“Over the course of April, May, and June, Smith posted the 23 tenets, or principles, of her COVID Manifesto on Instagram, which in recent months has become a locus for sharing protest information, bail fund databases, and educational materials like playlists and reading lists of Black feminist texts akin to the artist’s own illustrated syllabus. Like the Human_3.0 Reading List, the COVID Manifesto is manually inscribed with graphite on notepad paper. Handwriting these notes compels one to take pause from scrolling through their social feed to parse through them. This is similar to how Smith’s drawing of the book covers on the Reading List slowed people down and invited renewed interest,” as Smith explains in an interview with Art in America.
The Manifesto acts as a call to action rather than an instructional manual to dismantling capitalism. Responding to national and global events in real-time, it began with more playful tenets such as watching movies online and gradually grew into calls for the abolition of prisons, police, and “capitalist racial illogics.” Some tenets were also love poems to the planet suffering due our relentlessly extractive economy, and others were odes to the Black women, who are leading the struggle for collective liberation.” – Jad Dahshan
TABLEAU I SPY
- - Plant
- - iPad with Cauleen Smith’s “In The Wake” Banner, “No Wonder I Go Under”
- - Plate of food with salad and fork
- - Inhaler
- - Mask
- - Sun Ra The Nubians of Plutonia
- - Henry Taylor cardboard box painting
- - Paper with COVID VIRUS MOLECULE DOODLE
Dahshan, Jad. “Cauleen Smith's Instagrammable, Anti-Capitalist Treatise.” In Practice: The Official University of Chicago Arts Blog. In Practice: The Official University of Chicago Arts Blog, August 3, 2020
"Dear friends. Taking a cue from the filmmaking community, I’m sharing films that were on public exhibition in institutions faced with closures. The first is dear to me. Shot on location in beloved NOLA. I hope it helps with the shut in blues. Just saying hello from Cali. #massmoca ✨💗✨"
HUMAN_3.0 READING LIST MANIFESTO:
Episode 22. HUMAN_3.0 READING LIST BIBLIOGRAPHY for iPhone. #abolishprisons #defundpolice #UAGirvine #artinstituteofchicago —You can get the book version of this from #corbettvsdempsey — reading lists are as much about omissions as inclusions. I can’t read fast enough or vast enough. Knowledge gathering is a collective endeavour. But this was an offering. Is an offering. I have a new list in the works which is sure to vex clever folk as much as this one. Apologies and appreciations in advance. What’s on your list? 🤷🏾♀️🥽🦉🕸🐘🪐🥦🎱🛋📚📘📗📕💞💭🙏🏾✨ (Cauleen Smith's Instagram 2 August)
"I choose this little film to think about Form. I’m a formalist to the core. No one believes me because I also give very much care to meaning. What I mean to say. What I mean to show. What narratives I weave. Yes I also very much care about that. What do you call it when both matter, when both happen? This film has always been received with complete indifference from experimental/festival film circuit and bemused puzzlement in art circles. It’s one of my favorite works. It’s elemental. Basic in the best and funniest ways, I think. It’s all about form. And it’s all about thinking about black figures in white space. It’s about estrangement and the dissonance of black interiority within structural racists spaceways ( that being the city street, gladiator sports, fashion, public transport, whatever!) We make our own Spaceways. We make our own Spaceways however we can. Vintage pre-gentrified Hollywood. Oh how I miss it! Wandering around looking for things to film. Oh how I miss that. I was so broke when I made this. Soooo broke inside and out. I don’t miss that. Gorgeous Viola by Keith Barry aka Tree. #walkoffame #afrofururism #whatisthe4thtome #covidmanifesto #uclatft #bolex" (Cauleen Smith's Instagram 5 July)
TABLEAU I SPY:
- - WILLI SMITH Butterick sewing pattern by Willi Smith
- - Binti: Home by Nnedi Okorafor
- - Xerox of Billy Ray photograph from Watts Riots for Life magazine
- - Kerry James Marshall “Mastry” Boy Scout patch
Duvra, Mara. “A Body / a Sign : On Black Subjectivity / Interiority / Finding Tenderness: beyond Political Meaningfulness.”
"I often play Brother Kelan’s records for my students. I always get emotional because I really miss him. I miss listening to him speak about esoteric cosmological deep knowledges, I miss listening to him play his Frankiphone- an instrument he created based on his research on the kalimba. Making this video was my first time meeting him. I picked him up and drove him to Kapoors situation and he just jammed. Security guards made him turn off his amp-Appalling ignorance of the police state showing its buttocks 😆-He told me he thought I had a bright future as a filmmaker and he could tell I was creative because I laid down on the ground to make some of the images. 💜 talking to him felt a little like maybe what it was like to talk with Sun Ra. I always felt like I was traveling somewhere. Anyways. Here’s a little relief from the shit-show we have before us these days. Stay well. Stay safe. Spread Love not Covid. 🤗💫🙏🏾👂🏿🧠💆🏾♀️🧎🏿♀️👟👓🕊🦜🐚🌍🪐☁️🌫🎼🎬🪕⛵️🏙📷⌛️💎🔮🔭🗝🔍🖤🤎❤️💚💝🔊 - Cauleen Smith's Instagram 3 October
TABLEAU I SPY:
"Well, everything is always about memory, about excavating and then speculating upon history and images. I kind of make the same thing over and over again. I excavate my own memories and I insert myself into memories and histories that are not mine to try and recuperate them. Dark Matter (2006), Elsewhere (2010), and Remote Viewing (2011) all have different strategies. Elsewhere is an anomaly in that I didn’t even know why I was making that image. Through processing and editing it, I realized it was about recuperating that memory of the quintessential Essence magazine cover. I’m talking about those amazing covers from the mid- to late ’70s when they would do the summer Black Love issue where the cover would feature a chocolate couple, nude, embracing, Afros in effect. Then that wonderful font forEssence in lavender, vermillion, or safflower emblazoned over them. These magazine covers were, I’ve only recently realized, enormously impactful on my little, prepubescent imagination! Elsewhere was installed at the Blanton Museum of Art last year for the group show Desire. You had to approach it through a corridor; the projected image was folded into the far corner. You might enter it when a pile of lavender yarn gathering on a bed of corn husks is all that’s being projected, and you’re surrounded with the sounds of nature, birds, grasses, winds. Then—OMG!—a giant nipple appears. At this point a lot of people bolted out. A giant black areola isn’t something people are prepared to gaze upon…" - interview with artist Leslie Hewitt, BOMB Magazine
TABLEAU I SPY:
- - Coach Basquiat camera bag
- - Maneki Neko
- - Windy Chien rope knot bauble - Year of knots book
- - Bubs and Grandma’s Slice of bread
- - Simulations by Jean Baudrillard book
- - Jim Shaw Polaroid picture
- - Lynton Kwesi Johnson Bass Culture album and sleeve
EPISODE 24. ELSEWHERE. Inspired by Essence Magazine’s yearly “black love issue.” Do some of ya’ll remember? As a kid I just loved the erotic charge of these covers. Only as an adult do I understand the very deliberate crafting of a very particular heterotopia. Black bodies safe while vulnerable in nature. Pleasure celebrated. Procreation an after thought instead of the message. So semiotically interesting and deep, these images are to me, that I had to make a film to try and understand them. == no more need for #shutinfilmfestival. Folks are no longer sheltering in place. I’m so happy the two shows I have up right now are receiving visitors! @whitneymuseum #mutualities and @sandiegomuseumofart #floricanta . Even so -I wish ya’ll would stay home because we actually are not safe. Lots of folks very vulnerable. Let’s look out for each other. 💚🌲🌺🙆🏾♀️☠️🤟🏾👁🧶👚🐞🌿🌑🎬🛤💜💗❤️💜💗❤️🟣♠️🙏🏾Thanks @amberesseiva for getting me to resurrect this work. 🙏🏾💜
Penn, Charli. “Every Single Time Black Love Reigned Supreme On ESSENCE Covers Through the Years.” Essence. Essence, September 27, 2016
"Through films, objects, and installation, Give It or Leave It offers an emotional axis by which to navigate four distinct universes: Alice Coltrane and her ashram, a 1966 photoshoot by Bill Ray at Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers, Noah Purifoy and his desert assemblages, and black spiritualist Rebecca Cox Jackson and her Shaker community. These locations, while not technically utopian societies, embody sites of historical speculation and radical generosity between artist and community. In reimagining a future through this mix, Smith casts a world that is black, feminist, spiritual, and unabashedly alive." - Cauleen Smith: Give It or Leave It, Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, 2018
TABLEAU I SPY:
- - Theaster Gates ceramic sake cup
- - Paint stirring stick from Rodney McMillan’s studio
- - 256Hz Tuning fork
Episode 19 THE RIGHT TIME BEFORE AND AFTER. 2017. One of the first things I got to do upon arrival in Chicago was visit this amazing structure in Washington Park. Formally a horse stable and carriage house, it had been freshly annexed by the DuSable Museum of African American history. It still smelled very faintly of horse manure. I dreamt of doing something in the space. 6 years later I get to make this installation for a marvelous group show produced by #palaisdetokyo. Literally a dream come true. This video remnant is the only real documentation that I have. I wish it included the sounds of the Park, city, and community. I’m missing Chicago summers, the lakefront, my bike rides. So this is a little love letter. Made with #leefilters and sunlight with the capable side of @thomas_huston who secretly installed a bird’s egg up by the windows. I love that. 💌 🕶🌈🥚🌞📹🟪🟥🟩🟨🟧🟦⚪️🟣🟡🟠🔵🔴 (Cauleen Smith's Instagram 9 July)
NEWS, April 15th 2020:
UK economy could shrink by 35% with 2m job losses, warns OBR
"Episode 6 of #shutinfilmfestival. Lessons in Semaphore (2013) is a fast collaboration with the great and luminous choreographer #taishapaggett and a corner lot in Washington Park Chicago and a neighbourhood kid and frequent visitor to my studio, Malyk. My camera was busted. This was the last time I used my beautiful Vietnam bell+Howell wartime wind-up. I never convinced my fellow residents that the empty lots offered a wild prairie beauty. Fair enough. Because these empty lots also remind us of redlining and anti-black economic operations on fleek in Chicago and all over the country. But this was a small attempt at looking at the way the violence of American racism might, for a moment, be undermined and resisted. Chicago, I miss you. 👐🏾🙋🏿♀️🦋🐞🐝🦜🌱🌾🧩🎥🎞💚🚩💚🟥🟦🚩 - Cauleen Smith's Instagram 30 March 2020
“Lessons in Semaphore.” IFFR, January 18, 2019
In this 16mm film shot on the south side of Chicago, choreographer Taisha Paggett dances with two flags in an attempt to communicate in semaphore. She meets a young boy, Malik, who appears to speak her language. The film plays out like a celebration of dialogue, despite the silence that surrounds it.
Gerda Lerner, "Black Women in White America: A Documentary History", Vintage Books, 1993
This film, along with Spin and Guardian of Blackstone is part of a constellation of films THE WAY OUT IS THE WAY TWO all ruminating on the time that Sun Ra spent in Chicago Becoming Sun Ra. In a box of ephemera saved by SRa’s business manager, Alton Abraham, was a pack of souvenir post cards from the pyramids of Egypt. The images that Sun Ra and his Arkestra made there are so iconic that these trinkets, saved so decades after their trip there, felt especially poignant. Some tangible evidence that once again these two men had made the impossible a reality. I was once on a panel with an Egyptian artist who mocked Sun Ra, suggesting his name was ignorantly redundant. 🙄😉I ignored the slight and went on to discuss the incredibly interesting musical cross pollination between SRa and Salas Ragab, the innovative Cairo jazz band leader. African condescension towards blacks of the diaspora is not uncommon and registers as always misplaced— revealing a tragic alignment with colonial masters who encourage notions of a proprietary authenticity. Black diaspora fearlessness- our need and willingness to boldly go wherever our dreams take us is the dynamism of the culture we create and practice. This little film was a love letter to Mr. Abraham and Sun Ra, two men who together boldly showed us all the way....🙏🏾❤️😺🖖🏿🥾🕶🧳🐫🐪🌴🪐🎹🎷🎬🚀🛸✈️🖌🟪🔊🇪🇬
TABLEAU I SPY:
Fred Moten, "In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition", 2003, University of Minnesota Press (PDF)
Episode 17: SPIN. Just like in previous offering Two media artifacts are set-beside and along-with in order to propose an in-addition-to. The sublime solo piano is an unreleased rehearsal recording that I found on some of Alton Abram’s (Sun Ra’s friend and business manager) personal tape while in residence @esschicago. The video clip, chopped and looped, was plucked from another film that I posted on this channel a few weeks back. Toni was (is) a very sweet and very tough girl. Gifted athlete, taller than all the boys her age. In my short time knowing her I never observed her being extra frilly and silly. So when I caught her twirling about in the Sun Ra cape I gave the kids to wear it pinched me somehow in the sweetest possible way. I just wanted to hold that moment of Toni-at-play forever. Sun Ra’s keyboard work does just that. The Sound Of Joy. #sunra #thesoundofjoy #blackstonebikeshop #57thstreetbeachchicago #thewayoutisthewaytwo This work first appeared in a constellation of short videos ruminating on Sun Ra’s process of Becoming in Chicago. The collection- The Way Out Is The Way Two is among my favorite bodies of work and least viewed. It’s not unusual for taste-makers and I to have very different views about what my best work is. 😆But I’m firever grateful to @juliewidholm for making the opportunity for me to make the work while she was at MCA Chicago. 🙏🏾✨🔊🧚🏾🧚🏾♀️🩱🐚🚴🏿♂️🚴🏾♀️🩰🎹📹🧸🎈💙🖤🤍❤️🖤💙▶️ - Cauleen Smith’s Instagram 26 June
TABLEAU I SPY:
- - lapis lazuli
- - Black and white photos - Nikki Giovanni
- - Coffee in Teacup and saucer
- - https://medium.com/@andreamantovani/kintsugi-and-the-art-of-repair-life-is-what-makes-us-b4af13a39921
- - Floating Museum —Margaret Burroughs bust reproduction Sculpture
- - Crows and Ravens book
Lewis Hyde, The Gift, (1983) - "The Gift by Lewis Hyde – the book that keeps on giving", The Guardian, Dec 2015
THE GRID. 2010. I’m dedicating this video to everyone who has come to consciousness about our human condition and is out in these streets expanding social justice in whatever way you need to. A lot of folks surprised at the power of activists this summer. I was! Shouldn’t have been. They’ve been mobilizing and honing resistance-craft for years now. #BLM now socially comprehensible because black women methodically built the discourse necessary for legibility. Changing the world is a process, a collaboration, a proposal for impossible things. — this video stars Alem Brhan Sapp. @alemsapp Produced by Kahlil Joseph. Shot in Malibu state park. Responding to prevailing ideas around Land Art and the series of gestures from Smithson while he residenced at Kent State in particular. A slow methodical 15 minutes. Maybe it’s a minute for every 10 years of black struggle. Maybe. Get comfy. 💋🙏🏾✨🌳🧶🐸🧘🏾♀️🧵🤟🏾✊🏿🌞🌳 - Cauleen Smith's Instagram, 29 June
TABLEAU I SPY:
"Deeply embedded in our “ways of doing business” in America, is the fundamental belief that the black body, even while producing great profits (especially when incarcerated), can and must absorb brute force and coercive control within our cultural and economic markets. Indeed, systemic knowledge proposed that black people don’t feel pain the way white people do; moreover, and the pain inflicted upon us is provoked by our very blackness which marks us as fugitive."
Harney, Stefano, and Fred Moten, "The Undercommons: Fugitive Planning & Black Study", 2013 (PDF)
"Orange Jumpsuit" and it's partner "Blue Scrubs, Yellow Scrubs, Trustees, All above" were commissioned by Los Angeles Municipal Gallery at barnsdall for the group show "Loitering is Delightful". Inspired by an essay by Ross Gay about the perils and pleasures of loitering, these videos use a longstanding device within my practice of the Ikebana to contemplate the vulnerability of black bodies in public space that are not deployed for labor profit or entertainment. The colors of the flowers are the colors of clothing worn in LA County Jail (yellow and blue) and state prison (orange -- in fact there are 5 colors, green grey and yellow and red as well). This is the Left video in a pendant pair for flat screen presentation." – Cauleen Smith
Art in The Age Of Mass Incarceration: A Dialogue with Nicole R. Fleetwood (Pen America), June 23, 2020
A New Exhibition of Work by Prisoners Defies the Stereotypes of Prison Art—See Highlights Here (Artnet News), February 22nd, 2019
José Esteban Muñoz, "Cruising Utopia: The Then and There of Queer Futurity", 2009 (PDF)
"It is nice to discuss... a film that concerns the ways that humans negotiate a relationship with the planet. In a literal sense, this planet that we call Earth (a lovely word) is our spaceship. It sustains and protects us from the cold and dark of multiverses that we are not yet capable of understanding. This core truth informs everything I make, but the explicitness of my articulations of these concerns/beliefs in “Song for Earth and Folk” rather surprised me!
This film emerged out of a process outside of my usual methods. The Chicago Film Archive invited me to make a found-footage film and I was paired with a local Chicago band, which was commissioned to make the sound track. The archive is on a rescue mission, they collect any Chicago-made celluloid films, home movies, industrial films, documentaries, experimental films, you name it. I decided to narrow the search based on images that I would simply enjoy looking at: flowers, outerspace, “Africa”, birds, and bicycles." - Gumbs, Alexis Pauline “Cauleen Smith: Song for Earth and Folk.” Vdrome
TABLEAU I SPY:
SONG FOR EARTH AND FOLK. Episode 8 of #shutinfilmfestival
A blues meditation on a doomed relationship. #chicagofilmarchives #theeternals
(Cauleen Smith's Instagram 6 April)
Samuel R. Delany, "Dhalgren", 1974
*This title was handpicked for The Whitney Museum Shop by artist Cauleen Smith as part of her Human 3.0 Reading List as well as the 'Firespitters' series. Her hope is this book assortment comforts and invigorates the viewer as it did her. Click here to buy!
ADDITIONAL READING (PDF)
Aurora Levins Morales, "Ecology is Everything and bigger is better" from Medicine Stories: Essays for Radicals, 2019 (PDF)
CAULEEN SMITH FLAGS
"Occupying almost the entire first floor of MASS MoCA’s Building 4, the exhibition features a range of Smith’s early and more recent films, including The Changing Same (2001), Black and Blue Over You (After Bas Jan Ader for Ishan) (2010) and H-E-L-L-O (2014). Also on display are BLK FMNNST Loaner Library 1989–2019 (2019), 32 new drawings of book covers that build upon Smith’s activist canon presented in Human_3.0 Reading List 2015–16 (2017); We Already Have What We Need (2019), a new video installation of tableaux featuring African figurines, plants, tchotchkes and other small objects displayed in front of grainy footage of protests, underwater scenes and cosmological events, all projected via CCTV onto five six-and-a-half-metre sails; and a selection of Smith’s iconic ‘In the Wake’ banners (2017), which were presented in the 2017 Whitney Biennial. The five embroidered silk-rayon velvet and satin flags host phrases and symbols that recur throughout Smith’s oeuvre. Camera, Pen, or Gun? (2017), a deep blue banner with an orange school pencil, microphone, camera shutter and guns on one side and the question, ‘Camera pen or gun?’ in baby blue letters on the other, recalls school shootings and the widespread filming of violence, including police brutality, on mobile phones." - click here to read more on Frieze.com
Toni Morrison, "Playing In The Dark: Whiteness and the Literary Imagination". 1992
"Some of her banners are heraldic and authoritative, as in the 2017 Biennial; others are connective, meant for two people to hold up, bearing warmer messages such as APPRECIATE YOU IN ADVANCE.
Those she exhibited in the Biennial are collectively titled “In the Wake,” after the book In the Wake: On Blackness and Being (2016), by the scholar Christina Sharpe, who theorizes the “wake”—in all its maritime, funereal, and cognitive meanings—as a frame for understanding and enacting Black existence in an anti-Black world. It is a heavy concept, necessarily so, that derives its original metaphor from the slave ship. But what Sharpe calls “wake work” is not simply mourning. Rather, she writes, it is the effort to “imagine new ways to live in the wake of slavery, in slavery’s afterlives, to survive (and more) the afterlife of property.” Inside those parentheses lies possibility. “I am trying to find the language for this work, find the form for this work,” Sharpe writes. Smith’s banners propose one such form." - Siddhartha Mitter, Artforum
WAKING LIFE, Siddhartha Mitter on the art of Cauleen Smith
“Protesters always make gorgeous banners. What if I made it as if it was forever? It’s not about power, it’s about holding the space indefinitely. 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.” - Cauleen Smith
BLK FMNNST LOANER LIBRARY 1989–2019 (CLICK TO READ PDF):
Sharpe, Christina Elizabeth, "In The Wake: On Blackness and Being", Durham: Duke University Press, 2016.
CAULEEN SMITH LP: PIGEONS ARE BLACK DOVES
As part of The Showroom's 2020 Fundraiser, you can donate £350 or more for a special signed copy of Cauleen Smith's LP: Pigeons Are Black Doves
This rare signed LP commemorates the 2017 Whitney Biennial Procession by Cauleen Smith with a crowd of participants. This vibrant blue coloured LP is a recording of the two poems spoken during the programme. Side A features Avery R. Young and Tina M. Howell as they lead a choir rehearsal in preparation for the procession. Side B is a live recording of the In The Wake procession that took place on 11 April 2017.
Click here to buy.
TABLEAU I SPY:
- - Dada Africa, book
- - The Rhetoric of Perspective, book
- - A War of Eyes, book
- - African Design from Traditional , book
- - The Domestic Plane, book
- - Ancient sculpture
- - Three ancient sculptures, tipped over
- - Liquid acrylics
- - Loose change
- - Gridded paper with drawn designs
- - Ship model
- - Model stingray
- - Model crawfish
- - Ring of Paint samples
- - Purple crystal
- - Blue covid mask
- - Black beads
- - Henry Taylor piece
BLK FMNNST LOANER LIBRARY 1989–2019:
As featured in MASS MOCA's Book Club: BLK FMNNST Loaner Library 1989–2019 in conjunction with their 2019-2020 exhibition Cauleen Smith: “We Already Have What we Need”
The Guardian of the Blackstone. Shot at Blackstone Bikes and 57th Street Beach starring bike shop kids, now all very grown. Capes kids and bikes just seemed like a no-brainer. But what was really special was the way the kids directed the camera operators✨ to make their own film. This is not that film- which involves saving the world from climate change- but rather a melancholy rumination on youth and friendship play and jeopardy. Hope you like. ✨🏃🏾♀️🏃🏿🏃🏿♂️🐟🦜🌱🐚🌟🎣🚴🏿♂️🚵🏾♂️🚴🏾♀️🚵🏿🚲🌆🏙🏊🏾♀️🏊🏾♂️🤎💚🤎💚💕 - Cauleen Smith's Instagram, 1 May
Thursday 19th Nov, Instagram Live! with Larry Amponsah, 19:50GMT via @circa.art
In response to this evening's COVID MANIFESTO 14, "If we all stopped honouring our debt… what could they really do? Not a rhetorical question", The Showroom's Curator Katherine Finerty spoke in conversation with Ghanaian multi-media artist Larry Amponsah.
Larry discussed Cauleen's project in the context his own practice and work made during lockdown in London, including a poignant series of Diaper Drawings that sit in a powerful juxtaposition and connection with the MANIFESTOs, leading to ideas around artistic responses to lockdown and language, social media and social distancing, radicality and fragility, fear and hope...
Click here for more information about Larry Amponsah visit his Artist Page at 50 Golborne Gallery.
Lawrence Levine, "Black Culture and Black Consciousness: Afro-American Folk Thought from Slavery to Freedom", 1977
"I find myself as indifferent to the destruction of property as dominant culture is to the hunting and murdering of black people, indigenous people, latinx people in this country. It literally takes a snuff film to get white and white adjacent American people’s to feel a need to perform indignation. I am not trying to be in these streets with a deadly virus patrolling just as hard as the cops and national guard. Protest pointless. No@law in this land exists to protect black people. Politicians useless. The quest for power is not analogous with a quest for justice. Fire this time. Fire this time. FIRE THIS TIME." - Cauleen Smith, Instagram, 31 May, 2020
TABLEAU I SPY:
Episode 15: BLACK AND BLUE OVER YOU (after Bas Jan Adele) 2010.
Made while contemplating profound loss. Offered as we confront another obscene state-sanctioned murder. Of course I’m speaking of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. But the problem is, there are too many names. And now, increasingly there are too many videos. The videos make white claims of shock and innocence hollow. But they also titillate a culture that entertained itself on lynching memorabilia for decades. I will not reproduce images of violence. But I thank the witnesses who ignite our outrage. It’s all the pain we’re are left with and the disgust... these things are hard. Struggle continues. So I offer this meditation. Aided by #anthonybraxton with gratitude. (Cauleen Smith's Instagram 29 May)
How James Baldwin's The Fire Next Time still lights the way towards equality by Steven W Thrasher (The Guardian)
"His 1962 classic The Fire Next Time was originally a letter, written by Baldwin to his nephew on the 100th anniversary of the so-called emancipation of black America. In the letter’s penultimate paragraph, Baldwin writes: “This is your home, my friend, do not be driven from it; great men have done great things here, and will again, and we can make America what America must become.” It is rhythmically similar to Trump’s red-hatted mantra – but there’s a big difference between trying to make America “great again” and focusing on what it once was, rather than what it “must become”.
“Crow Requiem” is another film I made about our planet and some of its creatures—namely crows, incarcerated humans, women. Another by-product of the exploitation, hoarding, and accumulation of Earth’s resources is a surplus of human beings and the collateral deaths of non-human persons and their habitats. We need someplace to put them. Prisons—human-storage facilities—are the easiest (though terribly inefficient) means of dealing with human surplus.
I say all this but I do not feel hopeless for humans. I feel a greater sense of urgency for the non-human persons on the planet who we will have to watch die before we get our act together, but maybe I should make another film, structured like a gospel song, that celebrates the human wisdoms that do not surrender to capitalism, and the socio-economic structures that refuse to produce surplus.” - Cauleen Smith
"Crows are well known for their mythological reputation as tricksters and harbingers of death, but less for the reality that they are creatures of remarkable intelligence who lead complex social lives. Smith became fascinated by these misunderstood animals when she noticed the massive flock of crows roosting outside her bedroom window during her artist residency at Light Work. She learned that the native population of crows circulates between Syracuse and nearby Auburn, NY; and that this migration is partly in response to harassment and, at times, state-sanctioned violence at the hands of a human population who view them as a nuisance. Smith interweaves the figure of the crow through the histories of these two cities, both of which were key stations on the Underground Railroad and innovators in early cinematic and 3D optical technologies. “Crow Requiem” connects this history to recent and ongoing violence against people of color at the hands of the state. Shot on location in Central New York, and featuring selections from Onondaga Historical Association’s extensive archive of 19th century stereoscopic images." - Cauleen Smith
The Origins of Jim Crow (Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia, Ferris State University)
Activist pressure has moved #MayorGarcetti to pledge $150 million from #LAPD’s 1.8 BILLION dollar budget for investment into South LA African-American communities. ...Sounds like Trump’s bail out to corporations. Like a Scooby snack for developers. But it is so more than what the city ever imagined having to concede. So go head with your bad selves young warriors keep expanding our notions of the possible. You are shining. But please stay as safe as you can. Don’t let the covid or the cops catch you. And don’t stop bringing the light. - Cauleen Smith, Instagram, 4 June, 2020
TABLEAU I SPY:
- - Glass lettuce piece
- - Quick! Butterick, book
- - Carrie Schneider photograph of artist Abigail DeVille for her “Reading Women” series
- - Ceramic bust by Ally Fitzgerald
- - Original Covid manifesto on lined paper
00.11 THE CHANGING SAME. An epic intergalactic romance in 9 minutes. Homesick aliens bullied and abandoned by the mothership. Emulations of Afrocentric heteronormativity leading to despair. No wonder the film never plays. 😂Dedicated to my #UCLATFT comrades-in-arms. #thesisfilm #35mm #afrofururism #blacknerd ❤️✨❤️@alemsapp -the lead actor biggest gift of this film was his friendship. @massmoca who hosted the film with epic elegance for 9 months. (Cauleen Smith's Instagram, 24 April)
Edited by Angela Y. Davis, "If They Come in the Morning … Voices of Resistance", 2016
Jones, LeRoi Jones / Amiri Baraka, “The Changing Same (R&B and New Black Music)”, 1963 (PDF)
McDowell, Deborah E. "Changing Same: Black Women's Literature, Criticism, and Theory". Bloomington (Ind.): Indiana University Press, 1995
SINE AT THE CANYON SINE AT THE SEA. Because I’m so sad and so angry right now. But I just can’t give up on us just yet. So I hex you. And I charm you. Can’t bring myself to hashtag white supremacy. But I fight to reclaim the term identity politics and rescue it from the perversion of ignorant neo-liberals and ignorant neo-conservatives alike. Barbara Smith framed this concept as a tool for liberation. And-NPR is forever on my shit list for letting the seething subhuman shit pile you will hear in this film spew their slag on public radio airwaves. Yep. I’m mad today. But love ya’ll! Enjoy the film. #combaheerivercollective (Cauleen Smith's Instagram, May 12)
HUMAN_3.0 READING (PDF):
Frantz Fanon, "The Wretched of the Earth", 1961 (PDF)
"Neoliberalism, for which the HUMAN_3.0 READING LIST is a low-grade inoculation, turns our communities into markets, into auction blacks — I mean auction blocks."
Owen Jones - Sorry But It Is Selfish To Hire A Cleaner, Even If That's Difficult To Admit (2020)
The Rona got me thinking about #ishmaelreed and jess grew. I am dismayed at the failure of covid19 discourse to confront the reasons for this pandemic. Ecological abuse is a central procedure in extractive capitalism. The failure to comprehend all non-human beings as anything other than a commodity is what got us here. The Rona preys on the most vulnerable and we are not dissimilar to The Rona’s original host— a despised and feared and disregarded creature: the Chiroptera. Beloved Bat cousin. Restore habitats. Rebuild relations with the earth. And send jess grew after the %1 of fools what got us to this sad and lowly situation. ☠️👩🏿🦱💀🦹🏾♀️🦇🌱🌑🔥🍫🏹🪕🥁⚒🧨🕳🧼🖤🤍💙🖤🤍💙 - Cauleen Smith, 10 June (2020)
EPISODE 20. THE CHANGING SAME 2005. I was thinking about aliens, or rather the experience of alienation and cognitive estrangement and how it might describe the experience of black people living in liberal white supremacist constructs...aka American cities. Thought about urban planning and the way “nature” must be domesticated and turned into a play thing. Thought about land occupation and architecture. And thought about transplantation- as in people having to develop new relationship with foreign soil in order to thrive. The music really excited me at the time and so did Fuji film’s 800speed 35mm film. It was soooo dreamy. Miss that film stock madly. 🟩🟢💚🤮🧚🏾🩲👗🧤👒🌚🍉🍅🍒🍓🥩🍫🍷🧃🪀🏓🏕🔋🔫🧲🩸🧪🧼💊🎈📚💚monsters everywhere...
TABLEAU I SPY:
The Shadows Took Shape
"The Shadows Took Shape" is a dynamic interdisciplinary exhibition exploring contemporary art through the lens of Afrofuturist aesthetics at The Studio Museum in Harlem.
Episode 14. TRIANGLE TRADE.
Created in collaboration with @afrofuturist and Jérôme Havre with score by @justinhicksmusic and camera by @alyssa_elizabeth_emily ✨ Commissioned by Gallery TPW and PIA of Toronto. With epic generosity and support from @towardsatheory @sontagstripe and grand hospitality from #katherinemckittrick #rinaldowallcott #warrencrichlow #christinasharpe #dionnebrand @omonike @criticalnish and sooo many more lovely folk. I ❤️Toronto forever. For this period of isolation we can contemplate a tale of three lonely planets. Ice Planet, Volcano Planet, Ocean Planet. The diaspora together and alone communing and estranged. 🔵🔴🟣🧊🌋🌊💎💩🦀🌱🧤🌞🦇🥥🗺💙💜❤️ (Why is there no crow emojiiii? I use bats instead🤗)
Reed, Ishmael, "Mumbo jumbo", 1996, New York, N.Y.: Simon & Schuster. (2017: Penguin Classics)
In Mumbo Jumbo, Reed speaks of the creation of an intrinsically ""black text"", which is manifested in ""Jes Grew"". ""Jes Grew"", Reed's ""virus"", alludes to the dissemination of uniquely African-American culture in the 1920s that ""traversed the land in search of its Text: the lost liturgy seeking its litany"". The ""Jes Grew"" virus influences people to listen to music, dance, and be happy. In many ways Jes Grew is like the funk. The infectious virus ultimately gets suppressed at the end of the plot of the novel. However, at the end of the novel, when Papa Labas is speaking to a college classroom in the 1970s, he talks about how the '70s are like the '20s again. He believes this is the time for Jes Grew to rise. In this instance Papa Labas taps into a similarity between the styles of music that Jes Grew needs to grow; '20s jazz and '70s funk share an aesthetic that calls people to dance. Jes Grew needs the physical expression of music to grow.
In Cauleen Smith’s video Egungun: Ancestor Can’t Find Me (2017), a figure shrouded in shells wanders zombielike in a lush African landscape. In Yoruban societies, egungun are costumed dancers who appear at public celebrations. Smith’s is more monstrous—an animated corpse of a slave-ship captive gone overboard during the Middle Passage that has now emerged as a haunting. Transferred from 16-mm film, the video has a grainy texture that enhances the barnacled cloth of the costume.
EGUNGUN-Ancestor Can’t Find Me. 2017. 16mm transfered to digital.
Third installment of the #shutinfilmfestval. Shot on Captiva Island. A place that felt haunted by the Calusa People who seemingly fled the island while the British and Spanish tried to pit captive African laborers (slaves) and I Indigenous people against one another. It mostly didn’t work. The film is not really about that so much as my own profound anxiety and ancestral speculations when confronted with the Atlantic Ocean. Enjoy ya’ll. 💙✨🐚🌊💙
These are the last ones. So many toxic things to deal with cops Covid capitalism - on and on. And over and overal again black women done figured it out for us. TV pundits are still looking for another Martin. In the streets we got a legion of Assatas. This one’s for #toyin Bless her heart. 🖤 - Cauleen Smith, Instagram, 16 June (2020)
TABLEAU I SPY:
- - Pomegranates
- - Ancient sculptures
- - Ancient mask
- - Sun ra record, of mythic worlds
- - Inhaler
- - Glass with diluted orange paint
"Sojourner is currently on display in Cauleen Smith's solo exhibition Mutualities at The Whitney, New York: ""In Sojourner, a group of women walk in procession through sites including Dockweiler State Beach and Watts Towers in Los Angeles, carrying translucent orange banners—each emblazoned with part of a text by the jazz composer and spiritual leader Alice Coltrane, whose writings, along with those of Sojourner Truth, are spoken throughout the film.
Watts Towers, a cluster of seventeen sculptural spires designed and built by Italian American ironworker Simon Rodia in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles between 1921 and 1954, features prominently. The towers served as powerful symbols of hope and regeneration after surviving the 1965 Watts Rebellion unscathed. Smith locates a similar spirit in assemblage artist Noah Purifoy’s Outdoor Desert Art Museum in Joshua Tree, California, where the women end their procession and listen to a reading of the Black feminist Combahee River Collective manifesto.
These collective voices, echoed in contemporary footage of the Chicago-based activist coalition R3 (Resist. Reimagine. Rebuild.), fuse spirituality and activism into a potent articulation of self-realization and resistance."
We must ask ourselves: Who do the Police serve? The answer requires turning towards the cultural and political legacy of the economic engine that established The United States as a beacon of capitalism: human captive slavery.
Private “individuals” require forceful levels of control over their assets (captive African laborers) to insure financial interests. [In 2015], the Supreme Court confirmed that Private Corporations legally enjoy all of the rights and privileges of individuals. Deeply embedded in our “ways of doing business” in America, is the fundamental belief that the black body, even while producing great profits (especially when incarcerated), can and must absorb brute force and coercive control within our cultural and economic markets. Indeed, systemic knowledge proposed that black people don’t feel pain the way white people do; moreover, and the pain inflicted upon us is provoked by our very blackness which marks us as fugitive.
Cauleen Smith and the Black Radical Imagination
Written by Gazelle Mba
November 1st, 2020
It has been said that a period of crisis can also be an opening, that upheaval presents an unexpected opportunity – a portal of sorts through which we can at least see, if not bring into being a radically different world. This fertile space of possibility, what is often referred to as the ‘otherwise’, is inherent in our COVID present, where everyday more and more people gather in communal awareness of the untenability of what passed for ‘normal’ in the years before the pandemic. But how do we continue to develop this consciousness? How do we stop the fury from escaping? From being misdirected, petering out? How do we sustain ourselves and our communities long enough to keep fighting? To retain as in Gramsci’s famous formulation ‘pessimism of the intellect and optimism of the will.’
These questions are sketched out, examined and brought to life in the work of interdisciplinary filmmaker and artist Cauleen Smith, whose 31 year practice, ranging from her early days as a filmmaker in California in the late 1980s, where the landscape of American film had been transformed by the political and aesthetic experimentation of the L.A Rebellion, a group of African, Caribbean and African American filmmakers, to her present short moving image works titled COVID MANIFESTO for CIRCA 2020 made in collaboration with The Showroom. Smith’s COVID MANIFESTO will grace the giant screens of Piccadilly Circus all through November, producing as she says in our interview a ‘short circuit in the day of libidinal capitalist advertising’, an ‘interruption’ capable of pulling us out of the calm daze of acceptance, a prodding reminder to direct our attention towards the otherwise.
Smith’s interest in short circuiting complacency, the established modes of thought and feeling which nullify us to the world’s ongoing oppressive violence, enjoins with her engagement in the theories and practise of change, how the world is made and remade through collaborative, repetitive social acts. These new videos then foreground the process of making, they are as interested in the techniques (drawing, writing) through which declarative and descriptive statements are made as they are in the content or ideologies they elucidate. They are also emblematic of the change in working conditions brought about by the lockdown in mid March, a time when she believed she ‘wouldn’t be doing much of anything’ as filmmaking is a ‘very social activity’, a social art where in the past she fondly remembers being ‘barnacled to her cinematographer.’
The CIRCA 2020 COVID MANIFESTO can be read as exercises in circumventing those restrictions, they give the sense that by working within the current limitations one can generate and express new ideas about the political, economic and social state of the world. For Smith, the loss of filmmaking as a ‘social art’ did not have to entail the end of creativity, in fact it necessitated it, instead she was pleased to find ‘that I could use drawing as a space for thinking.’ The manifestos, written on pieces of lined paper, are pithy and assertive, connecting the dots between racial capitalism, imperial borders and the global pandemic in one: ‘cops, COVID and ICE are giving me a fever out in them streets’ and inverting the dictates of neoliberalism in another: ‘exploitation is the only thing that trickles down’ [To be displayed on the CIRCA screen on 17 Nov 2020]. They began their life on the artists instagram page before making their way to the screen as part of CIRCA 2020. Each, she says, were an attempt to ‘reach out to the kind of community that already was on instagram but formed during COVID’ full of ‘people trying to keep track of each other.’ She senses that the nebulous and dissonant nature of lockdown, with many existing and communicating primarily as online avatars meant that the ‘COVID MANIFESTO was striking a chord now more than in other circumstances, because people were so confused about the situation, so disorientated. Everyone’s trying to keep things together, keep things going.’
As records of our collective disorientation, the shared experience of watching the centre not hold, and instead fall to pieces, Smith’s work brings together many of the contradictions and difficulties that came about from the transfer of embodied, real life interpersonal as well as institutional relationships unto the internet, to form these new mutant covid socialities. As many continue to physically distance from each other- I write whilst reckoning with the impending UK wide national lockdown- how can we still think, work, learn and simply live together. Is true communality something we must wave goodbye to? Or is there some unforeseen and liberatory potential in our new disembodied forms of interaction? Although Smith rejects the institutional demand that ‘all moving image artists just put their work online’ and feels strongly that much is lost in the individualized ways we watch films now at home on our laptops, namely the ‘social component of what happens when two different, unrelated individuals encounter something and are arrested. When they share that moment of being penetrated by the ideas or experiences being offered by the film.’ Something akin to a dynamic process of ‘triangulation’ and exchange between the films, individuals and the group. Yet, there is something of the manifestos that seeks to redirect that positive triangulation into other forms, through writing, the immediacy and ubiquity of the pen, whilst locating herself still squarely within the field of moving image.
Smith’s manifestos spurn the electoral connotations that typically follow political manifestos as a genre of writing, her works can be thought of instead as the love-child of artist manifestos and the Combahee River Collective statement. She keenly avoids the mix of false promises and lack-lustre plans found in most election manifestos, for Smith does not wish to provide solutions or lay out a political and economic strategy (her motives behind the manifesto are far more interesting.) As vessels by which some of the overarching themes in Smith’s filmography, particularly her research into social formation, the forces which gather individuals into groups on the basis of a shared, project, aesthetic, or even objects finds expression, the manifestos comment on the possibility of critique as a means of crafting sociality out of the isolation, physical and emotional distance of the present. This dimension of Smith’s work, its fascination with relationality and the social is borne from her deep engagement with black feminist theory, which as she describes was ‘developed out of sociality.’ ‘Black women’, as Smith says, have created ‘their ideas through the experience of their lives.’ Experience is always bound up in the relational, the social, it is not something that occurs in a vacuum. We need each other to live. Political praxis stems from this recognition of our inalienable interdependence, it and black feminism are crucial to any project which seeks to radically transform the world.
Smith asks like many black feminists before her, that we ‘consider relations with everyone.’ That we distance from a ‘20th century project’ where ‘African Americans at least, formed their activism around patriarchal capitalism’, we must instead heed the ‘abolitionist, queer and feminist movement’ unfolding before us. In the direct, urgent statements which make up COVID MANIFESTO, Smith articulates the ways in which COVID makes clear on a global and temporally unified scale our vulnerabilities as humans as well as our interdependence on both humans and the non-human world, whilst at the same time keeping an eye to how these relations are exploited and marketised under global capitalism. With COVID MANIFESTO and elsewhere Smith articulates a counterpoetics of social relations aimed at critiquing the perverted, exploitative capitalist social structure in order to value reciprocity, the gift and non-instrumentality.
How can we get to a world where we are not regarded and judged in relation to our ability to generate profit, our productivity, where our time is not sold for the benefits of a wage? For Smith this problem is one that cannot be overcome except without a serious appeal to the imagination. In our interview she laments our current state, where ‘we can’t imagine a world outside capitalism, we don’t know ourselves as humans outside this form of exchange. It’s something Sylvia Wynter speaks about, this human 2.0 that just accumulates and accumulates.’ Much of our conversation rings with anger at the way that capitalism as an economic system and ideology are naturalized, how we are coerced into acclimatizing to its violence, to the idea that everything on earth can and should be made into a product that can be bought and sold.
Ridding ourselves of this destructive system would require both internal and external revolutions, it would be to know ourselves differently, to develop new forms of self-recognition and understanding that are disobedient to the transactional logics of capitalist exchange. On this Smith is clear: ‘this is not the only way to be human, there are other ways to be human’ and while her research is committed to recuperating world building projects that display alternatives ways to exist as humans, such as in ‘Give it or Leave it’ (2018) which explores the utopian worlds of Alice Coltrane and her ashram, Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers, Noah Purifoy’s desert assemblages and black spiritualist Rebecca Cox Jackson and her Shaker community, she also insists that these alternatives are to be rooted in the here and now, in the ‘collective resistance’ activated in the wake of COVID. She gives some examples: ‘I originally thought when people couldn’t go to work and earn money, that this is our moment, this is our moment to bring the banks totally down, we should just all stop paying them.’
The rejection of debt in favour of alternative currencies and exchange systems are ongoing demands- which Smith even includes in one of her manifestos [To be displayed on the CIRCA screen on 14 Nov 2020]- that are made even more prescient by the global pandemic. But as Smith says in our interview, the ability to make these demands and fight for them, is also a question of believing they are possible, even as the capitalist class will use the language of practicality and economic reason to argue that they are not so. The radical imagination is where some of this believing takes place, it joins up with the will to draw people into collective struggle and resistance. For Smith, art can be a method of undoing the restrictions that capitalism places on our imagination, our ability to inhabit the spaces of radical imagining. She sees her task as ‘trying to think about ways that art can help us get closer to believing in what we’ve been told is impossible.’
One way that Smith has found to get us to believe in impossibility, is through a rewiring of the senses and our perceptual capacities. To get out of thinking in accordance with ingrained economic principles, we must also learn to see and feel differently. In our conversation, Smith laughingly recalls how at a recent install in Los Angeles, the layout of her show caused the security guards to ask if she ‘wanted people to party in here.’ She describes how she has a ‘shag carpet in the installation so you can just lie there and look at the ceiling.’ The simple act of lying and looking, of luxuriating in a shaggy blue carpet, forms a large part of Smith’s mission to ‘alter those equations about sociality and what’s possible.’1 Equations that put a price tag on so many experiences, especially those that give pleasure, that cause us some fraction of joy and delight.
Smith is adamant that the work of freedom ‘can’t just be an intellectual or linguistic project. It has to be embodied somehow and it has to function on levels we are not always conscious of.’ What develops in our conversation is a sense of both the conscious and non-conscious levels of the drive towards liberation, that is despite her love of the sensorial, she also views the acquisition of knowledge as a weapon that can aid us in the struggle against oppression. We discuss her past project HUMANS_3.0, a reworking of Sylvia Wynter’s maxim, Humans_2.0, where after noticing ‘blind spots’ in the self education of young activists, she sought a way ‘without wanting to intervene’ ‘to suggest this wealth of knowledge’ from the activists who came before them. So in 2015, Smith created a hand drawn reading list, full of books that changed her life, in an effort to connect young people to an older tradition of African American anti-capitalist organising.2
The aim of the project, being how we can ‘inoculate’ our imaginations to bear the ravages of capitalism is still deeply relevant today. To prove her point, Smith compares the ‘early aughts and late 90s’ to the present, where she ‘felt like young African American people really thought that capitalism was the way forward, that if they could just win and succeed that they would somehow be liberated.’ But now she says, ‘what’s clear is that the system that we are in is actually a kind of matrix, that we need to unsee and undo… You can’t do that without knowledge.’ She then declares, ‘I don’t think we can move forward until we have different imaginaries, different thought projects, different mental and spatial environments to work through who we are and what we want from this world.’
From our conversation it became clear that ‘moving forward’ is impossible without also moving backwards. That the imagination is just as concerned with the past as it is with the future. Historical speculation, whether it be a deep dive into the ‘eccentric, autodidactic investigations’ of the Afrofuturist jazz pioneer Sun Ra, or a look into the ‘intense devotional practice’ of spiritualist Rebecca Cox Jackson and her Shaker communities practice of creating a space ‘so that they could take care of more than just themselves’ is an important feature of Smith’s filmmaking practice. When I ask her about the relationship between historical speculation and world building, she begins by situating history as this ‘totally subjective enterprise’,‘a form of storytelling’, that by going back to can enable us to find ‘working models for social projects that were successful.’ Right now, she is ‘looking at black economic collectives in the United States, black communists. What did these initiatives actually produce? Not so much to return to them. But to understand the mechanics of how people were able to transform their lives and their worlds.’
Her subtle connection of history as a form of storytelling and the work of finding these instances of historical models for how we can transform our world shows that so much of what we’ve been led to believe about historical narratives of progress leading to and affirming capitalist expansion and the need to accumulate, are the fault of a particular mode of storytelling. It follows then that we can actually tell the story of history differently, to take in the patchiness of capitalism, the ways ordinary people did and continue to resist its totalizing presence.
We also dwell for a long time on the idea of permanence, how as she describes ‘in Western culture everything is supposed to last forever and that’s an absurd notion.’ We are in agreement that ‘things don’t have to last forever, if a project lasts for ten years then it’s a 10 year project where something occurs. It’s not a failure when it ends, it simply ends.’ Smith plays with this concept of impermanence in her filmmaking, where she says ‘you can just put one thing next to another thing. You can move from one thing to the next. You can move forwards, backwards, horizontally.’ Here incommensurable moments in time are given an equality in her darting frames, the past does not have to be subordinated to the present or future and vice versa. They derive an equal and mutually-reinforcing importance by being placed next to each other.
Throughout our conversation, our talk goes in many different directions but we keep returning to this question of the social and its relationship to political change. I see that this mirrors Smith’s own body of work, which finds novel ways to address a set of core preoccupations. Her explanation for experimenting with flash mobs or processions ‘as a form of protest but also as a form of celebration’ is one of many instances. These social formations, be it a militaristic march or political protest are an object of interest for the way they ‘occupy space and change energy’ rather than the ‘ideology behind them.’ She tells me that she wishes to ‘hijack those ideologies because of course the military, the idea of needing one is such a problem, but the way in which you can get all these different people, with so many different specialized skills to work in tandem with one another and to look after one another in adverse conditions is so interesting to me.’ But she is not really interested in harnessing the particular power of the procession to relay a rigid political message, she is more excited by the prospect of using that same form as a ‘kind of dispersion’, to create ‘instability and even chaos.’ Embracing chaos instead of turning from it might be key to unlocking the radical imagination, to thinking outside of capitalist state structures.
But how can we simultaneously be in capitalism but not of it? How do we negotiate the muck, uncertainty and precarity of everyday existence and survival and still believe in the possibility of change. Smith discusses how in preparing the COVID MANIFESTO for CIRCA 2020, a project about ‘using the internet to critique the internet’, she wanted to ‘examine our relationship to these things and just thinking that there might be another to talk about being inside and to talk about how this phone has been my only connection this past year to almost everybody that I love.’ She goes on to say ‘we all have to live, we all have to pay bills, we all have to participate in this neoliberal capitalist system and we have to do it in relation to these very powerful institutions and corporations.’ Smith word’s perfectly capture the contradictions of existing within capitalism, and it seems the phone is a nexus of that, where it both functions as a lifeline connecting us to our loved ones as well as flattening relationships and individualising social problems. But Smith’s expansive imagination continues undeterred by these challenges, as she says ‘I think about that a lot in terms of value and use value in art work, how does it get valued, what is valued and what isn’t, but I’m also interested in trying to figure out how to translate those perceived values, those fetish values into something outside of that.’ The opportunity to produce something ‘outside of that’ is why she’s so excited about exhibiting as part of CIRCA 2020, to ‘put a stop for that two minutes is interesting’, to just see what can happen when things short circuit for one moment.