Cauleen Smith


Cauleen Smith is a an interdisciplinary artist whose work reflects upon the everyday possibilities of the imagination. Though operating in multiple materials and arenas, Smith roots her work firmly within the discourse of mid-twentieth century experimental film. Drawing from structuralism, third world cinema, and science fiction, Smith makes things that deploy the tactics of these disciplines while offering a phenomenological experience for spectators and participants. Smith’s films, objects, and installations have been featured in group exhibitions at the Studio Museum of Harlem, Houston Contemporary Art Museum; the Blanton Museum of Art, Austin, San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art, Yerba Buena Center for Art, and the New Museum, New York, D21 Leipzig and Decad, Berlin. She has had solo shows at The Kitchen, MCA Chicago, Threewalls, Chicago, Women & Their Work, Austin, TX. Smith is the recipient of several grants and awards including the Rockefeller Media Arts Award, Creative Capital Film /Video, Chicago 3Arts Grant, and the Foundation for Contemporary Arts. Smith was born in Riverside, California and grew up in Sacramento. She earned a BA in Creative Arts from San Francisco Sate University and an MFA from the University of California, Los Angeles School of Theater Film and Television. She currently lives in Chicago while teaching at the Vermont College of Fine Art low-residency MFA program.  

What does it mean to be a successful woman in your line of work?
Having been trained as a filmmaker, ideas around leadership have always been pressing and urgent. Directing a film is frequently described as helming a ship or being a general in a war. Both of those metaphors are gendered as male. Technical jobs, jobs dealing with any technical apparatus like a camera or a computer are designated for men and regulated by men. So for me the fundamental confrontation with imagining myself as helming my own ship or leading m own troops (film crew), meant re-defining and inventing a form for leadership , rather than imitating leadership as I see it performed. Women are not given the same latitude or space to determine their own style as leaders. People do not adapt to us when we are quiet, they assume we have nothing to say. They do not recognize equation as an analytical skill, only as a weakness. So leadership is an idea that for me offers many creative questions. “Success” is a deeply relative culturally loaded idea that I do not register as being particularly generative unless it is specifically defined and contextualized. I do not think of success as a value that has value. Ethics is more interesting to me- no one ever judges the “success” of ethics because ethical decisions frequently fail to gain support from society.

What has been your greatest accomplishment?
Accomplishment: another word, like success, that has only relative value, I would have to assume that we share the same values to answer that question. But I think, the question indicates that we have different values, so I leave this riddle as the answer.

What has been your biggest mistake and how has that affected your personal and professional growth?
Mistakes are a part of life. Learning from them is also a part of life; the more one learns from each and every mistake they make, the faster they learn how to make new mistakes. I try to think of every mistake I make in my life as an opportunity to learn. If I fail to learn from a mistake, I regret that because it means I have to make the mistake again. Ironically one never knows one is making the same mistake twice until they’ve already messed up. So I guess I know that I am learning when the outcomes of challenges presented to me come out better than they did in the past. So I guess that’s my only answer to this question: biggest mistake I ever made was/is failing to learn from mistakes when I make them.