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Cauleen Smith on new work for Wild Sounds

Tue, Mar 14, 2017
Melissa Starker, Creative Content & PR Manager

In conjunction with curator/writer/educator Genevieve Yue, Wex Film/Video Assistant Curator Chris Stults created the multi-part program Wild Sounds last year for Flaherty NYC, a seasonal screening series spotlighting innovative film work organized around a specific theme. As the program notes explain, "In the history of film in the West, the voices of men speak, allied with reason and language. Women’s voices, meanwhile, tend to sound, though they do so across a variety of registers: in music and song, from the disembodied voices of technological devices, through the mimicry of social norms, and through the politicized voices that shape constituencies and resist oppression. Just as the technical term 'wild sound' connotes a sound that’s recorded independently of the image, the wild sounds collected in this series escape social and filmic convention—charting the woman’s voice as it creates an alternative space where meaning is negotiated and generated anew."

We're excited to present a condensed version of Wild Sounds at the Wex this month, and to welcome Genevieve and contributor Cauleen Smith to help us close out the program on Tuesday, March 21. Cauleen, a groundbreaking interdisciplinary artist and Afrofuturist whose film work will soon be featured in the 2017 Whitney Biennial, presents three films in the program. These include the short Sine at the Canyon & Sine at the Sea, which the filmmaker began in 2010 but didn't call finished until 2016. It connects images of natural grandeur—a wooded canyon, waves crashing around a long pier—with archived footage from NASA, and mixes them with sounds ranging from the voice of white nationalist Richard Spencer to the voice of the artist herself, as her occasional alter ego, Kelly Gabron. The evolution of the film to its current form was prompted in part by the request from Chris and Genevieve to include the short in their program, and in part by the November election. We asked Cauleen to tell us a little more about this process. Join us next week to see the result, along with Cauleen's Chronicles of a Lying Spirit (by Kelly Gabron) and Entitled, and works by Carolyn Lazard, Anne Charlotte Robinson, and Martine Syms.

Cauleen Smith, Wild Sounds

"I started it in 2010, and I used a silent version as a backdrop of a performance some students I was working with did. I intended to add sound but it never happened. I had it sitting on my Vimeo page. I just didn’t have a reason to finish it.

"Chris and Genevieve must’ve seen it on the page and they asked for it, but I said, 'It's not done. Let me finish it.' That was in June last year. Then the election happened, and that really changed everything. The original film I edited was a frothy ode to NASA—very much a NASA fan film, with a notion of exploration and returning to earth, and this optimistic idea of what you can learn when you go beyond what you know. That just seemed ridiculous with what we were facing.

"I had shot a bunch of footage that I had never bothered to edit in. I went back and looked at it, and strangely, it worked better. It seemed even more appropriate to the current climate: someone walking into the ocean and walking into a canyon. I was already thinking about movement, the most basic kind of movement, a sine wave—the foundation of everything. Also the key to space travel. I started playing with it, but it took some time, partly out of not knowing what to say. Then I thought, maybe the film could be just as inarticulate as I felt. These are frustrating times."


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