The tiny building is called Trouser House. And, no, it’s not a men’s store. Nor is it a tailor shop.
It’s a non-profit contemporary art and urban farming initiative; a catalyst for change, says its director, Emily Morrison. And while she’s a very serious advocate for urban agriculture and food activism, this art history major from the University of Texas also has a delightfully whimsical side that shows up when she combines that passion with contemporary art.
Take her latest project, Eat Me, Drink Me. And she really means just that. If you go to the gallery at 4105 St. Claude Avenue this Saturday night, you will be able to eat and drink. You can taste a series of creatively presented tidbits by a pair of chef-artists, JoAnn Amlin and Dawn Snead, and drink cocktails created from fresh fruits and veggies, by Churchy, one of New Orleans’ most original mixologists.
But don’t go thinking this is going to be some sit-down restaurant experience. No way. The reason Emily is presenting this free interactive food and drink exhibit is because, the Ashville, North Carolina import says, “New Orleans is such a foodie place. It made sense to me that there be a dialogue between the culinary community and the art community.”
And this is how the dialogue goes. The tiny front room of the cottage will be the receiving area for visitors. There will be a cash bar because you might have to wait quite a few minutes before entering the main exhibition area. It is, after all, a tiny house. But, Emily hopes that, New Orleanians being who they are, they will soon be talking to one another. Then, small group by small group, as soon as those before you have gone through, you will be invited to enter the maze.
Yes, it’s a maze.
“The idea of traveling through an environment is important,” Emily explains. “Being in a maze requires moving through space in a certain way; having an experience that follows a process. We don’t want it to be like a drive-in.”
The maze is made of entirely of black lace, tulle and cotton fabric. Contained within various parts of the maze will be a series of floating platters suspended from the ceiling, each covered in artistically presented tiny food samples. Visitors are asked to taste them and rate them on a small questionnaire.
Exiting from the maze, visitors walk through the back of the house and its small kitchen into the “farm” or backyard. There, they can listen to the music of My Graveyard Jaw, check out a few raised beds of vegetables and herbs, say hello to the chickens in the coop and continue the conversation with any new-found friends.
For Emily Morrison, New Orleans is not only the most appropriate town for this kind of activity, but also the place she always knew someday she would come to live. Post graduation, she began working in Artpace, a contemporary visual arts center in San Antonio. After three years spent soaking up the whole idea of the impact of the arts on community, she decided to leave and do some personal research, particularly about alternative methods of arts education.
“I traveled around the country meeting people and learning more about art as an economic and political force,” she says. “I was trying to piece together everything I was learning.”
And here she has landed, another new New Orleanian, to live her dream of combining art and agriculture in the emerging St. Claude/St. Roch arts district, as well as teaching courses to middle-school children in permaculture – a method of design informed by modern science, patterns in nature and ancient civilizations.
But why Trouser House?
“I had been reading The Awakening by Kate Chopin, and I started thinking about women, like her, whose ideas don’t always mesh with society and are cast out, even burned at the stake,” she explains. “And I was also thinking about other common phrases like ‘and who wears the pants in your house?’ kind of thing. So when I thought about what I wanted to do in this space, I just decided I would call it Trouser House.”
Eat Me, Drink Me, a free interactive exhibit, will take place Saturday, July 9, 6 to 10 p.m. at Trouser House, 4105 St. Claude Avenue. Have fun. Be patient. Bring cash.