The exhibition Decisive Moments: Photographs from the Collection of Cherye R. and James F. Pierce includes a group of works related to the effects of Hurricane Katrina on New Orleans, Cherye Pierce’s hometown. One of those works is The Houses Are Crying II by Krista Jurisich.
In the aftermath of Katrina, it was important for Jurisich to find a visual format to convey the enormity of the destruction that spread across vast areas of the city. Jurisich and her children had evacuated to Atlanta, then settled temporarily in Florida, while her husband returned to New Orleans to work on gutting and repairing houses. On weekends Jurisich would drive to New Orleans to clear and gut her flooded studio. She recalls, “I felt like I heard the houses crying, and in some areas even screaming. I could not stop listening, seeing, and recording.”
Jurisich, with her sister Judy, was at the members’ reception for the exhibition on Jan. 15 and talked about The Houses Are Crying II—which is basically a quilt, physically pushing the envelope of what a photograph is, incorporating mixed media and fabric.
“When we got back, which was in November, the city was dead. If you looked down the street, it was real visual, it was like a super Hoover perspective—you could follow a line for miles, you could look straight down the street. It was all gray still,” said Jurisich. “When I was working on this piece, the houses were sagging and crying, and as it progressed, they started gutting them. It was like everybody’s belongings were gutting out of the houses.”
The Houses Are Crying is part of a series that Jurisich based on Immortelles, historical French icons created to revere the deceased, a custom that New Orleans residents adopted during the 19th century. The works in her series New Orleans Immortelle commemorate visions of a New Orleans that was passing away.
“I did a series of about 20 of them as the progression happened,” said Jurisich. “This one was fairly in the beginning, when the houses were not getting gutted yet. I wanted to show them all at once. I went to every part of the city, I just didn’t stop. It was really tricky because you’d get nails in the tires. It was a visual mind trap. That’s what that piece was based on.”
At the center of the work is a nightmarish orgy of houses, cars, and debris bordered by images of symbols and signs, and stitching. “The national guard or whatever community police would come in, had a formula of markings to identify each house. The main thing was an X, the bottom would be how many bodies, the right would be a name, the top was the date—they sprayed it on each house,” explained Jurisich. “We’re so Caribbean-oriented and voodoo religion is still strong, if not in practice, then in music and the rhythms of the city, so it was a direct correlation, in fact when we were kids, we’d go to Marie Laveau’s tomb and what you would do is put three Xs on her tomb in red chalk and turn around three times and make a wish. So all of these things converge. Each of the stitches I put on all of them were the X. It was really wonderful because it was therapeutic, it took a lot of time, and took a lot of care.”
Jurisich met Cherye Pierce at her New Orleans gallery, Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, where Cherye spotted The Houses Are Crying II. “When Cherye saw it, she was just in tears,” said Jurisich. “Then we found out about all the connections that we had— because my sister went to school with her.”
Now good friends, Jurisich said that when she heard about Decisive Moments, “I decided it was time to go to Hawai‘i—we needed to see the show, because the collection is amazing and the Pierces are wonderful people.”
Decisive Moments is on view through June 8.
Krista Jurisich (American, born 1950)
The Houses Are Crying II, 2005
C-Prints and mixed-media collage on fabric
Image Credit: Courtesy of Jonathan Ferrara Gallery, New Orleans
Photographs of Krista Jurisich by Twain Newhart.