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MirrorFugue: A reflection of New Orleans pianists

Editor's Note: Prospect 3 Plus offers more than 60 local art installations and events taking place alongside the international Bienennial Prospect 3. NolaVie and its cultural partner, WWNO public radio, are taking a look at some of them in a series to run during the exhibition, which continues through Jan. 25.

Listen to Sharon Litwin interview Xiao Xiao on WWNO public radio below:

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P.3 Plus exhibition MirrorFugue, a technology-meets-art piano project, and its creator, New Orleans artist Xiao Xiao.

One of the gratifying aspects of covering the many creative Prospect 3+ exhibitions and installations around town is how wonderfully diverse they are. MirrorFugue: Reflections of New Orleans Pianists, which opens at the Williams Research Center of the Historic New Orleans Collection on December 10 for just 10 days, is one of the most unusual.

It is the brainchild of New Orleans artist Xiao Xiao (pronounced Sh-owh, Sh-owh). Not only is it a sophisticated demonstration of her technology-meets-art piano project, but its presence in the city is as much about serendipity as it is about creativity.

It began last summer after Xiao Xiao, who is working on her doctorate at the MIT Media Lab in Boston, had given a presentation at the Aspen Ideas Festival. In the audience, unknown to Xiao Xiao, was another New Orleanian. The next day, fate had them sitting next to each other as they shuttled from one Aspen Ideas Festival event to another. And that’s how Phyllis Taylor and Xiao Xiao found each other.

“She told me how much she enjoyed my presentation,” Xiao Xiao recalls. “I was listening to her speak with this very charming accent and I asked her where she was from and she said New Orleans. I said, 'Oh my gosh, I’m from New Orleans, too. I grew up there'.”

So it was agreed that the artist and one of our city’s most generous arts and education benefactors should think up a way to bring Xiao Xiao’s presentation home to New Orleans. The idea grew and grew and now, with the assistance of the Historic New Orleans Collection, MirrorFugue will feature four of our city’s most accomplished pianists in virtual reflection: Allen Toussaint, Jon Cleary, Ron Markham and Nick Sanders.

“Playing the piano as a child, I was always entranced by the reflection of my hands on the lacquered surface behind the keys,” Xiao Xiao explains. “A few years ago, I thought how lovely it would be to play a duet with this reflection – a pianist from afar or from another time.”

And that is what the viewer will see when he or she enters the gallery and looks at the piano and the reflections of four amazing New Orleans pianists as they perform.

“I wanted to pay homage through technology to both the music and the musicians of the city where I grew up,” she says,

At the piano we meet four artists, across generations and musical style, each with a deep connection to New Orleans and its music.

“I invite each of you to sit down at the piano, reflect on the music and even learn a riff or two to play along,” Xiao Xiao says.

No question, we could write on and on about Xiao Xiao’s artistic concepts and how the technology enhances the experience of music. But really, this is one P3+ exhibition that needs to be seen and experienced. Words hardly do it justice.

MirrorFugue will be on display in the Laura Simon Nelson Galleries for Louisiana Art (400 Chartres Street), available for viewing 9:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m., Tuesday–Saturday, December 10–20, 2014.

View and listen to a preview below.

This series on Prospect 3 Plus artworks is made possible by a generous grant from the lawyers of the Lugenbuhl firm, with offices in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Houston, in support of art in the Gulf South.

Sharon Litwin is president of NolaVie. Email her at [email protected]