It’s 1873, and the elite socialites of the Omniscient Oracles of the Occult are gathered in a Lower Garden District mansion for their annual “Soirée D’Evolution,” a decadent, macabre ceremony celebrating death and decay. Bottles of absinthe lie among human skulls, musical instruments, glasses of champagne, and candles. The air reeks of voodoo, money, and nefarious intentions. A knife is raised to perform the sacrifice.
Sound like an occult thriller? In fact, it’s the upcoming photography exhibit by Sean Yseult (best known as the bass player in multi-platinum noise rock/heavy metal band White Zombie), which features seven large-scale photos of still lifes staged in her home. They depict an evening with a fictional cabal of the sort that might have lain just below the Crescent City’s surface in bygone centuries. Yseult has also created limited-edition companion books for the exhibit.
“The whole secret society tradition in New Orleans was so interesting back in the 1800s. They’d introduce these elaborate tableaux vivants, which are still lifes of people. Still lifes of objects are called nature mortes, and that translates directly to ‘dead nature.’ I loved the contrast.”
A trip to Paris last year got her thinking about doing a project based on this concept.
“I was in the Louvre with my sister, and we walked for a couple hours in the Dutch Masters wing. It was one still life after another and each one was gorier and gorier. After a while I was like, ‘Oh my God, get me out of here,’ but I was also impressed. I was also trying to come up with the idea for my next show, and my teacher was like, ‘Well, you have so many interesting things in your house, why don’t you just photograph in your house? …So that was the original idea, and then I really fell down the rabbit hole. The first thing I created was the first photograph of the show, which includes a collection of a lot of my human remains.”
Part of the inspiration also came from her own life and friends in New Orleans.
“Before absinthe was legal in the U.S., we were getting it from Ted Breaux, who was manufacturing a bottle called Nouvelle-Orleans. He would come over and bring us some absinthe, and my friends were all musicians, and we’d all sit around and take turns playing piano. We all love Chopin and Scott Joplin. We’d just have these piano absinthe parties.”
Some of these very pianists performed, along with Yseult’s band, Rock City Morgue, at the opening party on April 18.
The display will run in the front gallery at Scott Edwards Gallery (2109 Decatur Street) until June 14. A partial exhibit will remain in the back room from June 18 to August 9.