Above: Still image from Martine Sym’s “Black Box,” an installation at Human Resources in Los Angeles, 2016. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.
Interdisciplinary filmmaker Cauleen Smith and multimedia artist Martine Syms have been appointed to the faculty of the School of Art at California Institute of the Arts (CalArts). Syms will begin teaching in the Institute’s Program in Art in September with Smith joining the program in January 2018.
The Program in Art provides a forum for the sustained exploration of possibilities in cultural production that pushes both undergraduate and graduate students to question conventional ideas about contemporary art.
“The Art School is going through a period of change and growth,” said Dean Lawson, noting that the AnchorSchool is bringing on the new faculty for the third consecutive year. “Part of this is the process of generational change, and all of it signals an important and dynamic change in curricular focus. Increasing numbers of our students are considering collaborative ways of working, which can be a challenge for a program like ours that puts so much focus on the individual.”
In her films and interdisciplinary work, Smith takes inspiration from black history, poetry, jazz and theories of race and feminism. “Cauleen has an interestingly hybrid practice; she was trained as a filmmaker but has found that her non-narrative films generate more interest and support in the art context,” commented Lawson. “As a result, she has incorporated an ever-widening repertoire into her work, including drawing, banner-making, and performance.”
Smith’s pieces—films, drawings, art installations, performance projects—are informed by Afrofuturism. Her working process is often collaborative, as in her 2010 Solar Flare Arkestral Marching Band Project, where she brought together an ensemble of Chicago high school marching band and drill team members to perform jazz artist Sun Ra’s “Space is the Place” in public spaces across the city.
Smith’s Human 3.0 Reading List is currently on view at the Art Institute of Chicago. A recipient of the 2016 Alpert Award in the Arts, her work was selected for the 2017 Whitney Biennial. Recent solo exhibition venues include The Kitchen in New York City, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and the California Museum of Photography. Her films have been screened at Studio Museum of Harlem, the Los Angeles Film Forum and the Sundance Film Festival, among others.
A self-described “conceptual entrepreneur,” Syms draws from the archives of cultural history and her own experience as a media consumer to explore representations of blackness and womanhood. “Martine very much represents the new generation, the post-digital generation, said Lawson. “Thoroughly at ease in the world of social media, she uses her technical savvy to create new means and new forms – it is going to be truly exciting to watch her work grow and develop as she takes us all into new territory.”
Working across media in photography, video, publishing, and performance, Syms juxtaposes films and television programs with personal conversations and photographs to explore media and everyday experience. The July 8 issue of The New Yorker described this practice as “[hacking] the modern process of looking at art—through cameras, more often than not, and through the lens of association and memory.” Syms most recent solo exhibition, “Projects 106,” opened this summer at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Click here for a tour of this installation focused around the feature-length film Incense Sweaters & Ice.
Syms work has recently been exhibited at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London, the New Museum and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. She has presented lectures at the Museum of Modern Art PS1, Yale University and the University of Chicago, among others.
Encompassing both studio practice and theory, CalArts’ Program in Art challenges artists to develop a critical self-awareness about their work and to better understand the aesthetic, social and intellectual contexts that inform art making in today’s globalized environment. At both the undergraduate and the graduate levels, course curricula rely on a flexible structure of individualized instruction and mentoring through a wide range of media to emphasize the articulation of ideas, the development of working methodologies and the realization of independent studio work.
Ranked as America’s top college for students in the arts by Newsweek/The Daily Beast, California Institute of the Arts has set the pace for educating professional artists since 1970. Offering rigorous undergraduate and graduate degree programs through six schools—Art, Critical Studies, Dance, Film/Video, Music, and Theater—CalArts has championed creative excellence, critical reflection, and the development of new forms and expressions. As successive generations of faculty and alumni have helped shape the landscape of contemporary arts, the Institute first envisioned by Walt Disney encompasses a vibrant, eclectic community with global reach, inviting experimentation, independent inquiry, and active collaboration and exchange among artists, artistic disciplines, and cultural traditions.