Cauleen Smith is an interdisciplinary artist whose work encompasses film, video, installation, public performance, and sculpture. Drawing from the rich lineages of structuralist filmmaking and Third Cinema, since the late 1980s Smith’s short films have touched on the many concerns of our times—systemic racism, class, gender violence, and colonization among them—with a rigor and intrepid formal experimentation that has become all too rare.
Occasioned by our release of Drylongso (NYFF60), newly restored in 4K, we are pleased to present two programs of Smith’s short films: including works such as Chronicles of a Lying Spirit by Kelly Gabron (1992) and The Changing Same (2001), both screening from archival film prints, as well as her post-Katrina sci-fi, The Fullness of Time (2008).
Cauleen Smith, 1990, USA, 13m
In this personal compilation of emotions, completed while Smith was studying at San Francisco State University, the camera becomes a collective tool weaving between playground games, installation art, collaborators, and spoken testimonials of three women (including Smith) describing their earliest experiences of racism. Threading these scenes with a poetic monologue by Smith, these quotidian sequences of recreation and struggle reveal patterns of growth and self-reflection.
Chronicles of a Lying Spirit by Kelly Gabron
Cauleen Smith, 1992, USA, 16mm, 7m
Pictures, voices, and text meld and take on double meaning in one of Smith’s major early works. Sentences scroll across the screen—superimposed over cut-up and zoomed-in photographs and drawings atop a light table—describing a biography of an artist, as read by a monotone man, while a second voice (Smith) playfully challenges and interrupts the narrative. The duplication and overlap of sound and image detail a complex intersection of the first- and third-person, and of the Black experience in America and history written for the masses. 16mm print courtesy of the Academy Film Archive.
Cauleen Smith, 1997, USA, 4m
This elemental and playfully contrapuntal miniature documents a man in a white suit as he dances inside an apartment and then takes a stroll through the city, passing under scaffolding and at a newsstand before hitting a dead end. Comically-inserted off-screen sound effects—of a bouncing basketball, electrical surges, splashes of water—invoke dissonant haptic sensations that build to an experience that is at once fiercely interior and at odds with the outside world.
The Name You Trust for Good, Clean, Family Fun!
Cauleen Smith, 2010, 4m
A slogan for Ivory soap gives way to a silent monologue about the artist’s evolving sense of self, rendered through textured, white-block letters positioned on wall shelves. Words appear, disappear, and skip ahead in stop-motion animation, bringing to life an identity under threat of erasure.
Space is the Place (A March for Sun Ra)
Cauleen Smith, 2011, USA, 11m
A slowed-down, verité approach sets the formal parameters for Space Is the Place (A March for Sun Ra). Shot among the bronze zodiac statues lining Chicago’s Chinatown Square, this musical documentary observes the spontaneous, and rainy, performance of the Rich South High School marching band playing Sun Ra’s eponymous 1972 experimental composition—a big, brassy séance to the late composer and his cosmic philosophy.
Human_3.0 Reading List
Cauleen Smith, 2016, USA, 5m
This vertically shot, silent iPhone video finds Smith flipping through her own drawings of book covers, each vividly produced on graph paper in watercolor over graphite, occasionally elaborated with acrylic. In this clever spin on best-of lists, Smith engages with ideas of self-education and the formation of a new canon, referencing Angela Davis and James Baldwin to Roland Barthes’s Camera Lucida and Nelson Herwig’s Starfish, Sea Urchins, and Their Kin.
Cauleen Smith, 2015, USA, 11m
Through its bluesy montage and mix of observational and surreal imagery, Crow Requiem forms links between the migratory patterns of crows, the Underground Railroad, and innovations in early stereoscopic photography. As a woman dawning a crow mask poses in a studio, scrambles eggs over an outdoor fire, and nests crystals, video footage of Auburn and Syracuse, New York—of which a particular crow population migrates between—evoke a sense of dislocation at once bizarre and elegiac.
Cauleen Smith, 2017, USA, 8m
A live recording of Alice Coltrane’s “One for the Father” provides the soundtrack to this lyrical travelog through which Smith traces and retraces historic sites of creativity—the Sai Anantam Ashram, the Watts Towers, and the Watervliet Shaker Historic District in New York. Combining digital and rich 16mm images, Smith adapts home-movie aesthetics to capture the elegance and the banality of creation.
Three Songs About Liberation
Cauleen Smith, 2017, USA, 10m
Drawing upon a rich repository of monologues in Gerda Lerner’s Black Women in White America: A Documentary History (1972), Three Songs About Liberation chronicles a narrative of shared political commitment and calls to action, linking together speeches from pioneering educator and Civil War nurse Susie King Taylor in 1848; Jane Johnson, whose self-emancipation established legal precedents in 1855; and Luanna Cooper, a wrongfully-fired unionist from 1948.
Cauleen Smith, 2008, USA, 7m
Through a series of brief, often funny, letters addressed to eminent painters of the past—among them Johannes Vermeer, Diego Velázquez, and Charles Ethan Porter—and via 8mm-shot still lifes constructed by Smith herself, Entitled is devised of one-way missives, of playful and painful sensations unearthed by the quotidian, and “the desire for things unseen.”
Flowers for Virtually Nobody
Cauleen Smith, 2020, USA, 2m
Lockdown. Sunset. The voice of then-President Trump and a piano arrangement of “Over the Rainbow” are heard as Smith trims a bouquet of flowers. Flowers for Virtually Nobody reveals how irrefutable depths of loneliness, longing, and loss can be dismissed before our eyes.