Sculptor Ersy’s big imagination populates a tiny, sinsiter world
by Douglas Maccash
Ersy’s ”Hommage to the Society of Ste. Anne” combines the neoclassicism of a New Orleans cemetery and a surrealism reminiscent of ”Yellow Submarine.”
Remember when you were a kid and you used to lay on the carpet so that your eyes were even with your toy soldiers or dinosaurs or doll house. It changed your whole perspective — literally and figuratively. You were part of the scene, part of the action, and the big world around you didn’t count anymore. It’s a universally known form of little kid surrealism.
That’s the effect sculptor Ersy is going for in her current installation in the back room of Arthur Roger Gallery. She has created a small army of bizarre palm-sized bronze creatures: a horseshoe crab on wheels, a two-headed pig, a three-headed collie dog, dashboard statues of the saints (with animal heads), headless athletes (like broken track trophies), a giant cicada, disembodied cowboy boots, odd carriages that could be from the time of Cleopatra and on and on.
To draw you into her Lilliputian world, Ersy has provided a 12-feet-long, 5-feet-high mahogany table, which places the action right at eye level. If you use your imagination, you can shrink down to the size of the crazy creatures and join in the post-modern spectacle.
“I like to play with scale,” Ersy said. “I like to make the viewer confused about what space they’re in.”
As the name implies, the 84-part installation is based on the St. Ann Carnival parade that flows from the Bywater to the French Quarter on Mardi Gras morning. The strange floats are symbolically dedicated to parade founder Paul Poche, actress Becky Allen, Carnival designer Henri Schindler and other St. Ann regulars. Schindler is a masked Cardinal blowing a medieval trumpet, being borne in a canopied cart pulled by a man in a ’40s business suit.
Ersy captures the whimsy of Carnival morning with her cavorting creatures, but there is also a Dali-esque dour quality to it all, as if the parade eventually drops off the table edge, ending in oblivion.
“I’ve got a macabre sense of humor,” she said. “I wanted the parade to be both funny and sad. In the St. Ann parade, they carry the ashes of members who’ve passed away that year. At the end of the parade they pour their ashes into the river. Though the sculpture is about the St. Ann parade, it could be any funeral second line.”
New Orleans-born Ersy moved to New York 15 years ago to teach at Cooper Union, then moved back to the Crescent City four years ago, and she now teaches at NOCCA.
“Hommage to the Society of Ste. Anne” is her first solo show since 1995. It’s a triumphant return. From the neoclassical style that underlies the surrealism, to the interchangeable Carnival-funeral theme, to the dried up chameleon lizards in the miniature claw-foot bathtub, Ersy has re-sunk her roots into the heart of the Big Easy.