Cauleen Smith


Cauleen Smith (USA) is one of our foremost living artists. Her films, installations, performances, drawings, paintings, sculptures, and multimedia artworks often address African-American identity with particular focus on issues facing Black women in the contemporary moment. She was born in Riverside, California and received a BA from San Francisco State University (1991) and an MFA from UCLA (1998), where she completed her first, highly-acclaimed feature Dryslong (1998), which screened at Sundance Film Festival that same year. Her films, objects, and installations have been featured in group and solo exhibitions at the Whitney Museum of American Art, Studio Museum of Harlem, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, the New Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art (Chicago), The Kitchen, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Institute of Contemporary Art (Philadelphia), among many others. Smith is the recipient of multiple awards and fellowships including the Independent Spirit Award (2000), National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture Artist Award (2012), Ellsworth Kelly Award, Herb Alpert Award, MCFF Honourable Mention (2016), the Black Metropolis Research Consortium Research Fellowship, and a Guggenheim Fellowship in Film & Video (2021). She has received Creative Capital and Director’s Grants from the University of California Institute for Research in the Arts, and participated in the Rauschenberg Residency. Her works are in private and public collections worldwide. Smith’s COVID Manifesto was featured as part of MCFF’s Radical Acts of Care exhibition (2020), and The Showroom’s 20:20 exhibition, transforming Piccadilly Circus’ giant 4k screen into a digital canvas. Smith teaches at CalArts in Los Angeles, California. 


ONLINE SCREENING DATES: May 20 – June 10, 2021

FILMS IN THIS PROGRAM: Chronicles of a Lying Spirit (by Kelly Gabron), 6 min, 1992  

Chronicles of a Lying Spirit (by Kelly Gabron), 6 min, 1992

Chronicles of a Lying Spirit (by Kelly Gabron) is less a depiction of “reality” than an exploration of the implications of the mediation of Black history by film, television, magazines, and newspapers. Using her alter ego, Kelly Gabron, Smith fabricates a personal history of her emergence as an artist from white-male-dominated American history (and American film history). Smith collages images and bits of text from a scrapbook by “Kelly Gabron” that had been completed before the film was begun, and provides female narration by “Kelly Gabron” that, slowly but surely, makes itself felt over the male narration about Kelly Gabron (Chris Brown is the male voice). The film's barrage of image, text, and voice is repeated twice, and is followed by a coda. That most viewers see the second presentation of the imagery differently from the original presentation demonstrates one problem with trusting any media representation. – Scott MacDonald

Elisa Wouk Almino: What are you currently working on?

Cauleen Smith: COVID-19 collided with the resolution of a big body of work for me, so I would have been hibernating anyway. I’m doing a lot of research and excited by the way that some of the things I am interested in are also percolating in popular culture, of all places — for me that does not happen!

I’m reading and re-reading a ton. Recently I participated in Jennifer Doyle’s (of Human Resources) phenomenal free class which paired the short story by Rebecca Harding Davis, “Life In The Iron Mills,” with Marx. Mind blown! It’s good to have help slogging through Das Capital. And Davis’s story is still haunting me.

I’m growing a little garden in my backyard to try to create some kind of relation with the land here. I spend a lot of time thinking about what it means to think of the earth as a relation instead of a resource. A lot of indigenous folk already know what this means — I’m just trying to catch up — and also, to frame this understanding as someone who has no land to call their own. Blacks of the diaspora have transplanted ourselves. We were dragged to these places as captive chattel, but we made ourselves human by relating to the world and each other. I think about the process of becoming human and I’m almost geologically examining temporal stakes that mark the moments we have forcefully imposed our humanity onto the American project where the country wanted to acknowledge this or not.

And, thanks to Saidiya Hartman, I’ve been thinking about Black women who reject patriarchal orders of respectability, and how like perennial flowers and gems we are (literally). I’ve been building a very gorgeous rock collection and then contending with the violent extraction applied so I could have my cute little rocks! Who knows where all of this research will end up. 

Read the full interview with Cauleen Smith at Hyperallergic here. 

All stills, photographs, and artwork courtesy Canyon Cinema and ©Cauleen Smith. Screening co-presented with Canyon Cinema.