Construction site billboards showcasing the design of a future development have often struck me as unintentional art installations. Look at the contrast between the unreal crystal gleam of a digital design rendering and the grime of the empty lot or urban ruin it will supposedly replace: The effect is sometimes sad, sometimes funny. In New Orleans, where such signs can sit fading for years on an idle property, things tend to skew on the sad end.
Enter the Hypothetical Development Organization, then, to make purposeful art from this opportunity and jump start both the local street art and development scenes simultaneously.
Starting this past October, Hypothetical has been hanging on-site billboards that imagine future structures soon to grow on various abandoned properties around town. The poker-faced boards hew so closely to the clichés of design typography that only the very observant will likely notice that the actual structures are completely preposterous. Take the Museum of the Self, built totally of mirrors and festooned with a giant Facebook-cribbed “Thumbs Up.” Or the NO (read: New Orleans) Loitering Centre, a marquee place on Magazine where people could just, well, hang.
Who are these jokers? Moreover, who do they think they are, horsing around in the urgent, or at least serious, arena that is the Rebuilding Effort?
The group’s own explanation of its mission goes like this: “As a public service, H.D.O. invents a hypothetical future for each selected structure. Unlike a traditional, reality-based developer, however, our organization is not bound by rules relating to commercial potential, practical materials, or physics. In our view, plausibility is a creative dead end. That is to say: We are not trying to fool anybody.”
Which is to say: These developments reside strictly in the imagination. That’s probably not a bad thing. Hypothetical’s developments, even if constructed, would be unlikely to contribute toward affordable housing, improved schooling, or other urban desirables. The group offers its work as a liberating counterpoint to the bland, obliviously vulgar developer visions exemplified by such high-profile commercial projects as Trump towers, asking viewers to remember that they deserve better.
However, the billboards also contrast with earnest local non-profit efforts that, in the face of myriad obstacles, have forgotten to make time for imagination. Hypothetical’s “proposals” have little in common with that scene’s increasingly standard visual language of aggressively cheerful logos and narrowly focused missions. Instead, their little instigations reclaim the truth that New Orleans has always been a semi-fictional dream space and a magnet for outsiders’ fancies.
Hypothetical Development Organization’s work, if you seek it or notice it, succeeds in reminding New Orleans that the Absurd has always been its tradition and birthright.
The Hypothetical Development Organization pretend projects will culminate in an April show at DuMois Gallery on Freret Street. Meanwhile, go check them out before they don’t get built.
View The Hypothetical Development Organization sites in a Google map.