Sweat equity is a real-estate principle by which would-be owners of property can perform renovations in return for lower prices. When she was a girl, artist Dominique Moody's family participated in sweat-equity plans, but little things always seemed to get in the way. Amateur laborers that they were, details of, say, building codes often escaped them and much of their hard work ultimately went for naught. Still the idea stuck with the young Moody. Her current installation at Project Row Houses is titled Sweat Equity: In Search of Mother Home, and the work poignantly literalizes the concept: Multi-colored bottles of "sweat" are lined up all around the space, balanced on chairs and even riding on the back of a ceramic elephant.
The perspiration-and-property theme is more than apropos for the entire sprawling, ambitious labor of love that is Project Row Houses. Since 1992, when artist-activist Rick Lowe first came across the 22 Third Ward shotgun-shacks that he eventually would see transformed into unique installation spaces, Project Row Houses has tirelessly combined artistic vision and community outreach.
The history of the African diaspora in Mexico is the subject of Manuel Pellicer's photographic work, on display at PRH. These colorful slices of life pointedly investigate the way African genealogy is perceived and assimilated south of the border, where slavery was abolished several decades before the U.S. Civil War. One photo depicts a dark-skinned woman arranging statues of extremely pale cherubs, the title posing the question, Are There Black Angels in Heaven? There is also an illuminating video included in the installation, providing cultural and historical contexts for the images on the walls, including a frank dissection of the evolution of the terms mestizo and latino.
The constantly shifting dislocation of modern urban life is brought into sharp symbolic focus inside the elaborate Insidewalk installation by Wesley Heiss. Illuminated only by flashlights provided to visitors at the entrance, the walls of the claustrophobic exhibition are composed entirely of orange, reflective road-signage cut into a patchwork so as to rob them of their original construction-area meanings. This serves as a commentary on our fair city's high rates of demolition and development, two things that erase and change our surroundings at a relentless pace. Such commentary is likely lost on the groups of younger visitors who consistently respond to the bouncing lights and bright colors of Insidewalk with joyful fits of screaming and leaping around.
One of the defining elements of any community is the way its members, well, hang out. Social life among the denizens of Project Row Houses always has centered around marathon domino games, and this fact is saluted and celebrated in the lighthearted Domino Shack installation by Jesse Lott and Joe Cardella, essentially an artfully realized rec room devoted to the art of, as one painted sign puts it, dominology.
A workshop is also being run by Jane Jenny, Karen Atkinson and Nancy Ganucheau to create, among other things, decorative benches to be placed in bus stops and parks throughout the Third Ward. And so the sweat of Project Row Houses goes on racking up equity for all of us.