Love Destroys Time

Exhibit BE
New Orleans, Louisiana

As part of Exhibit BE, the largest street art exhibition in the American South, Chang partnered with writer James A. Reeves to create a site-specific fable in New Orleans’ abandoned DeGaulle Manor apartment complex. Inspired by a blind woman who once lived here, Love Destroys Time is a cinematic installation about lost love told through a combination of collage and accompanying text that wraps along the facade and all interior walls of apartment 104. An experiment in narrative fiction in public space, the project is a tribute to the dreams and heartaches that make certain places meaningful to us for the rest of our lives.

2014, New Orleans. Paper, wheat paste, abandoned apartment. 30′ x 7′ facade, 350 sq ft interior. ExhibitBE organized by artist Brandan “BMike” Odums.

You’ve seen her before. She’s the old woman with her eyes closed on the bus, the one who sits alone on a bench for hours. At night she listens to the freeway traffic and exhausted air conditioners that sound like the sea. She tunes into the city’s static like an old radio show, scanning through its celebrations and catastrophes, its romances and jive. She hears people tell each other to go to hell. A man says they found Atlantis. (It’s somewhere under Spain.) She listens to a woman pray for her family and another pray for money. Sometimes voices whisper in the dark, admitting they are frightened, that they do not know how to live in this world. She’s heard it all before but she keeps listening because she does not hear him, the man she left behind so many years ago. If he is in town she will hear him. He always made a great big noise. Every night she returns to this abandoned apartment and waits. If you step inside this room, you will understand.

Every afternoon she makes the two-hour trek to this room where she fell in love, and that’s where you’ve probably seen her, the old woman with silver hair waiting for Bus 162 or shuffling along General DeGaulle before she veers across an overgrown lawn and picks her way along the fence, feeling for the passage that will bring her home. Most people avoid her but sometimes a passerby will notice the peculiar card in her hand with its backside depicting the bottom of the earth and they’ll ask her to tell their fortune, but she stares through them until they move along. They do not understand that she is blind.

She used to be a rock ’n roller, back when music still had the potential to frighten people, to conjure images of wild youth, teenagers necking at the drive-in and drinking liquor out of fruit jars. A lot of people wanted to talk to her in those days because she had a glorious voice that sang about gravity and Jupiter in an age when most people wanted to rock around the clock and twist the night away. She was poised to be a new kind of star. Then she went and fell in love.

One afternoon she noticed her neighbor poring over a book of beautiful maps called The Cosmographical Atlas of the Orbis Terrarum. She asked if she could join him and the big man beamed. “I’d like to go here one day,” he said, pointing at Elephant Island. “It’s down where the world’s weather begins and it’s so dangerous and beautiful that sailors renamed it ‘Hell-of-an-Island.’” She said she’d like to write a song about that island. He was a grand man, the size of three or four people and when he laughed, the world laughed with him, a white-bearded Buddha in blue jeans laughing at the universe. You’ve probably never heard such a fine laugh because despite his jolly disposition, he never cared much for people, preferring his dreams of the sea. Yet when this woman with wild hair joined him to leaf through navigation charts of the Antarctic ocean, he lit up and laughed all the time.

They spent long nights on a rug in this room, surrounded by books. They learned about the fall of Rome, the lunar sea of tranquility, traffic psychology, the importance of ladybugs, and dyschronometria, a disorder that leaves a person unable to comprehend the passage of time. While he studied the seas and the cosmos, she turned her attention to other stars, fascinated by neon and noir, by sirens and bombshells. She loved him for many reasons but best of all because he made her feel understood.

But there was always that other thing, the way she believed she ought to be famous because everyone in her life told her so, from her friends to the people on television to the voices in her head at night. Be ambitious. Make something of yourself. Get ahead. Be a star. She waited for him to get ambitious too, but he only looked up from his navigational charts and smiled. She remembered him as soft and slow, like he was digging in for something, conserving his energy and getting prepared.

One morning a suitcase sat by the door. She told him that she wanted to be a star. He smiled and said the real stars were better, that they could watch them shine on Elephant island. She told him that she wanted to be remembered. He kissed her. and said, “I’ll remember you.” She said she had to go. He fell to his knees and dropped his head in her hands. “If you leave, I’ll go to sea.”

She left to try her luck and she was very lucky and he was so damned proud but he could not move, his eyes forever tracing the space near the door where he saw her for the last time. He tried to let her go but this room would not let him and so he went to sea. One morning he caught a glimpse of himself in the Antarctic ocean and he realized he had become an old man. His tears clouded the silhouette of Elephant Island on the horizon. They were big tears because he was a big man, and they smeared his maps, melting the latitude lines and depth markers that had brought him to the bottom of the earth. He could not step on that island without her. He pointed his boat towards the Gulf of Mexico and when he arrived, he discovered their home had been sacrificed for progress. He pulled a pen from the pocket of his coat and dashed off a quick note on the backside of the tear-soaked map of Elephant Island before taping it to the wall. Now he floats along the bayou, setting traps for crabs and gazing into the stars, sometimes wondering if he should come back to this room, just in case.
Photo by James A. Reeves

She appeared on the April 1974 cover of Rolling Stone after years of dutiful service as a Supreme and a Shirelle, a Blossom, a Gypsie, and a Marvelette. She enjoyed stadium tours, tabloid romances, and a hit single called ‘Hell of an Island’, although none of it felt real because he was not with her. She needed him as a witness. She continued climbing out of limousines and giving her signature wave to the crowd, and they loved her until they didn’t anymore. She took a Greyhound back to New Orleans and when she stepped out of the station, she knew he was not there. The city felt sharper, the air thinner somehow.

She reached this room as the sky downshifted from gold to purple and her heart dropped when she saw her home’s crumbling walls and busted windows, the empty doorway that gaped like a wound. She stepped inside but he was not here. Taped to the wall she saw a little map of Elephant Island. On the back it said, I was hoping you would be here. She sat until midnight but he did not appear. She returned every evening for years, even after her vision began to fail. Call it penance, call it hope, but next time you see her, ask how she’s doing and listen carefully to what she has to say.

Exhibit BE
Chang installing the project. Photo by ExhibitBE.
Exhibit BE. Photo by Deepak Saini, WGNO