She Dreamed of a Place Called Fat City

In Ancient Greece, doctor’s prescriptions included attendance of tragic theater. Inspired by those practices, She Dreamed of a Place Called Fat City is a mural in the Fat City neighborhood of metropolitan New Orleans that explores the possibilities of site-specific storytelling in public space. The installation includes a surreal collage and a fable that describes a woman’s search for meaning as both she and the neighborhood change through the years. Her evolving identity echoes the evolving identity of Fat City, from its flamboyant reputation in the 1970s to today, and invites passersby to reflect on the mythologies we create for our communities and ourselves. The noir imagery that illustrates her quest consists of over 1,000 vertical lines that evoke a dream-like curtain of beaded rain and offers an imaginative place to consider our surroundings with fresh eyes and find solace among strangers. Concept and artwork by Candy Chang; story on the wall by James A. Reeves. Part of a series of Fat City murals supported by Fat City Friends and the Arts Council of New Orleans.

2015, New Orleans/Metairie (3220 Edenborn Ave, Metairie, LA). Acrylic, 52′ x 17′. Installation by Chang and Reeves. Wall preparation and sealing by Bruce James, Barry Patin, and Broq James.

Story on the wall:

She heard about this place back in 1974 while a snowy television hummed in the corner of a desert motel, half-tuned to a late night talk show, the one where Trini Lopez tells Carson that everybody wants to make it down to Fat City. Decades passed but she never made the trip due to a never-ending series of accidents and decisions, the little victories and deep wounds that make a life and steer us down different roads. Fat City slipped from her mind along with the rest of the world, and she rarely left her sofa, having given up on time and space. Some might call it a crisis of faith but if you asked her, she would only tell you that she was tired—until last night, when Fat City appeared in a wild dream that shivered with the promise of revelation.

They say Fat City is where the signals of most American dreams originate but she didn’t know this when she pointed her car south. A peculiar sense of hope began grinding in her chest like old gears returning to life, pulling her down to the bottom of the nation where she found herself zooming along a ribbon of concrete that spanned an astronomical lake, a far-out bridge to a future planet. She craved a new kind of electricity, something that might shock her back to life, and she thought she might find it here, just like Trini Lopez promised. An old philosopher sold her a sno-ball and told her that our souls are made of a thousand tiny sounds. “Sometimes our bodies absorb the vibrations of the people we pass in the street,” he said. “This causes us to dream.” His face looked like an old newspaper and she believed him. He handed her a telescope and told her to listen carefully.

Someday she will be known as the Voice of the Bayou, but tonight she is just another nighthawk, another enemy of sleep drifting down the boulevard, a lonely soul craving a witness. You’ll find her standing on the corner. She’s the woman who looks like she is waiting for instructions. She listens to the people who pass her by, tuning in to their stories about the old neon names. Don Quixote, Sancho Panza, and the Place Across the Street. Now the Place Across the Street is someplace else. Everything changes and perhaps this is how it should be. For a moment she hears the godhead in the traffic on Veterans Boulevard as she imagines the heartaches, catastrophes, and fantasies playing behind those windshields like one thousand secret movie screens. The moment passes. But if you stand in one place long enough and pay attention, something’s going to happen. You’ll find a sound, an image, something that will keep you going. And right now she hears shuffling feet, the scraping of a cane. She watches two ancient lovers drop to their knees like a prayer and carve their names into a patch of wet cement. Malcolm loves Marie. Everything changes, but hopefully some things won’t.

Chang installing the mural. Photo by James A. Reeves.