Future and past, you want to hold all of that. You want to celebrate, you want to protest, you want to do all at once.
Spanning and intertwining film, installation, and physical objects, Cauleen Smith's multimedia practice expands on the experimental film and Third World Cinema traditions in order to explore the physical and mindspaces of historical memory, collectivity, and compensatory possibility. In this way, the artist's work emerges as a talismanic touchstone for contemporary activism and community building.
Cauleen Smith, H-E-L-L-O: To Do All At Once showcases H-E-L-L-O (2014), a short film set in the physical and psychic imaginary of post-Katrina New Orleans. Casting isolated performers amid the secular and sacred haunts of a seemingly vacated city marked by preservation amid devastation, Smith generates a constellation of artistic production born from the diasporic reverberations of the natural disaster. The dispersed orchestra, comprised of nine bass-clef musicians, plays a five-note sequence popularized by Stephen Spielberg's 1977 science fiction film Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The truncated score, which began as an ominous and chimeric message, gains clarity at the end of the feature film as a greeting (translated by Kodaly sign language) between earthbound scientists and extraterrestrials. As the sonic accompaniment for H-E-L-L-O, the score operates as a site of communal action for the musicians of New Orleans, recalling the histories of performance and procession so endemic to the city.
Through her rigorous formal apparatus, the artist deftly probes the sinewy resilience of New Orleans's creative and cosmic environments in the aftermath of regional devastation exacerbated by racial inequity. In a contemporary moment analogously strained by disenfranchisement and disembodiment (and attempts to reconfigure unjust social contracts through emphatic proclamations of bodily presence and political affirmation), revisiting H-E-L-L-O accrues renewed urgency in the wake of increasingly volatile and elongated hurricane seasons and COVID-19's profound impact upon sharing collective physical space. Foregrounding Smith's own archival-based practice and influence on a generation of artists, the exhibition also opens a dialogue of response with interlocutors from a range of related disciplines and perspectives. Revealed throughout the duration of the exhibition, these responses will take hold of H-E-L-L-O as a creative intervention and catalyst for sustained engagement.
This exhibition was made possible through the generous support of Valeria Napoleone XX. We extend special thanks to the artist for lending the work on view, and additional thanks to her gallery, Corbett vs. Dempsey. Megan Kincaid and Summer Sloane-Britt curated the exhibition. Lizette Ayala designed the website. Miquael Williams contributed as an advisory curator, and Dr. Edward J. Sullivan served as the faculty advisor. Special thanks are also due to Dr. Christine Poggi, Sarah Higby, Sofia Palumbo-Dawson, and Jason Varone of the IFA.
Video Data Bank, School of the Art Institute of Chicago offered generous support as a presenting partner for the Response Program.
ValeriaNapoleoneXX is an umbrella platform for projects and initiatives working towards increasing the recognition and validation of art practices by women artists through collaborations and partnerships with institutions and individuals in the world of contemporary art.
ValeriaNapoleoneXXIFA is an ongoing commitment to underwrite the Great Hall Exhibition Series at NYU's Institute of Fine Arts, featuring two solo exhibitions a year focused on the work of women artists.
Cauleen Smith (b. 1967, Riverside, CA) lives and works in Los Angeles. She was recently the recipient of a solo presentation at the Whitney Museum of American Art, Cauleen Smith: Mutualities (February 17, 2020 — January 31, 2021), which showcased her film installations, as well as a major career survey organized by MASS MoCA, Cauleen Smith: We Already Have What We Need (May 25, 2019 — March 15, 2020), that emphasized her interdisciplinary approach to film, sculpture, and installation as exemplified by her living rooms or space stations. The traveling exhibition Cauleen Smith: Give It or Leave It—the title a selfless revision of the idiom take it or leave it—evidenced her archival and historical trajectories, producing, for example, an installation of rotating disco balls that provided visual accompaniment to the sounds of Alice Coltrane. She has also had solo exhibitions at Art Institute of Chicago; Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago; The High Line, New York; and Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. Her work is currently on view in a two-person exhibition with Theaster Gates at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Her films, objects, and installations have been featured in group exhibitions including celebrated presentations in the 2017 Whitney Biennial that showcased her In the Wake series of text banners, and at The Studio Museum in Harlem's contemporary art group show centering Afrofuturist aesthetics The Shadows Took Shape (November 13, 2013 — March 9, 2014), in which she presented objects from her sculptural practice, such as The Score. Recently, two of Smith's graphic drawings of grocery store lists were included in the exhibition 100 Drawings from Now (October 7, 2020 — January 17, 2021) at the Drawing Center, New York.
She also participated in Prospect.4, New Orleans (2017) and in group exhibitions at New Museum, New York; San Diego Museum of Art; and BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, UK. Smith is the recipient of numerous grants and awards including the 2020 Joyce Alexander Wein Artist Prize from The Studio Museum in Harlem, the inaugural Ellsworth Kelly Award from the Foundation for Contemporary Art in 2016, as well as the 2016 Herb Alpert Award in the Arts for Film/Video, Rockefeller Media Arts Award, Creative Capital Film/Video, Chicago 3Arts Grant, the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, Artadia, and a Rauschenberg Residency in 2015. Most recently, in 2019, Smith was an artist-in-residence at Artpace. Smith was born in Riverside, CA and grew up in Sacramento. She earned a B.A. in Cinema from San Francisco State University in 1991 and an M.F.A. from the University of California, Los Angeles in 1998. Smith studied with Trinh T. Minh-ha, Angela Davis, and Lynn Hershman Leeson at San Francisco State University. She attended the Skowhegan School of Painting & Sculpture in 2007. Smith is Professor at CalArts School of Art.
Fig. 1: Installation view of Cauleen Smith: Mutualities (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, February 17–May 17, 2020). From left to right: Space Station: Charmed and Strange, 2019; Sojourner, 2018. Image courtesy of the Whitney Museum of American Art. Photograph by Ron Amstutz
Fig. 2: Installation view of Cauleen Smith: We Already Have What We Need (MASS MoCA, North Adams, MA, May 25, 2019–March 15, 2020). We Already Have What We Need, 2019. Courtesy of the artist; Kate Werble Gallery, New York; and Corbett vs. Dempsey, Chicago. Image courtesy of MASS MoCA. Photograph by David Dashiell
Fig. 3: Installation view of Cauleen Smith: Give It or Leave It at the Logan Center for The Arts, University of Chicago (Traveling exhibition: Institute for Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, September 14–December 23, 2018; Institute for Contemporary Art, Virginia Commonwealth University, February 16–May 5, 2019; Frye Museum, Seattle, June 1–September 1, 2019; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, April 1–October 31, 2021). Space Station: Monk-Ranger, 2013. Courtesy of the artist; Kate Werble Gallery, New York; and Corbett vs. Dempsey, Chicago. Image courtesy of Logan Center for the Arts, University of Chicago. Photograph by Cecil McDonald
Fig. 4: Installation view of the Whitney Biennial 2017 (Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, March 17, 2017–June 11, 2017). From left to right: Ulrike Muller, Rug (gato chico), 2015; Occupy Museums, Debtfair, 2017; Harold Mendez, but I sound better since you cut my throat, 2016; Julien Nguyen, Executive Function, 2017; Julien Nguyen, Executive Solutions, 2017; Harold Mendez, At night we walk in circles, 2016; Jon Kessler, Evolution, 2016; Cauleen Smith, In the Wake, 2017; Pope L. aka William Pope.L, Claim (Whitney Version), 2017; Otto Gillen, New York, 2015; Dana Schultz, Elevator, 2017. Image courtesy of the Whitney Museum of American Art. Photograph by Ronald Amstutz
Fig. 5: Cauleen Smith, The Score. Fired porcelain, underglaze and acrylic, 9 x 12" (22.8 x 30.5 cm). Image courtesy of Corbett vs Dempsey, Chicago. Photograph by Tom Van Eynde
Fig. 6: Cauleen Smith, Still Life/Shopping List, 2020. Graphite on Post-it Note, 6 x 4" (15.2 x 10.2cm). Image courtesy of the artist and Corbett vs. Dempsey, Chicago.
Authored by a broad cohort of creative practitioners, the response program of Cauleen Smith, H-E-L-L-O: To Do All At Once assembles numerous interpretations and associations afforded by the film. The responses will be posted to the website during the exhibition's run, generating a shifting and evolving digital life.
THE BLACK SCHOOL
Notes on “Anti-Objects, or Space Without Path or Boundary”
by Sky Hopinka
These notes were written just after completing “Anti-Objects, or Space Without Path or Boundary” in 2017, and after rewatching Cauleen Smith's H-E-L-L-O recently I could to see the intersecting lines concerning notions of landscape, sound, and the assertion of presence. Through the direction of the musicians in Cauleen's film, the performance and gesture of this music that says “hello” becomes an anti-object itself, a sort of anti-communication made to deviate from the paradigms of what we know and expect and how we're told to behave and express ourselves, to greet and be greeted. As the idea of my film moves through space and spaces exploring language and land and history, I'm always happy to be in conversation with Cauleen Smith, and answer back, “laxayam”
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“The individual is not an autonomous, solitary object but a thing of uncertain extent, with ambiguous boundaries. So too is matter, which loses much of its allure the moment it is reduced to an object, shorn of its viscosity, pressure and density. Both subject and matter resist their reduction into objects. Everything is interconnected and intertwined.” —Kengo Kuma
The concept behind this video, with the title and texts taken from the book Anti-Object by the architect Kengo Kuma, employs the idea of the anti-object to reconsider the way we move through actual and abstract spaces that are historical, contemporary, and Indigenous in order to identify layers of utility and access. Images and representations of two architectural structures in the Portland Metropolitan Area that have direct and complicated connections to the Chinookan people who inhabit(ed) the land are woven with audio tapes of one of the last speakers of chinuk wawa, the Chinookan creole. As with Reiko Hillyer's Design Week Portland talk “Who Has the Right to the City? Design, Justice, and Public Space,” race and class inevitably play a large role in who can and cannot move through public spaces freely and easily. These localities of matter, a bridge, a plankhouse and audio tapes, resist their reduction into objects, and call anew for space and time given to wandering as a deliberate act and the empowerment of shared utility.
Some 25 miles north of Portland's city center, in Ridgefield, WA, sits the Cathlapotle Plankhouse. Located on the southwestern edge of the Ridgefield Wildlife Refuge, Cathlapotle was named after the Chinookan town that stood on the site until 1835, and was completed a little over 10 years ago in a partnership between the Chinook Indian Nation, Portland State University, and U.S. Fish & Wildlife. The space is open to the general public, but is also designated for private use by the tribe. Within Cathlapotle are carvings by Chinookan artists and allies. While there are plenty of photographs available of the interior of the plankhouse, and it's often open for public use during summer park hours, for the intentions of this project I chose not to film inside. These were boundaries not up to me to delineate.
On the south end of downtown Portland, between the Marquam Bridge and the Ross Island Bridge, is Tilikum Crossing, Bridge of the People. It's a cable-stayed bridge—a design that seems to focus on utility in the city’s efforts to provide pedestrian access across the river. The name of the bridge, Tilikum, means people, but depending on how a speaker uses it, it can also mean person, family, or tribe. On the eastern and western banks of the bridge are three carvings by Chinookan artist Greg A. Robinson. Together, they make up one piece called “We Have Always Lived Here.” The carvings have a distinct story and meaning in their connection to the indigenous Chinookan peoples.
In 1983, a linguist named Henry Zenk set out to document the language now known as chinuk wawa. This Chinookan creole has gone by other names over the years, “Chinook Jargon” being the most ubiquitous. Henry recorded his sessions with every person he could find who possessed some degree of fluency in the language. The speaker he learned the most from was Wilson Bobb, a 92-year-old Grand Ronde and Yakama Nation tribal member. Wilson grew up speaking the language on the Grand Ronde Reservation some sixty miles west of Portland, but was living in White Swan, Washington when Henry met him. Over the course of two years, Henry learned and studied the language. After Wilson passed away in 1985, Henry, by default, became one of its last speakers.
I knew of the Wilson Bobb tapes—these relics of a conversation that I had originally heard about from my own teacher who was a student of Henry Zenk. Listening to them now, however, allows me to experience the friendship that formed between Wilson and Henry through their meandering conversations. As the two men from very different backgrounds wandered through chinuk wawa, they claimed space for the language to exist. In essence, it wasn’t a cold lexicon without heart or figurative meaning. Rather, a communal space that revealed how the language was used amongst friends.
Kuma says: “To wander is to trace the contours of particles and lend our ears to the sounds they make. We must scan the distance between particles, not by eye, but with our bodies moving in time. Only then are sounds born.” Wandering through these localities of matter offers a new way to engage with them. Henry wandered through conversations with Wilson and subsequently played an important role in revitalizing a language. To wander across a bridge and around a plankhouse redefines each not as an “independent material object distinct from its environment,” but as anti-objects, compositions of matter inseparable from the nature around them.
The name Tilikum Crossing, and the inclusion of sculptures by a contemporary Chinookan artist at the site, gives an Indigenous community connection and access to this space. Yet, thousands of roads, bridges, beaches, towns, mountains and rivers remain throughout the Pacific Northwest, with names that also come from chinuk wawa. Many people, Indigenous and Settler alike, don't know the origins of these names, or their meaning. The names become objects in this way, descriptors without description, devoid of any connection to the environment that gave them sound and form. To look upon them as “anti-objects,” is to give them implications beyond characters composed on a sign or map.
If Tilikum Crossing hopes to truly function as a tool for inclusion and access, it must be looked upon not as a monument to past Indigenous presence, a “compression of history,” but rather as a merging of memory and utility. Similarly, the recordings between Henry and Wilson cannot be heard as documentary artifacts, but as tools for realizing the potential for a language to be spoken, for a language given life anew. What is modeled doesn't have to be followed, rather the next generation of speakers will have the privilege of wielding these tools and of creating new ones.
Likewise, the Cathlapotle Plankhouse cannot be seen as a replica of an ancient structure built by people no longer here. The Chinook Nation utilizes Cathlapotle, and sometimes when they occupy the plankhouse their events are not open to the public. This authority over access empowers a group of people, historically denied that privilege, to define their own representations in that space.
Whether in a city, wildlife refuge, or a classroom that's listening to a conversation made historical by age, the time allowed for wandering through these areas is just as important as the act of wandering itself. Kuma says that “everything possessing a frequency is subordinate to time, and generates sounds and colours only when its contours have been traced in time…we must cast ourselves in time and extract sounds from the particles of the wilderness.” Paths don't have to exist as stone or gravel, but as lines of thought that bridge memories of movement. Time effects experience, and experiences are activated through remembrance. This video is an activation of access.
I wandered through these spaces and realized that any way I filmed them, any bits of audio I chose, they would still be entirely subjective to the path I construct in an edit. It would become an object itself. I can't photograph these spaces and show you how to move within them, but I can show you where I went. I can’t tell you how long I was there, but I can construct an idea of the time I occupied. The paths and boundaries I created are vaporous and already gone, but the space remains, waiting to be ambled through once again.
Sky Hopinka (Ho-Chunk Nation/Pechanga Band of Luiseño Indians) was born and
raised in Ferndale, Washington and spent a number of years in Palm Springs and
Riverside, CA, Portland, OR, and Milwaukee, WI. In Portland he studied and taught
chinuk wawa, a language indigenous to the Lower Columbia River Basin. His video,
photo, and text work centers around personal positions of Indigenous homeland and
landscape, designs of language as containers of culture expressed through personal, documentary, and non-fictional forms of media. He received his BA from Portland State University in Liberal Arts and his MFA in Film, Video, Animation, and New Genres from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, and teaches at Bard College.
His work has played at various festivals including ImagineNATIVE Media + Arts Festival, Images, Wavelengths, Ann Arbor Film Festival, Sundance, and Projections. His work was a part of the 2016 Wisconsin Triennial and the 2017 Whitney Biennial and the 2018 FRONT Triennial. He was a guest curator at the 2019 Whitney Biennial and was a part of Cosmopolis #2 at the Centre Pompidou. He was awarded jury prizes at the Onion City Film Festival, the More with Less Award at the 2016 Images Festival, the Tom Berman Award for Most Promising Filmmaker at the 54th Ann Arbor Film Festival, the New Cinema Award at the Berwick Film and Media Arts Festival and the Mary L. Nohl Fund Fellowship for Individual Artists in the Emerging artist category for 2018. He was a fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University in 2018-2019 and Sundance Art of Nonfiction Fellow for 2019, and is a 2020 Guggenheim Fellow.
Copyright of Sky Hopinka, Courtesy of Video Data Bank at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, vdb.org.
In Ted Chiang's science fiction short story, Story of Your Life, a linguist is tasked with learning how to communicate with a group of “visitors” from another galaxy, an experience which fundamentally changes how she perceives time and space for the rest of her life. Chiang's work demonstrates how we might be profoundly changed by encounters with others and uses sound and language as the sites of these encounters. Navigating between transparency and opacity, between the anxiety of being consumed and the desire to be understood, is a modus operandi for contemporary social life––this also undergirds the task of translation for Chiang's protagonist. She has been hired by the US military and is instructed to avoid revealing any information to the visitors that might leave Earth vulnerable to attacks or colonisation (the irony being that if these visitors have already mastered the technology of space travel then they most likely would not patiently share the mechanisms of their linguistic structures with the inhabitants of a planet they intend to colonize). Through a stunning synthesis of concepts ranging from linguistic relativity to bioacoustics, Chiang’s work proposes a scenario that asks what happens when, instead of seeking to understand others, we seek to determine how to make space for encounters with others and to cultivate a willingness to possibly be changed by these encounters through practices of listening and paying attention.
In his 1977 book, The Tuning of the World, composer R. Murray Shafer writes:
Touch is the most personal of the senses. Hearing and touch meet where the lower frequencies of audible sound pass over to tactile vibrations (at about 20 hertz). Hearing is a way of touching at a distance and the intimacy of the first sense is fused with sociability whenever people gather together...
Cauleen Smith's H-E-L-L-O offers up acoustic space as a site of encounter. Smith's encounters take place in various locations throughout New Orleans, Louisiana––a city whose Black population has been upended by multiple crises of climate change and infrastructural neglect via the destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the ensuing rampant gentrification of the city after the hurricane. Smith’s performers play the John Williams composed “greeting” used by the extraterrestrial visitors from Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The greeting is kind of like a sonic hand wave paired with a smile; the musicians are just saying “hello” even though they are already “home.” It's an invitation to an encounter, and an opportunity to be changed by the contact. These musicians play bass clef instruments, meaning that the frequencies of their instruments fall on the lower end of the spectrum of audible frequencies compared to tenor, alto, and treble clef instruments which fall on the higher end. Lower frequencies of sound can travel further because their wavelengths are longer. This means that the frequencies of bass clef instruments are closer to the threshold at which the “frequencies of audible sound pass over to tactile vibrations” (Shafer), making them closer to the realm in which a frequency might register more closely as a touch than as a sound. If they can’t be heard, they will surely be felt. It’s an idea that brings to mind the well-worn line from Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower:
Consider: Whether you're a human being, an insect, a microbe, or a stone, this verse is true.
All that you touch
All that you Change
The only lasting truth
Nikita Gale is an artist based in Los Angeles. Nikita holds a BA in Anthropology with an emphasis in Archaeological Studies from Yale University and an MFA in New Genres from UCLA. Gale’s work applies the lenses of material culture and sound studies to consider how authority is negotiated within political, social, and economic systems. The artist has exhibited with various national and international institutions, including MoMA PS1; The Studio Museum in Harlem; Cubitt (London); Nottingham Contemporary (London); Ceysson & Benetiere (Paris); and the Hammer Museum (Los Angeles). Nikita serves on the Board of Directors for Grex, the west coast affiliate of the AK Rice Institute for the Study of Social Systems. Gale's work has been featured in various publications including Mousse, Texte Zur Kunst, The New York Times, Artforum, Art in America, Art21, Frieze, Vogue, and Flash Art. Gale’s work is held in public and private collections around the globe, including CC Foundation Shanghai and the Pérez Art Museum Miami.
The Black School is honored to present this response to Cauleen Smith's 2015 video work H-E-L-L-O. Smith is a visionary artist of our time who demonstrates for all of us the dynamic intersection of imagination, experimentation, community care, and love. Today The Black School finds our organization in a pivotal moment of relocation from New York City to New Orleans (our Co-Director Joseph Cuillier's hometown), and of momentum towards our goal of establishing a physical home for our arts education programming here in New Orleans. Our work is centered in Black Love, Self-determination, and Wellness. We understand Black education as paramount to these values and took this opportunity to explore certain realities of Black education in New Orleans both pre- and post-Katrina as a central theme for this response video. We are completely grateful to acknowledge The Black School's Program Manager, Lana Meyon for directing the course of this project, the videographer and editor, Laron Mathieu of Autotype, LLC for his stellar execution of this project, guest speakers Malik Bartholomew of KnowNola Tours, Kimberley Coleman of Mc Kenna Museums and Kalin Norman of Cre.at.ive for their valued perspectives and lived experiences.