Notes on the Emptying of a City is a performance that acts as a dismantled film, where a narrator pieces together the sounds, images and storytelling of a documentary before a live audience.
In the performance, a figure sits alone at a desk with a printed text and a laptop computer. What looks at first like a traditional slide lecture quickly turns into storytelling — a narrator recounting his experiences as an artist working with a group of social justice activists in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Spoken over images of emptied and ruined architecture, he reflects upon the cataloguing marks written across buildings by soldiers and police; upon the prison and people that the city had refused to evacuate before the storm; and upon being a witness, an observer, a listener and a speaker among others.
Between each account, he cues a video portraying the testimony of a citizen — a neighbor, an organizer, a group of protesters — each speaking of their experience and making a claim to their place in the city. Together, the testimonies, the narration and slides weave into a live form of journalism, one left open for inspection and discussion by its audience.
Working from the intimate starting point of what it meant to be present in that time and space with a camera and microphone, and arriving at emerging economies of risk and catastrophe, it leads viewers through difficult questions of race, visibility and speech, the writing of history, and how the total political crisis of Katrina continues to speak to the state of our political lives.