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News Service

News Service:

Annette Hacker, director,
(515) 294-3720

Office: (515) 294-4777

8-14-08

Contacts:

Michael Stanley, Art and Design, (712) 420-0866, stanley@iastate.edu

Teddi Barron, News Service, (515) 294-4478, tbarron@iastate.edu

Made of Katrina refuse, "The New Orleans Community Music Machine," is activated when people work together toward a common goal. The kinetic sculpture is part of Katrina survivor Michael Stanley's MFA exhibition at Iowa State University. Downloadable photo by Bob Elbert.

Hurricane Katrina survivor turns anger into art at Iowa State

AMES, Iowa -- With only two guitars and a suitcase full of clothes, Michael Stanley evacuated New Orleans 24 hours before Hurricane Katrina hit. He expected to return in a few days to his job at the New Orleans School of Glassworks and his home--a ground-floor apartment filled with his paintings and sculptures, and the countless tools used to create them. Just weeks before, he had been accepted into the Master of Fine Arts program at the University of New Orleans.

When Stanley was allowed to return three months later, everything he owned was gone, and his graduate school all but destroyed. He had no artwork, no photos of his artwork, and no tools to create. To get into another graduate school with no work would be impossible, he thought. As he lined up at the Salvation Army for his daily MRE lunch, he even considered starting over in a new field. Under the emotional weight of it all, Stanley, like many in New Orleans, became depressed.

Three years after Katrina's devastating blow, Stanley has earned his MFA at Iowa State University and will begin teaching in ISU's College of Design in the fall. His thesis exhibition, "Katrina's Crescendo," comprises two kinetic sculptures that are made from Katrina refuse and express his experiences before, during and after the hurricane. It's an emotional and artistic journey that has carried him from a place of anger and bitterness to a sense of purpose.

"Katrina has influenced my artwork exponentially. It's basically my jumping off point," Stanley said. "It is something I knew I'd have to deal with in rebuilding my life."

Before Stanley hit rock bottom, his sister called ISU, where her husband's brother had earned an architecture degree. She recounted her brother's situation. The next day, ISU Professor of Art and Design Steve Herrnstadt contacted Stanley.

"He told me if I could put anything together, they'd look at it," Stanley said.

He cobbled together a portfolio using photos of old paintings and two stonework sculptures his mother had. By mid-January, Stanley was a student at ISU.

"It was great to be making art again. But I didn't know where I wanted to go with it. I wanted to do something pertaining to Katrina, but I was so angry," he said.

In the artist statement accompanying "Katrina's Crescendo," Stanley wrote:

"When I came to Iowa State, I wanted to make work that would help me cope with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. I was looking for closure from what I had just been through. The emotional and psychological toll that my mind and body endured after Katrina left me questioning everything I had ever learned. The world seemed to be flipped on its axis and I felt as though I was free falling out of control. The ease at which everything I owned was destroyed left me sick to my stomach at times. The total lack of respect for human life at the hands of the United States government during Hurricane Katrina is something I will never forget."

The first of the two sculptures, "W Making Machine," reflects Stanley's anger and bitterness with the government's response to Katrina.

"It has the appearance of function, but it doesn't actually work. That's my critique of the government after Katrina," he said.

Small in scale (which is how Stanley felt during and after Katrina), the tabletop brass sculpture with more than 100 pieces resembles an industrial neighborhood. Each little structure has moving parts, and is "chock full of meaning," Stanley said.

"The dome represents the Superdome, and its legs are modeled after crawfish. The factory denotes New Orleans' shipping yard; the back hoe is the destruction and recovery of the city. And the water tower sits on an oil rig structure, representing the special interests," he said.

The piece below the dome is modeled after a cow milking machine and symbolizes Stanley's time in Iowa. The tubing from a car engine corresponds to his drive out of New Orleans. A tiny, homemade harmonica hidden inside the dome is a metaphor for the city's music and its hidden parts, known only to a few locals. But nothing functions as it should.

Stanley's own antidote to the state of affairs portrayed in the "W Making Machine" is the room-size sculpture, "The New Orleans Community Music Machine."

"It takes four people to operate. The real point is to get people to work together towards a common goal, to encourage community," Stanley said.

With an aesthetic drawn from the look of New Orleans after Katrina ("pieces of rusty metal thrown together at random"), Stanley admits the sculpture is not great to look at.

"But it works," he said.

The sculpture consists of four stations surrounding organ pipes atop an inverted bathtub. Two stations require people to pedal stationary bikes, which are attached to squirrel cage fans that power the organ pipes. At a third station, a person pulls cables attached to the organ pipe, opening the valves so wind activates the pipes and makes sound. A fourth station requires a person operate a drum and cymbal by stepping on a foot pedal and pulling a cable.

"Three of the four stations are dependent upon each other to work properly," Stanley said.

About 75 percent of the scrap material used was donated. Much of it came from a ship that sank in the Mississippi River during Katrina. Some came from salvage yards along the route Stanley took when he evacuated the city.

"It's all part of my personal journey," he said.

"Katrina was a life-changing experience and I plan on drawing inspiration from it probably for the rest of my life," Stanley said. "But the theme won't be Katrina. My artwork will be geared toward community. Getting people involved, actively participating. I want to stay on the theme of multiple people activating one sculpture."

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VIDEO

videocam

After losing everything in Katrina, Michael Stanley turns anger into art with a purpose at Iowa State University. View video.

Stanley and artwork

The kinetic sculpture, "W Making Machine," represents Katrina survivor Michael Stanley's critique of the government's response to the devastating hurricane. It is part of his MFA exhibition at Iowa State University. Downloadable photo by Bob Elbert.

Quick look

Three years after Michael Stanley lost his home, studio, artwork and graduate school in Hurricane Katrina, he has earned his MFA at Iowa State and will begin teaching here in the fall. His thesis exhibition, "Katrina's Crescendo," comprises two kinetic sculptures that are made from Katrina refuse and express his experiences before, during and after the hurricane. It's an emotional and artistic journey that has carried him from a place of anger and bitterness to a sense of purpose.

Quote

"Katrina has influenced my artwork exponentially. It's basically my jumping off point. It is something I knew I'd have to deal with in rebuilding my life."

Michael Stanley
College of Design