Any examination of human-caused natural disasters is so much about destruction, death, and devastation; for artist Judy Natal it is ultimately about recovery, resurrection, and the abiding resilience of humans and nature. It also is about the insidiously hidden political, socioeconomic, racial, and ethnic agendas that create transformations that have profound and lasting effects on the land and the people who live there.
Who hasn’t thought about New Orleans, post-Katrina and been awed, though devastated, by the sheer force of nature fueled by global warming, that so viscerally etched the land with water? A piece of graffiti that I photographed at a location reclaimed by swamp near Lake Pontchartrain, inspired the project title Another Storm is Coming, and sets the tone for this new work. In March 2013, from the southern coast of Louisiana in Venice, Grand Isle, and Houma, west to the Native cultures of the Coushatta Tribe outside of Elton, to the many individual neighborhoods in the city, the unique characteristics and sheer quantity of water-formed landscapes enticed me further. The points where land and water meet lack any clear hierarchies. Swamps, rivers, river branches, bayous, lakes, basins, coasts, sea, and wetlands, are all in constant flux, mutable and shape-shifting, driven by cycles of increased rainfall and warmer temperatures due in part, to climate change, rise of CO2, and global warming.
In the face of Superstorm Sandy, I had to admit to myself, that my optimistic beliefs that guided my previous future-focused, environmentally driven work Future Perfect – that we would do the right thing and make the right choices – have been rapidly evaporating, replaced by a very visceral, ever-present, anxiety about the future. Another Storm is Coming is a premonition that is a much darker vision of the future. Full of ominous warnings and a steadily escalating sense of foreboding of impending disaster, as the environmental issues become more and more pressing, repetitive, and the need to act more immediate.
The land and water between New Orleans and Houston, commonly referred to as the Energy Coast, literally seems to float as a kind of terra infirma that is liquid and fluidly unstable; a watery mirage drawn by human intervention and land use that persists long after the storm. The land and water uniquely mirror each other, both in human folly as well as human achievement. It has been equally devastated by hurricanes, flooding, loss of wetlands and rise of the oceans, and the ever present reality of disastrous oil spills that devastates animals, ecosystems and humanity equally.
Commemorating the 10th anniversary of both Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita in the Gulf Coasts of Louisiana and Texas, Judy Natal debuts Another Storm is Coming, commissioned by the Center for Energy & Environmental Research in the Human Sciences (CENHS) at Rice University, in collaboration with the architectural group Building Workshop, culminating in a site specific installation of large scale outdoor photographs, two new videos Breathed on the Waters and Storm Redux, and The Library that invites viewers to engage with Natal’s research and artifacts collected over two years, creating intersections of oil, energy, climate change and faith, as part of FotoFest 2016 International Biennial in Houston, Texas.
Opening: March 12, 2016 on the Rice University campus in Houston through April 24, 2016, ANOTHER STORM IS COMING consists of an outdoor installation of large scale photographs, debuting 2 new videos Breathed on the Waters, a heartfelt suite of performances of singing, praying and chanting, entreating the gods for safe passage from hurricanes, and Storm Redux, comprised of oral history interviews of survivors of the succession of devastating hurricanes on the Gulf Coast. For information please contact CENHS@rice.edu