Mines to CavesExhibition, Writing
Cauleen Smith (b. 1967) is a multidisciplinary artist and filmmaker whose work engages cinematic landscape, science fiction, and mythology in the Black diaspora. Her immersive installation Mines to Caves evolves out of the artist’s film program GIMME SHELTER CINEGLYPHS that premiered in September 2022 inside Aspen’s Smuggler Mine, the oldest operating silver mine in the region. At Aspen Art Museum, the gallery emulates Smuggler Mine’s darkened, cave-like interior, where Smith presents a reimagined edit of her animated cinematic hieroglyphs first projected on the mine walls. These moving images of animals and topographies reference cave paintings, the earliest known art. The experimental film reflects on Smith’s desire to return the mine to the mountain and to reorient towards an alternative relationship with the planet.
In Mines to Caves, Smith foregrounds how traditional capitalist structures like overconsumption and land development affect our relationships to each other and the environment, and draws from work Smith developed during her residence with the Aspen Art Museum and Anderson Ranch in Spring 2022. The film, shot partially on location inside the mine, puts forth the artist’s research around geologic extraction in the United States. Mines to Caves incorporates a candle sculpture composed of different colored wax layers with wicks that will be lit at set times, activating and destroying the work in one turn. Smith’s striated waxworks trace an abstract topography of the earth, emphasizing the politics of creating art that will, like humans, disappear over time.
Humanity’s ephemeral presence on earth and our imaginings of a better present and future are central themes in Smith’s practice. A hand sewn textile proclaiming “Mines to Caves” hangs in the center of the gallery, at once a flag, a mantra, a heraldic tradition, and a poetic protest. Smith sees mines as a colloquial expression of romantic possession. The artist’s banner draws on the long history of banners raised for celebration as well as social and political change, from those erected by labor unions, carried by community organizers and activists, or flown by marching bands or churches. The gallery’s colorful wallpaper incorporates images of the Pandanus candelabrum plant, a palm tree that grows in soil above diamond bearing kimberlite rock in Liberia and other tropical sites in Africa. The plant marks sites for potential extraction, like an x on nature’s own treasure map. Since humans pillage the land that produces this shrub, the tree is now endangered. In the gallery, Smith envisions a world where this plant grows wild and undisturbed.
The exhibition is curated by Anisa Jackson, Curator at Large, and Simone Krug, Curator.
Cauleen Smith exhibition mines the damage done by mineral extraction, The Art Newspaper
New exhibitions on display at Aspen Art Museum, Aspen Daily News
Winter exhibitions, e-flux