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Artist Loren Schwerd's sculpture explores post-K loss at AMMO gallery
By Doug MacCash The Times-Picayune
August 14, 2009, 4:35PM

Doug MacCash / The Times-PicayuneArtist Loren Schwerd

ART SEEN Critic Doug MacCash rates New Orleans art exhibits
This one is Wonderful Sculptor Loren Schwerd mourns for lost New Orleans

AMMO gallery , 938 Royal St., 504.301.2584

There is a weird logic to Loren Schwerd's exhibit "Mourning Portrait" that opens with a reception from 6 to 9 Saturday, Aug.15, at AMMO gallery in the French Quarter.
In the wake of the 2005 flood, Schwerd, an assistant sculpture professor at Louisiana State University, stumbled on a gutted beauty supply shop on St. Claude Avenue. Something about the pile of ruined wigs and hair extensions on the sidewalk struck her as especially poignant. She gathered the waterlogged hair, cleaned it with industrial shampoo, dried it on a clothesline in her studio, and brushed it. The natural hair was more moldy than the artificial, she said.

Doug MacCash / The Times-PicayuneLoren Schwerd's 'Shotgun' is about the size of a Crescent City cemetery crypt.

To Schwerd's way of thinking, the process of weaving and wrapping the hair to form soft sculpture related to the Victorian practice of collecting locks of hair from a dead loved one, which would then be used in sometimes elaborate jewelry: Imagine a locket featuring a willow tree or other mourning symbol created from embroidered hair of a beloved lost husband or child.
Schwerd's hair sculptures, most of which take the shape of ghostly antique houses and forlorn trees, memorialize the loss of New Orleans homes and neighborhoods -- Edgar Allan Poe meets failed levees. Despite the anesthetic passage of time, they still touch a post-K nerve. The show is anchored by a creepy 8-foot-tall stylized shotgun house, about the size of a Crescent City cemetery crypt. But the smaller, more free-flowing hair houses on the surrounding walls are more interesting. Schwerd's use of blank oval frames to suggest the old locket style is perfect.
Doug MacCash / The Times-Picayune'Corner of Maurice and Chartres' by Loren Schwerd
Schwerd said that she hopes the exhibit implies New Orleans' resilience, while we are "still being aware of our losses and vulnerability."



REVIEW: Loren Schwerd at AMMO

August 28, 12:54 PM New Orleans Contemporary Art Examiner Chris Herbeck

Entrance of AMMO, 938 Royal St. in the French Quarter

Loose bundles of discarded hair extensions and busted up post-Katrina houses are not obvious associations for some people. To artist Loren Schwerd, however, it just makes sense.
In her series of sculptures entitled "Mourning Portrait", currently on exhibition at AMMO, the artist constructs wrecked houses using artificial hair weaves and wire as raw material. The result is delicate, beautiful, and creepy at the same time; when I say creepy, I mean it in a good way.
Each piece plays like an epitaph, paying tribute to unknown histories of Katrina victims that are now symbolized through images of broken architecture. In the center of the gallery floor, a shack-sized shotgun house forces an intimate view of smaller sculptures. Some of them are placed on neutral white shelves while others levitate on the walls like reliefs inside decorative oval frames. While these works dangerously flirt with familiar post-Katrina cliche's, it remains difficult to deny their intrigue. The artist avoids the sin of exhausting the same idea over and over by replacing houses with other New Orleans-style cultural indicators. An old-fashioned ladies hat morphs into branchy tree limbs with swirly tufts that are tied at the ends. A weaved bird's nest sits in the window, while in the other corner of the gallery, tangled up Mardi Gras beads drape on tree branches above the door. At the exhibition's opening, there were squinty-eyed art students pointing at little hair ribbons that remind them of what they used to wear when they were little girls. There is an inescapable, tactile desire to explore and excavate the multitude of surfaces with your eyes.

The magnetic quality of these artworks make this visually- appealing exhibition a success. So if you are wandering through the French Quarter, why not take the time to wander down Royal Street and see these works in person. In my opinion, it is truly worth a good look. AMMO is located at 938 Royal Street, in the French Quarter. The gallery hours are Thursday and Friday, 11 - 7pm, Saturday and Sunday 12 - 5pm, or by appointment. (Slideshow, as promised, below.)



Hair Memorials by Loren Schwerd

What is it about hair? Imbued with a mystical aura since the days of Samson and Delilah, it can almost define certain people — for instance, Elvis or Dolly Parton's iconic coifs, or Sarah Palin's famous hair extensions. Loren Schwerd's show at AMMO touches on all of the above. The title, Mourning Portrait, harks to the long lost 18th and 19th century funerary "hairwork" tradition in which the locks of the deceased were fashioned into intricate jewelry or mementos. Contemporary coiffure culture also plays a role in Schwerd's sculptural interpretations of storm-blasted, flood-ravaged New Orleans homes. Her memorial portraits of the sorts of collapsing abodes that were the first to be demolished following the flood are woven from a mother lode of wigs and human hair extenders found outside a St. Claude Avenue beauty parlor after Hurricane Katrina.

These somehow recall both Pennsylvania Dutch hexes and African fetishes all rolled into one. 1317 Charbonnet St. (pictured), a woven hair portrait of a shotgun house in an oval frame, is emblematic. Strands at the base are woven into cornrow braids, on which the house seems to rest. Others feature landscaping touches like braided trees topped with a bushy bouffant of curly locks. Setting it all off is a woven shed-size shotgun house rising like a shrine in the center of the gallery. It's an eerie show in which a thread of subtle voodoo contributes to the surreal mojo. — D. Eric Bookhardt