In line with the interdisciplinary spirit of CalArts are two new additions to the School of Art faculty: Martine Syms, who will begin teaching at CalArts in September, and Cauleen Smith, who will join the Institute in January 2018.
Both artists bend the traditional visual art world with film-based practices.
Syms, a Los Angeles-based artist, describes herself as a “conceptual entrepreneur.” Earlier this summer Syms opened her first U.S. solo museum exhibition, Projects 106: Martine Syms, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Projects 106 is an immersive installation including photographs and staged objects, and centers around a new feature-length film, Incense Sweaters & Ice.
From MoMA: “Shot on location in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Clarksdale, Mississippi, Incense, Sweaters, and Ice follows three protagonists — Mrs. Queen Esther Bernetta White, Girl, and WB (“whiteboy”) — as they navigate dramas of surveillance, moving between watching, being watched, and remaining unseen. Accompanying the film is a suite of photographs sized to standard American movie posters and a metal mesh structure inspired by the geographies of the Great Migration.
“During the Migration, which took place between 1916-1970, more than 6 million African Americans moved from the rural South to the cities in the North, Midwest and Western United States. A recent profile of Syms in The New Yorker provided additional context for the MoMA exhibition, “The show…was partly inspired by the idea, outlined in Jacqueline Najuma Stewart’s history of black moviegoing, Migrating to the Movies, that the Great Migration was closely bound to cinematic innovation; the advent of cinema, Stewart argues, irreversibly affected how America’s black citizenry talked, walked, and worked, providing stereotypes to react against and to emulate.”
Syms has had exhibitions and screenings at museums and galleries such as Karma International, Bridget Donahue Gallery, the New Museum, Kunsthalle Bern, The Studio Museum in Harlem, Index Stockholm, MOCA Los Angeles and MCA Chicago.
Smith, an experimental filmmaker and interdisciplinary artist, also has roots in Southern California. Her work, In the Wake was recently included in the politically spirited 2017 Whitney Biennial. The artist crafted procession banners with sewn-in phrases like, “rage blooms within me,” “no wonder I go under” and simply “black,” accompanied by images of guns and blood.
“Human_3.0 Reading List” is the title of Smith’s current exhibition on view through Oct. 29 at The Art Institute of Chicago. The show delves into the idea of collective consciousness and social change. On display is a series of 57 drawings of book covers that belong to the artist’s collection of empowering, inspiring and enlightening literary works. Some of the depicted books include “Sister Outsider” by Audre Lorde, “Wild Seed” by Octavia Butler and “Grapefruit” by Yoko Ono.
In an article in New York Magazine’s The Cut, Smith said: “These are some of the books that literally changed my life, saved my life and sustain my life, but also, (fair warning) make it difficult for me to go along, get along, look the other way.”
From the Art Institute of Chicago: “Grounded in a sober assessment of race relations and institutional power structures, ‘Human_3.0 Reading List’ calls its viewers to prepare for social change through self-empowered education. In the final words of the manifesto accompanying the series, Smith exhorts her audience: ‘Love. Resist. Read on. Right on.'”
Smith’s films, objects, and installations have been featured in group exhibitions at Studio Museum of Harlem; Houston Contemporary Art Museum; Yerba Buena Center for Art; and the New Museum, New York, D21 Leipzig and Decad, Berlin. She has also had solo shows for her films and installations at The Kitchen, MCA Chicago and Threewalls, Chicago.