Alum Cauleen Smith Finds Artistic Freedom After Abandoning Film Industry

Friday, March 24, 2017
Photo of Cauleen Smith

HYPERALLERGIC -- Despite working in a variety of disciplines, Cauleen Smith still thinks of herself as a filmmaker. Her elaborately crafted banners titled “In the Wake,” which are on view in the 2017 Whitney Biennial, were initially made for a procession that was to be part of a film. But they are just as powerful outside of their original context. “Sometimes I’ll be conceiving a film and it requires objects or props, and in the process of building all of those things I realize that film might not be the best vehicle for the ideas,” she says. “Sometimes the objects are already doing the work.”

Smith calls this process “ramping up production,” an application of the training she received as a filmmaker. Born in Riverside, California in 1967, Smith studied film, first at San Francisco State University, and then at UCLA in the shadow of the LA Rebellion, a loose group of artists of African origin or descent — Julie Dash, Charles Burnett, Haile Gerima, to name a few — who used the school’s film program to make work that was outside the norms of an industry that ignored their stories.