installation view. Cauleen Smith: Give It or Leave It, 2018.
This solo exhibition of film, video, and sculpture by filmmaker and artist Cauleen Smith (b. 1967) fills the ICA’s Beverly W. Reynolds Gallery and reaches into the adjacent Royall Forum with an overlapping series of immersive installations. Taking its title from a revision of the phrase “take it or leave it,” Give It or Leave It cultivates a spirit of generosity, hospitality, and selflessness, and proposes a new rule for a better world: creating something, offering it, and gifting it, regardless of recognition, acceptance, or rejection.
Establishing the thematic core of the exhibition are two new films—“Pilgrim” (2017) and “Sojourner” (2018)—that navigate four distinct universes: musician Alice Coltrane (1937–2007) and her ashram; a 1966 photo shoot by Billy Ray at the Watts Towers; Noah Purifoy (1917–2004) and his desert assemblages; and Black spiritualist Rebecca Cox Jackson (1795–1871) and her Shaker community. For Smith, each of these sites embodies an act of creativity and radical generosity rooted in current events and social communities, allowing her to reimagine a future that is Black, feminist, spiritual, and unabashedly alive.
Give It or Leave It places these films in conversation with thematically related projects. These include “Two Rebeccas” (2018), in which footage projected onto an assemblage of disco balls fractures across an expanse of shag carpet and artist-designed wallpaper, and “Epistrophe” (2018), in which multi-channel projections of dreamlike landscapes are generated by closed-circuit cameras trained on an elaborate table-top tableau. Smith also will intervene directly in the Markel Center’s architecture with a new site-specific application of colored film gels to exterior windows, which will temporarily bring new hues to the building’s facade and create shifting pools of color within interior spaces as light moves across the building.
(Photo: David Hunter Hale for the ICA at VCU.)