After Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, while the city of New Orleans was searched house by house and building by building, first responders used a graphic code readable by others as they criss-crossed the city searching and rescuing residents from structures damaged by the hurricane and subsequent flood. The code consisted of a large X spray painted somewhere on each structure, with one piece of information entered in each quadrant of the X. This information included the date, the unit doing the searching, and sometimes other information. In the lowest quadrant was noted whether or not anyone was found there, alive or not.
These codes constitute a valuable record, expressed in an unforgettable graphic, and displayed on the distinctive architecture of the city. The codes are found art, even more powerful in the stunning volume of their repetition. The symbols also expressed a visual evenhandedness – they appeared on structures spanning the socioeconomic mix of New Orleans, and reflected the fact that this was an equal opportunity disaster.
Both amateur and professional photographers documenting the event and its aftermath noted this powerful graphic in its overwhelming repetition. The X-Factor: A Post-Katrina Narrative will assemble and present an exhibition in two formats, both as a physical and an online presence. The images will be supplemented, and the significance of the visual shorthand emphasized, with the use of histories from a range of evacuees, first responders, and other participants.