From our friends at Pelican Bomb, today we bring you an interview with Blights Out, a New Orleans project that “prioritizes transparency, interdisciplinary collaboration, community involvement, and creativity.” Blights Out is New York–based artist Lisa Sigal, New Orleans artist Carl Joe Williams, and arts activist Imani Jacqueline Brown. Author Rosemary Reyes says, “Blights Out looks to ignite conversations around the rapid economic development in New Orleans by ‘performing architecture’ and developing strategies to create permanently affordable housing.” This conversation took place in December of 2014, and was originally published on January 13, 2016, “offering a moment to reflect on the ways an organization can develop as its community presence grows.”
Rosemary Reyes: Lisa, I want to start with you, and talk about how your work has used abandoned spaces all over the world as a canvas, and how those experiences translated into Blights Out.
Lisa Sigal: My work responds to architecture as a code for the laws of a place, which brings racial inequalities and other societal inequities to the forefront. I am concerned with addressing these issues without aestheticizing them, which I feel would be unethical. When I was approached by Prospect to submit a proposal for the 2014 iteration, I came down to New Orleans for a week or two. I went around and painted on my easel in front of various housing projects that were being demolished and I would talk to the people who passed by. It was very performative. As a painter, the question is how to have a painting project that has a social component, which is a challenge—how to have a painting project that isn’t contained within the closed systems of the gallery and the market.
I wrote a Creative Capital grant in 2012 that was about envisioning architecture as silent protest. When I received the grant, Blights Out became a great way to enact those ideas. I was struck with thinking about the idea of a house as a page in a book. I had just read Suzan-Lori Parks’ 365 Days/365 Plays and I saw so many of those plays in the houses. She has this uncanny sense of the absurd as it relates to politics, people, and the cycles of history. I met with Parks and, when I suggested using 365 Days for Blights Out, she said, “Take it, girl.” I considered the range of plays and how they should vary from neighborhood to neighborhood.