
Or can I? My peripheral vision caught a flash of a brilliant red beret, like a male cardinal in winter. I stepped on toes and claimed the floor space vacated by retreating feet, ignoring screams of agony from their owners. Finally, I was next to the man in the red beret.
Out of respect, I listened to his behind-the-scenes story working long hours with the dead bird in the massive print until the perfect image was made. Enough drivel! I interrupted the conversation.
“Great show! Will you please sign my copy of your book?”
I pushed it into his chest. Silence was followed by blank a stare. He adjusted his beret, no doubt the candle wax was irritating his head.
“Are you sure you want me to sign it?”
“Yes please,” I said, remembering his humble reply only to someday give the same response to autograph-seeking fans of my own work. I would also practice faking the surprise on his face.
“Then I’d be honored,” he said. “Thank you so much for asking. What’s your name?”
“Todd,” I said.
What a modest humble beautiful artist, I thought. I remembered that Leff Louviere is a fellow Savannah College of Art and Design graduate, and debated asking if he was also named Excelsus Laureate of his graduating class like I was, but I decided that two mental self-slaps a night is my limit.
After signing, the man in the red beret read back to me (and to all within earshot) what he had written. He spoke as a narrator at a dramatic reading, gesturing with his free hand as if on stage before thousands.
“Here’s what I just wrote…” A quick wave of his hand brought a hush to the room.
“’Todd, May life bring you the best of everything!'” (dramatic pause) “Signed, ‘Sean and Chip.’”
A tip of the beret acknowledged the applause.
“Wow this is really touching,” I gushed. “Thank you very much, Jeff and Vanessa. I mean Sean. And Chip.”
I looked around for a Chip and saw no one claiming the name. Then I looked back to this non-L+V stranger in front of me. I was speechless.
“I’m so pleased to meet you, Todd,” the man in the red beret said, as he shook my hand, then held and caressed it as if I were his dying grandmother.
“I’m Sean, the owner of the dead bird in this image by Jeff and Vanessa. Chip is the name of my dead bird. I love him so. He would have been so proud to sign your book, so that’s why I signed on his behalf. We thank you again for asking.”
It is fitting that here in the Uncanny Valley, Sean and Chip signed my book on the inside back cover directly next to an image of the real Jeff and Vanessa, whom I have yet to meet.
Sean, thank you for making my Saturday night in the Uncanny Valley better than I could have anticipated.
Chip, RIP my friend. Thank you for signing my book too. May you rise in flight with others of your kind, a peace of dead birds.
Sean Stephen Laws said:
While I am Accustomed to signing autographs during my many years of entertaining, and most recently while playing for Carnival Cruise Lines(4000 peeps/week), I must say that signing on behalf of Jeff and Vanessa and (CHIP), is absolutely one of my personal most memorable request!! It was such an honor meeting Todd, and even more so now that I know a little about his many accomplishments in the arts!! My red hat is off to you all! Sincerely, Sean Stephen
Sean thanks! Meeting you was a perfect way to close out my first ever weekend in New Orleans! I would love to see/hear you perform in person! Thank you so much for sharing your talents. All the best, Todd
Sean: Thanks for being an inspiration! I would love to see/hear you perform in person.