‘Testsite 06.5: I Want to See My Skirt’
Inspired by 1960s images of a Nigerian girl, filmmaker Cauleen Smith and poet A. Van Jordan create a beautiful Testsite collaboration that imagines her journey to womanhood but also reveals how we see ourselves
Reviewed by Nikki Moore, Fri., Dec. 1, 2006
"Testsite 06.5: I Want to See My Skirt"
Testsite, through Dec. 14
There is art, and then there is Art. While art can hang on our walls and match our sofas, Art redefines the space it is in and questions its relationship to its viewers and its surroundings. While art can be colorful or black-and-white, three-dimensional or paper-bound, Art operates to rethink the medium itself. With all this in mind, "Testsite 06.5: I Want to See My Skirt" is decidedly Art with a capital "A." Its work in film, poetry, and bean-bag sculpture is beautiful in itself, but it exists primarily as a form of questioning that revitalizes lives, not just rooms, and makes us into people ready to rethink, revisit, and reinvent, as well.
For Testsite's current and characteristic collaborative pairing of writer and artist, filmmaker Cauleen Smith began with two black-and-white photographs taken by Malick Sidibé (Mali, 1935-), best-known for his images capturing popular culture in the the Niger Valley during the 1960s. From Sidibé's image of a little girl, topless yet beaming in her apparently new gathered skirt and large hoop earrings, "I Want to See My Skirt" takes both its impetus and its name. Drawing from these images, poet A. Van Jordan has written a group of short texts that serves as the literary foundations for this collaboration. In Jordan's able wording, the young girl of Sidibé's photograph grows into a young woman, whose life, culture, and attitude were visible, if nascent, on the day she asked a photographer to "please, help me see my skirt." And in Smith's breathtakingly rich filmic imagination, this girl and her journey into womanhood trace the impact of that skirt and its significations across continents, across growth stages, across generations.
For anyone who is lucky enough to arrive at Testsite's space at night, both the beauty and provocative questioning of "I Want to See My Skirt" begins before the opening of the gallery door. In shadows on the grass outside, one of Cauleen's most stunning film contributions reflects off the gallery windows and echoes its images on host Laurence Miller's lawn. While this crossing of interior and exterior boundaries is simple, its beauty and significance are a preview to the work within: where bean bags shaped as the oceans dividing Europe, Africa, and North America stack into a sensuous, spirited fabric heap and where Smith's richly colored films and Jordan's descriptive poetry set up a world that is both vintage and modern, that is both placed and placeless, that is both beauty and questioning. As the work of these collaborators illustrates the flow of pop cultures in music, fashion, and ideas among the United States, Europe, and Africa, it also illustrates the thin line of cohesion between objects and identities, between skirts and self-understanding, and between a tailor and a generation of the early globalized and the soon-to-be multicultured. Through the eyes of Sidibé's camera, Smith's cinematography, and Van Jordan's poetry, we see not only a pretty little girl on the verge of womanhood but the way we see ourselves and how those visions influence who we will become.