Cauleen Smith: Space Is the Place (A March for Sun Ra)

Exhibition

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A marching band dressed in red, white, and blue uniforms at a standstill before beginning to play. This is a still from Cauleen Smith's video.

Cauleen Smith. Space Is the Place (A March for Sun Ra), 2011. High-definition video, 10:56 minute loop. Contemporary Art Discretionary Fund.

In 2010 Los Angeles-based artist and filmmaker Cauleen Smith relocated to Chicago, where her work became increasingly site-specific and engaged in social activism. She created the Solar Flare Arkestral Marching Band Project, which has organized flash-mob appearances throughout Chicago. This project and other related works invoke the legacy of pioneering composer and performer Sun Ra (1914–1993, active in Chicago 1945–61), who brought together jazz, poetry, pageantry, graphic design, and science fiction to create an image of the future (sometimes described as “Afrofuturist”) based on readings of African American history. The visualization of this movement, black diaspora identity formation, and an emphasis on agency rather than oppression are recurrent elements in Smith’s repertoire.

Space Is the Place (A March for Sun Ra) records the spontaneous performance of the Rich South High School marching band playing Sun Ra’s eponymous 1972 composition in Chicago’s Chinatown Square. Undeterred by the pouring rain and the evident confusion of onlookers, the young musicians display great enthusiasm and charisma playing, singing, and dancing to Sun Ra’s still-powerful drum beat. Smith employs a cinema verité–like style to capture the juxtaposition of Sun Ra’s experimental composition performed by a student band among the twelve bronze statues of the Chinese zodiac lining the perimeter of the space, a reflection of the composer’s synthesis of ancient and avant-garde iconologies.

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