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After Hurricane Katrina in August 2005, while the city of New Orleans was searched house by house and building by building, first responders developed a unified code that could be interpreted 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 the façade of each structure (door, siding, window, etc.) One piece of information was entered in each quadrant of the X. This information included the date, sometimes the time, the unit doing the searching, and sometimes other information. In the bottom quadrant was noted whether or not anyone was found there, alive or not.
These codes are a valuable record, expressed in an unforgettable graphic, and displayed on the unique architecture of the city. The codes are expressed as a part of the architecture, and are even more powerful as found art when considered in the stunning volume of their repetition. The protocol, originated by Urban Search and Rescue teams, became an icon of the post-Katrina cityscape.
The repetition of this code on house after house after house on mile after mile after mile of streets was a powerful narrative of the weeks following the storm, and is also unique in that it is a narrative told ON the architecture of the city. The repetition was also unique in that the symbols expressed a graphic even handedness—they appeared on structures spanning the socioeconomic mix of the city, and reflected the fact that this was an equal opportunity disaster.
This powerful graphic and its overwhelming repetition was noted by both amateurs and professionals documenting the event and its aftermath, and many of these viewers recorded the markings photographically. The visual recording of the found art of the X-codes has by now become a found art itself—the images are held by both amateur and professional artists who were moved and impressed by the sheer volume of the repetition as well as the unique power of communication.
Two articles on this subject have been published on SouthernSpaces.org, an online peer-reviewed journal from Emory University. The articles may be accessed at www.southernspaces.org/2009/x-codes-post-katrina-postscript and www.southernspaces.org/2010/katrina-5-x-code-exhibition. Work continues on this project.