Lorraine O’Grady’s Persistent, co-produced by Jay Lopez, is a eulogy to the recently closed Davenport Lounge in San Antonio and the culture it came to embody. The imposing installation, with its accompanying audio and video projections, demonstrates the kaleidoscopic generation and repression of multiethnic counterculture.
The twilight street scene environment recalls the artist’s first visit to the nightclub two months after it had been shut down. Upon entry, one encounters an austere façade, dimly lit by floodlights and revealing only the viewer’s reflection. O’Grady has superimposed this portrait of the spectator onto the building to evoke a sense of personal loss, inviting us to mourn the destruction of a space that so many had once enlivened in a free expression of the beauty found in diversity.
One must peer into the windows, almost pressing one’s nose against the glass, to see within O’Grady’s nightclub. The sparse interior features carefully arranged clusters of Art Deco furniture and empty Davenport lounges. On the walls, ghostlike projections of Hip Hop, Funk, and House Music dancers energetically move in sync with the pulsating music. Emerging as a contemporary manifestation of Egyptian funerary monuments, the exhibition evokes the riches of a bygone era and the eminence of what has been lost.
The fusion of rhythms that resonate from the edifice are vibrant, yet melancholic, in their repetition. Composed by the DJ’s Rise and JJ Lopez, the mix sporadically fluctuates in volume, mimicking the sounds emitted from opening and closing club doors–a nod to the lines of Davenport patrons that used to wrap around the city block. The loop begins with an upbeat and energetic tempo that quickly diminishes and then rises once again, symbolizing the rise and fall of the Davenport Lounge. This Hip Hop funeral anthem both heralds DJ culture, underlining its presence as a profession that combines the artistic efforts of myriad peoples, and memorializes what Barbara Ehrenreich has called “the need for public, celebratory dance that seems hardwired into us. . . a uniquely human capability.”
O’Grady’s installation symbolizes neither failure nor success, but the perseverance of counterculture in the face of racism and discrimination.