Cauleen Smith University Art Galleries / Irvine

March 24, 2017

Once ushered into the dark chamber there is a flush of sound. For self-defense, “The Warplands” is an exhibition pared of all administration. And short: the films extend to less than twenty minutes.

First comes an iPhone bibliography, the Human 3.0 Reading List (2015-16). A hand silently flips through books drawn on delicate graph paper crumpled by graphite and acrylic. Here, poverty of form and means are markers of humility that lend transparency to what she transmits. Cauleen Smith is learning to draw, producing works of both naivety and precision.

Farther along the wall, Lessons in Semaphore (2016) flows from a young man to an elder. We see the dancer taisha paggett dipping herself into a vibrant green pond of tall grasses that is an abandoned lot in urban Chicago. With two red and blue flags she signals the plenitude of her breathing life to a young boy, who mimes for her in semaphore.

The silent flickering of their 16-mm exchange is drowned out by a recording of Alice Coltrane’s One for the Father, pulling one toward its sound past a wall of banners from Smith’s 2015 Black Love Procession in Chicago. The words of Gwendolyn Brooks, “Conduct your blooming in the noise and the whip of the whirlwind,” shimmer in the light of their fabric. Now you sit before the film Pilgrim (2017).

You could watch it endlessly, this iteration of a longer project to be shown at the ICA Philadelphia in 2018. Coltrane’s voice announces once again the title of the song dedicated to her husband. Images follow of the California ashram to which she moved with their four children after his death, all calm readiness: the organ under its Plexiglas case, the reposing orange kirtan cushions, the temple in a valley below a mountain peak. Then come images of a tree in molecular fusion, and the blooming of daisies in an ecstatic shaker dance. It’s a happy thing watching how Cauleen Smith so accurately and soulfully bows to transmission.

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