Cauleen Smith: NTSC

Smith uses the analog TV production standard to probe what's uniform and what's excluded in society as well as TV

Arts Reviews

'Cauleen Smith: NTSC'

Women & Their Work, through Nov. 17

NTSC is one of my new favorite concepts. While historically it stands for National Television System Committee, in 1953 it came to symbolize the new color standard to which all analog-television production in the United States was held. In a time when intellectual property laws, think tanks, and media proliferation have made us more than comfortable with the notion that ideas are material, it may seem odd or even old-school to think about the physicality of art production. Yet the materiality of NTSC has profound effects on which ideas, concepts, and visions can be conveyed to the viewing public. (The TV-industry joke about NTSC is that it stands for "Never the Same Color," owing to inherent flaws in the standard that cause color balance in the signal to be degraded.) In its funneling effects, standardization – be it televisual or social – always works both to produce something uniform and to exclude what falls outside its own established norm. Probing these categorizations and exclusions, Cauleen Smith deftly works through associations with the words "color" and "standards" in a project that questions old-school material regulations and fallback social constructions. Integrating video, Magic-Marker drawings, sculpture, and sound, Smith's "NTSC" conjures, like TV itself for the critical, the fear that the most profound implications lie less in what you are watching than what is stealthily not being watched.

Offering her "mild obsession with Magic 8-Balls" up to the cause, Smith looks at these fortune-telling toys with deregulated eyes. Her work makes obvious the way in which only "yes or no" questions can be asked of Magic 8-Balls in order for the ball to be allowed to "speak" to the circumstance in question. As for the archetypal eight ball behind this toy, Smith writes: "The black billiard ball has long been a metaphor for African-American men and their position in society – the neutral, unmarked white ball gets to propel it relentlessly off the green felt. We laugh about it, but the metaphor would not have endured if we did not also recognize the sad truth of it." Smith doesn't stop at racial questioning, though. Working with and recaricaturing Night of the Hunter, Smith calls out the simplifications of love, hate, and women that occur in this iconic film, which influenced a generation of filmmakers. In a series of videos made by Smith for this exhibition, she interviews, draws on, and problematizes what we choose not to see, what normalization won't let us look to, what color-coding narrows and makes impossible. Things will change when the standard for digital-television production kicks in for 2009, but as Smith's "NTSC" illustrates, that doesn't mean new reductive and streamlining processes will halt their work in either the physical production of media or in the mediatic production of what we take as physical.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Arts Reviews
“Marianne Levy: Grimm Re-Articulated” at the Dougherty Arts Center
This exhibition of ceramic sculptures recasts fairy tales with animals who are more human than the people in the originals

Robert Faires, July 10, 2020

"Lee Albert Hill: Signs" at CAMIBAart
This solo exhibition asks, What happens when shapes run away to join the circuits?

Wayne Alan Brenner, July 3, 2020

More by Nikki Moore
In Dreams
In Dreams
Camera in hand, D'Ette Cole makes images that bridge the gap between night and day

July 18, 2008

Arts Review
Lance Letscher: 'Industry and Design'
Throughout his latest group of collages, Letscher is always exploring how we work through ideas and emotions

June 13, 2008

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Cauleen Smith: NTSC, Women & Their Work

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

New recipes and food news delivered Mondays

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle