Eyewall statement

Concept and paintings Hannes Priesch

Composer Neil Benezra

Dance performance art  Holly Faurot & Sarah H. Paulson

Voice Rachel Mason

Guitar  Sam Benezra

The collaborative project takes its title “Eyewall” from the most devastating area of a hurricane where the violent winds converge just outside the eye, or calm center. In “Eyewall”, the artists Hannes Priesch, Neil Benezra, Holly Faurot and Sarah H. Paulson examine the governmental response to Hurricane Katrina in the few days before and after the devastating storm hit New Orleans on Monday, August 29, 05. The three-part framework of the project includes text-based paintings of governmental correspondence throughout the disaster, an audio composition based on vibrations of heartbeats and environmental sounds, and a dance performance employing the paintings as a stage and the score as a pulse. The “Eyewall” – project is planned to be both a performance and an installation. The elements of the performance will be incorporated in the installation.

In “Eyewall” Priesch creates forty-nine acrylic on canvas paintings, each 52 x 52 inches, which chronicle reports from the Hurricane Katrina Advisory Board and email correspondences of FEMA members, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s division of disaster relief. Drawing from the nearly 1,000 pages of classified documents organized chronologically, Priesch paints selected documents preserving the original form and content. With dense brushstrokes and dark humor, the paintings highlight the lackadaisical response of then-FEMA director Michael Brown and his press secretary in exchanges about wardrobe, appearance and media coverage.

The first painting records an email from Friday, August 26, 2005 at 3:36 PM from Michael Brown to press secretary Sharon Worthy, written just after advisory warnings of impending catastrophe: “Subject: Dress Code”; “Message: Tie or not for tonight? Button down blue shirt?” The appropriated text includes the government blackouts of email addresses and confidential information, meticulously painted on brushy abstract backgrounds. As the paintings progress chronologically to the storm and its aftermath, the textual exchange they represent occur against a background pallet that mimics the schizophrenic disengaged relationship to the event. The backgrounds oscillate between soft pastels, greens and blues, and darker muddier colors.

For “Eyewall” Neil Benezra composes a musical score of voice, acoustic instrumentation and environmental sounds and heartbeats, to partner with Priesch’s paintings. Benezra uses the same partly censored documents of Michael Brown, Sharon Worthy, and the Katrina Advisory Board as found, or appropriated lyrics to accompany the instrumentation. The singer Rachel Mason will use a control to shift the frequency of her voice into the lower ranges of male vocals. With these variables, Benezra’s sound composition builds into a structured composed and improvised crescendo.

Faurot and Paulson will present a dance performance set to Benezra’s score within the space of Priesch’s ordered paintings. Using various props and videos on small monitors, Faurot and Paulson will use specific movement exercises on camera to link the human experience of the event of Katrina to the event of performance.

The collaborative work is meant to enact both the tragic-comedy of lived experience and the grotesque reality of living through disaster. The artists of “Eyewall” stress the human tragedy of the disaster as shown in FEMA’s email exchange concerning Hurricane Katrina and treat it as raw material for a contemporary form of drama where a wide range of intellectual and emotional levels are addressed.