In 1963, iconic New Orleans architects Curtis & Davis built the headquarters for the Automotive Life Insurance Company at 4140 Canal Street. Fifty-three years later, a new tenant moved in: the New Orleans Public Library.
Combining sculpture and audio, Rodriguez Maleck invites visitors to climb up, sit down, read, and listen to themes exploring death and rebirth.
“The title, ‘Vivir es Morir,’ translates to ‘To Live is to Die,’” Rodriguez Maleck explained. “Having just gone through a period of prolonged communal grief, I wanted to create a piece that honored that grief and hopefully provides some visionary and thoughtful answers to the toughest questions we are facing now: What beliefs, systems, relationships, and institutions need to die or be reimagined for us to thrive?”
The piece captures roughly 45 different voices that reflect on these questions for audiences to listen to as they explore the multi-level structure. Over time, Rodriguez Maleck plans to change and update the audio, so the conversations continue to evolve.
A sister piece, “Morir es Vivir” or “To Die is to Live,” is also currently on display at the New Orleans Museum of Art. Together, Rodriguez Maleck said, the two installations represent “a cycle of regeneration.”
“It was necessary that this work was easily accessible and shared publicly at both the Library and the museum in order to promote a collective, hopeful voice that reimagines our future,” she said.
While being showcased by NOMA is an honor, Rodriguez Maleck said having her work at the Library carries a different meaning.
“During the pandemic, there were many times I found myself at Duncan Plaza, right beside the main branch of the Library,” she said. “My partner and I were working on documentary shorts that highlighted incredible work done by local organizers, as well as struggles our communities are facing. We congregated here for protests, for speeches, for mutual aid work.”
Describing the location as “a major point of connection” in the city, particularly for those who rely on public transportation, Rodriguez Maleck said she felt an attachment between this place and the message of her work.
“It’s not a coincidence that the Library is right beside this hub for the community — it is, in fact, a major, free, accessible, and relatively quiet resource for our citizens,” she said. “Because of that, I felt very connected to this location and honored to be showing at an ideal spot for viewers to reflect and grapple with their own opinions and answers to the questions posed in the work.”
In addition to being “visually and experientially unique,” Rodriguez Maleck said the pieces on display at NOMA and in the Library address one of the core question presented in her work –– which institutions need to be reimagined and how.
“The most important difference is that, at the Library, the audio collage component lives uncensored, highlighting that which is not allowed to resound within the museum walls,” she said. “At any institution, I’ve learned there are pros and cons. At the museum, I had the privilege of having ‘Morir es Vivir’ funded, including time for conversations and the creation of sculptural work where these conversations were had. The drawback, of course, is that the museum will censor the work — be it for what they think their audience is ready for or on behalf of their funders’ interests.”
The piece on display at the Library, however, allows her audience to interact with the audio in “its full and authentic form,” Rodriguez Maleck said. Displayed alongside the Library exhibit is a free zine, which includes an essay written by NOMA curator Nic Aziz, who examines the potential for museums to be more like libraries in order to make art more accessible.
That message is not lost on April Martin, the manager of Main Library.
“Having Marta’s work exhibited here reinforces the idea that libraries provide and survive on shared ideas, information, and stories,” Martin said. “The pandemic has made us more isolated than ever, and it’s brought to light too many long-held inequities and common-but-unsustainable practices. Marta recorded many conversations with New Orleanians to inspire us to work together to build a more just world, even as we maintain a safe social distance from one another.”
Ultimately, Rodriguez Maleck said she hopes viewers utilize her work as a space to grieve, realize they are not alone, and start the process of healing.
“Collectively, we just went through a period of extreme grief without the normal coping mechanisms of touch and being able to spend time with our support systems. We grieved the loss of loved ones and the lives that we lived pre-pandemic. Yet, we were also given the gift of time to collectively reset,” she said. “By attending ‘Vivir es Morir,’ viewers are invited to grieve together and hopefully leave feeling uplifted by the powerful union of voices.”
Rodriguez Maleck’s work will be on display at the New Orleans Public Library until January 24, 2022, and at the New Orleans Museum of Art though October 3, 2021. Afterwards, the piece will travel to different public libraries across the country.
For up-to-date information on her work and exhibition schedules, follow Marta Rodriguez Maleck on Instagram at youcancallme_marta and keep an eye on her website, MartaRodriguezMaleck.com.
The New Orleans Museum of Art is a member of the New Orleans Public Library’s Culture Pass program, which allows Library cardholders who live in Orleans Parish and are over the age of 18 to reserve free tickets to museums and cultural institutions throughout the city. Visit culturepass.nolalibrary.org to learn more.
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