chapter  3
9 Pages

Elemental to Being Human

Artist and community activist Jana Napoli describes how she returned to her home in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA, following the devastating floodwaters of hurricane Katrina in 2005. Napoli’s response to the overwhelming devastation became an installation project titled Floodwall (2005-2011), relaying the silence she experienced as surrounding and troubling her return. She further describes how the permeating silence was so very unexpected. At a distance, the televised imagery and news reports did not convey the devastation’s deeply personal, concretely experienced presence or weight. Napoli found herself wading into the engulfing silence, “instinctively” seeking meaning of some kind (www.floodwall. org). The nature and shape of such meaning-making became the Floodwall Project, a multi-dimensional artistic installation created with graphic artist Rondell Crier. Napoli created an installation using retrieved dresser drawers as building bricks that sometimes form a wall measuring 8 feet tall and 192 feet in length, and at other times fall in disarray across the floor, and can be configured into a room. Crier created an interactive database, documenting as much information as could be ascertained through numbering, cataloguing, and photographing each drawer. Additionally, audio and video components include a growing collection of oral histories from the original drawer owners. The associated website brings those interested near to experiencing this artistic installation through images, artists’ statements, personal narratives, news reports, audio/video recordings, curriculum guides, and additional resources. As a whole, it is a work of art brought into existence by Napoli and Crier to make sense of a significant human experience. The Floodwall Project and the associated website provide important access to the lived consequences of the hurricane through tracing what the silence held for Napoli and Crier, and prompts in others. Common elemental responses are elicited as the overwhelming sense of loss, alongside the human capacity to seek meaning, and are conveyed through multiple lenses. Dewey (1910) describes this human capacity for meaning-making to be embedded within innate resources as “the powers already active” in self and others. He identifies curiosity, suggestion, and orderliness as powerful resources fundamental to human beings (p. 30). As I trace the creation of the Floodwall Project via the website, the sudden individual and collective discord is first expressed and experienced, but reflection is also induced. The natural resources of curiosity, suggestion, and orderliness become tangible through the experiences of others and are awakened in me. This chapter examines these resources and their active nature within learning of all kinds.