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Cauleen Smith

  • Cauleen Smith, H-E-L-L-O videostill. Location Holy Cross Levee. Trombone: Michael Watson. Location Lower 9th Levee. Cinematography: William Sabourin, 2014.
  • Cauleen Smith, H-E-L-L-O videostill. Location Congo Square. Sousaphone: Kirk Joseph. Cinematography: William Sabourin, 2014.
  • Cauleen Smith, H-E-L-L-O videostill. Location Footbridge of Audubon Park. Contrabasson: Benjamin Atherholt. Cinematography: William Sabourin, 2014.
  • Cauleen Smith, H-E-L-L-O videostill. Location: Booker T. Washington Auditorium. Cello: Monica McIntyre. Cinematography: William Sabourin, 2014.
  • Cauleen Smith, H-E-L-L-O videostill. Location: St. Augustine Church. Sousaphone: Desmond Provost. Cinematography: William Sabourin, 2014.
  • Cauleen Smith, H-E-L-L-O videostill. Location Holy Cross Levee. Sousaphone: Steve Gleen. Location Lower 9th Levee. Cinematography: William Sabourin, 2014.
  • Cauleen Smith, H-E-L-L-O videostill. Location: St. Augustine Church. Sousaphone: Desmond Provost. Cinematography: William Sabourin, 2014.
  • Cauleen Smith, H-E-L-L-O videostill. Location: St. Augustine Church. Sousaphone: Desmond Provost. Cinematography: William Sabourin, 2014.

H-E-L-L-O (Infra-Sound/Structure), June 7, 2014, New Orleans, Louisiana, USA

Did you know that female elephants emit growls so low that human ears cannot hear them? Like infrared light, the sonic vibrations of infrasound escape the range of human detection. Maybe it’s a good idea, as we move through our cities, to focus on the sounds we hear with the same level of attentiveness we apply to what we see. In the low frequencies, sound can travel far or travel loud, but it’s difficult for it to do both. This sonic handicap is an apt metaphor for tactics of social justice and protest. It is through sound, bass more specifically, that humans access their sixth sense: the ability to feel vibrations.

H-E-L-L-O enlists the lowest musical frequencies to communicate the margins of what is audile, what is visible. Significant sites associated with buried histories, erased communities, communal triumphs, and enduring survival become the stage for a five-note musical improvisation. Nine bass-clef musicians (sousaphone, bari sax, bass sax, contrabassoon, cello, and trombone) perform the five-note sequence made eternal in Steven Spielberg’s 1977 film, Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The film’s place in the contemporary imagination may have waned but its influence on science fiction aesthetics endures. Its title comes from a classification system devised by American astronomer, Dr. Josef Allen Hynek. Born in 1910 in Chicago, Illinois, Dr. Hynek was commissioned as a U.S. Air Force Ufologist from 1947 - 1969. In 1972 he published a book, The “UFO Experience”, which describes three levels of encounters with unidentified flying objects. Close encounters of the third kind are defined as, “UFO encounters in which an animated creature is present. These include humanoids, robots, and humans who seem to be occupants or pilots of a UFO.”

Spielberg’s film features an enigmatic five note sequence: G - A - f - F - G that repeats throughout the narrative eventually becoming legible as a greeting in the film’s final sequence in which the Mothership lands (returning a dozen kidnapped Air Force pilots) and aliens disembark to greet astounded engineers and astronauts with Kodaly sign language.

G - A - F - F - C
H - E - L - L- O

“Hello”, a simple greeting dispensed as an exchange, a furtive gesture of recognition, good-will, and curiosity. One New Orleans constant present throughout its grand history is its indomitable spirit. As a “new” New Orleans emerges and past cultural traditions move to the outer rings of the city rather than nestled within the Mississippi’s crescent bend, there may be some elements of everyday New Orleans to which its inhabitants must say good-bye.

But with an ear pressed to the banks of the Mississippi, one might hear an eternal love song for and from the city’s low end: deep funky electric base lines, crawling river sediment, thundering sousaphones making tree leaves shimmer, a plaintive lion’s roar, a riverboat salutation, the sub-Saharan foot stomp of a captive elephant, or the long slow slide of the trombone. Quite coincidentally, Michael Watson, the trombone player appearing within the first frames of the film, showed up for our tape session wearing a T-shirt (his favorite, he declared) that read: “Listen To Your City.” Listen indeed. And say, “Hello.”  — Kelly Gabron.

Updates

Cauleen Smith at Art Basel Miami

Cauleen Smith’s video work will be included in a program of film screenings in conjunction with Art Basel Miami in December.

Read more »

About the Artist

Cauleen Smith

Cauleen Smith (b. 1967) is an interdisciplinary filmmaker whose work reflects upon the everyday possibilities of the black imagination. Smith’s films, objects, and installations have been featured in group exhibitions in The Studio Museum of Harlem, Houston Contemporary Art Museum, the Blanton Museum of Art, San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art, ad the New Museum.

She recently participated in the Dallas Biennial 2014, and exhibited work at D21 Leipzig, German in a two-person show with the late Annette Wehrman. Smith is the recipient of grants and awards including Rockefeller Media Arts Grant, Chicago 3Arts Grant, Foundation for Contemporary Arts and the National Alliance for Media Arts and Culture. She earned an MFA from the University of California, Los Angeles Department of Theater-Film-Television. Smith lives in Chicago and teaches for the Vermont College of Fine Art low-residency visual arts MFA program.


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