My legal name is Ashura Bayyan, but call me A.B. Lovelady. Lovelady is my family surname, it's also a city is Houston County, Texas. The city has a total area of about 1.1 square miles, and as of the 2000 census the population was 600 people. I often wonder how much it would cost to buy the entire city. I'm only 22, so according to the World Bank life expectancy projections I can expect another solid 53 years. I figure I can find the money sometime along that timeline. Helloooo 2068...or goodbye? Idk.
For now though, I live in Houston. I travel often, read ferociously, study film and contemporary art fastidiously. I actually believe art predicts the future, unfortunately I haven't been able to provide any definite proofs...
Depending on whether im starving or not, my body fat will float between 10-13, which is great news as far as my aesthetic and athletic ambitions are concerned.
My life goal, is to be independently wealthy and successful by other peoples standards. I won reserve grand champion for my pig at the Aldine Livestock Show of 2008, that experience really resonated with me, as a result I'd like to build and manage a fully operational pig farm some time before 2068. (sidenote: my father is muslim and I have not discussed this with him, but he is sure to object)
I am truly privileged to have the opportunity to work with Aurora Picture Show, I cannot dutifully express what this experience is providing for me, my friends, and my artistic future.
As part of A.B.'s experience at Aurora Picture Show, he wrote a review of a show that was hosted by Aurora Picture Show at the Eldorado Ballroom. I hope that you enjoy his review of The Black Utopia LP by Cauleen Smith:
About Last Night
Aliens on Dowling
by Ashura Bayyan
It was on the corner of Elgin and Dowling, on the very last day in February, at the Eldorado Ballroom. Eldorado was once the nucleus of black culture for Houston’s’ Third Ward, after it was built in 1939 the ballroom hosted social club events and entertainment from local bands and major touring acts, including Ray Charles, Etta James and Jimmy Reed.
After desegregation the power of the black dollar was no longer concentrated in small communities, which, coupled with facts of a changing musical taste of the youth, led to the decline of Eldorado and the third ward economy in general.
Today, Project Row Houses (PRH) owns the building. PRH is arguably the most significant arts & community service arts organization in the city of Houston. They use the facility as a special performance venue, meeting site and as a concert hall, rightfully so.
On this night though, February 28th, 2015, there is an art performance by Cauleen Smith, the internationally recognized California born filmmaker and experimental artist. Aurora Picture Show, a non-profit media-arts center, has brought her here in collaboration with PRH, to present a work titled “Black Utopia”, “a double vinyl LP record paired with 34mm slides, synchronized in live cinematic performance”. Black Utopia is an anthropological collage of sound and photo, devoted to Afrofuturism- a cultural movement that “mixes science fiction, fantasy, non-western religion and Afro centrism.”1
The highly acclaimed jazz icon Sun Ra (1914-93) was a key figure in this movement, and the LP contains lectures, rehearsals, and live performances by he and his band, “The Arkestra”. The accompanying images span a wide berth of objects and spaces, which fall under the umbrella of Afrofuturist philosophy. Over 800 35mm slides curated and produced by Cauleen, gathered from found archives, historical records, scientific sources, and her own photography.
The event called for a giant screen, a record player, a 35 mm projector, chairs, water, and Saint Arnold’s beer, that’s all. In terms of the method used for the presentation, it was not very technically demanding, Cauleen stands behind the projector after being introduced by Mary Magsamen the chief curator for Aurora Picture Show. A member of the staff boards a window, stopping the streetlight from leaking in, the ballroom becomes dark and the show begins.
The streams of images were unpredictable and often times they were as abstract as the jazz playing in the air. The ballroom is still, and the pulse of the music swims above us, bouncing against the high ceiling. The sounds of the album are bizarre, washing over our heads demanding a reaction, but what kind? Understanding? Compromise? Revolution? It’s hard to tell at this point.
The music continues, interwoven with faux news reports about astronauts named Malcolm X and Nat King Cole. Even when the music thins out, with little or no clear orchestration, there is still the constant click, click, click, click of Cauleen working the projector.
The images continue, and as the experience goes on I am able to describe them better. They are cosmic, scientific, and disconcerting. There is no movement on screen, but the space seems to dance with the notes from the speakers, as we, the audience, try to associate the sometimes un-associable.
Frankly I’m not sure how to judge a presentation like this, I mean, its different?
The slide changes, and a photo of a typed letter lingers on the screen longer than expected. Cauleen is giving us time to read it completely. “Come my brothers to the blackness of outer space”, signed, Sun Ra. Words like outer space; celestial, interstellar, and intergalactic come up repeatedly throughout this show.
I can easily see the attraction to Afrofuturism, the theories and philosophies often reflect a mystical version of true reality. For Sun Ra and other Afrofuturist, day to day living in America is viewed through the context of African mythology, 20th century techno culture, and science fiction. Social exclusion of African Americans can be easily paralleled to a number of narratives regarding extra terrestrials and alienation. The social status of the black man in America is aptly described as “the alien”, “the other”, “the extraterrestrial” brought here to this nation then stranded and isolated.
I was disinterested at first in the method of using a slide projector to show the images, I felt that its only purpose was to lend the piece an archival mood. Coleen interjects periodically with annotations or accompanying facts for specific slides. Sitting, watching each image click by on the screen displaces me, and for a moment I am entertained by the thought of what a secret government security briefing felt like in 1964, during the peak of American civil rights movement.
The show ended with what I can only describe as an interstellar praise dance. The lights came on and Cauleen emerged from behind the screen wearing two metallic space blankets, joined together as a bag, which she had pulled down to cover her entire body.
I see the variety of faces looking at her curiously, and I realize that this LP exhibition is not merely archival. It’s given the people in this audience a format to continue exploring alienation and the black experience in a country that continues to change its face and its politics. The style of delivery is coy, and subversive, yet clear without using fiery rhetoric or aggression. It’s not a universal message, each spectators interprets the slides and the corresponding soundtrack uniquely and individually. No two people will walk away with the same impression of Afrofuturism, similar to people responses on race relations in the U.S. today.
Cauleen’s space funk inspired praise dance is a performance unto itself, separate from the LP and the 35 mm slides, and demanding to be acknowledged. It’s a polite intervention in the daily routine of the people attending this show, and a reminder that she too has and possibly still does feel alienated in this country. She ends the night with a bow, stating that this may be her last time doing this performance. I hope that is not true. Cauleen’s presentation provides a necessary discourse, and taking into account pop culture trends, I suspect that it’s easier for society to interpret her artwork as social commentary than it is to follow the message of any social activist or politician. She is a black artist, a bit too diverse to be given a single label, but judging by the variety of faces in the audience she speaks to a number of races. In this sense Afrofuturism is right at home here in the historic third ward, where the social landscape has continued to change dramatically over the past 20 years.