Barbara T. Smith
The 21st Century Odyssey
April 13 – May 25, 2019
Opening Reception: Saturday April 13, 6PM – 8PM
Screenings: Saturday, April 20 & Saturday, May 18 at 4PM
Panel with the artist: Saturday, May 11 at 3PM

For The Box’s fifth solo exhibition of Barbara T. Smith’s work, the focus will be on The 21st Century Odyssey, a two year-long durational performance that took place from September 26, 1991 to September 26, 1993. These dates correlate with the opening and the closing of Biosphere 2, located near Tucson, Arizona, where her partner at the time, Dr. Roy Walford, was the interred physician. Smith took on the role of Homer’s Odysseus and traveled the world while Walford, confined inside the Biosphere 2 facility along with 7 other “Biospherians” for 2 years, was Penelope. For Smith, this work was an endeavor to attain a global consciousness while maintaining the connection between Biosphere 1 (the earth) and Biosphere 2. “I was holding Bio 2 in my heart and connecting, of course, with Roy as a vehicle of that connection.” 

As part of this work, Smith traveled extensively internationally and domestically and considered every aspect of her life in this two year period, from the exotic to the banal, as part of the performance. In Homer’s The Odyssey, Odysseus struggles for ten years to get home to Ithaca after his battles in the Trojan War. Between 1992 and 1993, Smith traveled to India, Nepal, Thailand, Australia, United Kingdom, Germany, and Norway; within the U.S., she went to Northern California, Hawaii and Seattle. En route, Smith created real-time performances with local citizens while transmitting images of these events via videophone and computer to Walford in Biosphere 2 and a third key partner, the Electronic Café International, led by Kit Galloway and Sherrie Rabinowitz. The Electronic Café, where Smith often attended their trans-communication events, was an early cyber café with advanced telecommunication capacity. It was located at the 18th Street Arts Center in Santa Monica, CA. Galloway and Rabinowitz collaborated in The 21st Century Odyssey, anchoring their three-way transmissions and archiving all of the early videophone communications Smith had with Walford.

The Box will present a comprehensive collection of both audio-visual materials, including videos, vintage equipment, and video phone transmissions, as well as more ephemeral artifacts: remnants from performances, clothing/souvenirs from her travels, and protective offerings given to Smith by friends and mentors.

Smith herself provides a poignant assessment of The 21st Century Odyssey:

It was a journey to establish a global consciousness for myself. I was carrying with me a thread of goodwill and openness, not trying to convince anyone of anything nor take anything from them, just to experience and learn. I was also embodying the myth of Odysseus ... It was an art issue too. What is a durational artwork? What constitutes it? I think this is also about consciousness. To hold an art consciousness for a long and varied duration. I think that changes or enhances everything I did during that time.  

On April 20 and May 18, there will be two public screenings of The 21st Century Odyssey, a feature-length documentary film that Smith produced with Kate Johnson of EZTV in Santa Monica. On May 11, The Box will host a group panel discussion with the artist. Details and times to be announced.

Barbara T. Smith (b. 1931) has lived and worked in the Los Angeles area her whole life. She received a BA from Pomona College in 1953, and MFA in 1971 from University of California, Irvine where she was a founding member of F-Space with Chris Burden and Nancy Buchanan. Smith has been represented in historic survey exhibitions including Whatever Happened to Sex in Scandinavia? at Office for Contemporary Art, Oslo, Norway (2009); WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution (traveling exhibition 2008-09); Drawing in L.A.: The 1960s and 70s, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (2016); and in several major exhibitions as part of Pacific Standard Time organized by the Getty (2011-12), including State of Mind: New California Art Circa 1970, Orange County Museum of Art, CA and Bronx Museum, NY; and Under the Big Black Sun: California Art 1974 - 1981, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Recent notable exhibitions include Outside Chance, Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York; Artists and Their Books / Books and Their Artists, the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles; Experiments in Electrostatics, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; 56 Artillery Lane, Raven Row, London, UK; Still Life with Fish: Photography from the Collection, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles; and Mommy, Yale Union, Portland, OR. In 2005, Smith had a retrospective The 21st Century Odyssey Part II: The Performances of Barbara T. Smith at Pomona College Museum of Art, CA. 

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May 14 2019pdflink
When Barbara T. Smith Traveled the World, Casting Herself as Modern-Day Odysseus


May 15, 2019

by Matt Stromberg