By Laurence Ross
NEW ORLEANS — Anastasia Pelias, a New Orleans native, brings a broom with her each time she visits It was my pleasure (2021), her site-specific sculptural installation located in the city’s Mid-City/Bayou St. John neighborhood. She sweeps magenta pine bark and bay leaves back into a neat circle around the sculpture’s mounded base. This sweeping is her ritual; Pelias tends to the site the same way one might tend to a garden or a grave.
Part of the fifth Prospect New Orleans, a citywide art exhibition, titled Yesterday we said tomorrow, It was my pleasure evokes a ritual object, something placed on an altar as an offering, its exact meaning private but its presence very public. The color resembles bone, dappled from time to time by the shadows of oak branches swaying overhead. After sunset, the sculpture looks more like an altar itself, an illuminated focal point for nighttime wanderers — though a sight just as easily overlooked by those rushing toward a destination.
Like any altar in use, the site isn’t static but active. Pelias’s sculpture highlights the movement that takes place around it — people walking, cars driving by, clouds drifting. This movement is further emphasized by the multi-sensory aspects of the installation. A healing yet haunting soundscape by composer Sophocles Arvanites plays on loop while a bright citrus scent created by FOLIE à PLUSIEURS Perfume drifts through the air. The magenta color of the mound at the sculpture’s base changes depending upon the light — within the span of just a few moments purples, pinks, and reds ebb and flow across the surface. The whole experience is more akin to standing at the edge of a vast sea than in the middle of a tiny city park.
And just like the sea, It was my pleasure invites introspection. As many of us become increasingly distanced from spiritual or ancestral roots, what rituals now shape our lives? According to a placard at the site, “The sculpture is a reimagining of the tripod of the Oracle of Delphi,” an overt reference to Pelias’s Greek heritage. Is communicating with a higher power, as the mythological reference and Pelias’s title suggest, a practice that exists only in the past tense? While the sculpture does not answer these questions, the site exudes a spiritual atmosphere that welcomes viewers to ponder them.
The role of the Oracle of Delphi was filled by a succession of high priestesses, called Pythia, over a span of centuries. Pelias’s sculpture builds on this legacy, suggesting we all have the ability to commune with a higher power and influence our futures.
The exhibition website states that the work “is intended as a meditative space for contemplation and for honoring divine feminine energy across space and time.” A wide, curved seat rests atop three knotted legs, the concave shape ready to receive and open to the sky like a palm. Perhaps because the surface of the sculpture’s “seat” is overhead and can’t be viewed all at once in its entirety, our attention is meant to eddy. I found myself walking in circles around the magenta mound, trying to see more than is humanly possible, a quest that seems quintessentially human.
Anastasia Pelias: It was my pleasure continues at Capdevielle Place Park (Esplanade Avenue & Crete Street, New Orleans, Louisiana) through January 23. The sculpture is part of Prospect.5 New Orleans: Yesterday We Said Tomorrow, curated by the Susan Brennan Co-Artistic Directors Naima J. Keith and Diana Nawi, with Grace Deveney, Associate Curator, and Lucia Olubunmi Momoh, Curatorial Associate.