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San Francisco

The Sable Eye

The Sable Eye with Ryanaustin Dennis, in partnership with Canyon Cinema

Wednesday, June 6, Bar 6pm, Event 7pm, with works on view through June 9

Screening of Robert Nelson, Oh Dem Watermelons, 1965, 11 minutes, 16mm and Cauleen Smith, Chronicles of a Lying Spirit (by Kelly Gabron), 1992, 6 minutes, 16mm. With Artworks from the KADIST collection by Jorge de Leon, Paul McCarthy, Toyin Ojih Odutola, and Pope.L on view.

The Sable Eye is an evening of art, film, and conversation around the proxies of Blackness, organized and facilitated by curator, artist, and writer Ryanaustin Dennis. In Dennis’ words, “The Sable Eye is where we attempt to generate a discourse that not only makes black people desirable objects of discourse, but necessitates our inclusion into the structural theoretical paradigms we take for granted. It is a program in which we discuss the objects and onotology of Blackness—how it sticks like tar, blackens like coal, and folds into abyss.” Fundamental to Dennis’ practice is the study of collective looking, connecting artworks and ideas across diverse media, and fostering a critical dialogue about anti-blackness in the Bay Area and beyond.

A brief talk by Dennis is followed by a moving image presentation in partnership with Canyon Cinema. Robert Nelson’s Oh Dem Watermelons (1965) is an experimental film that sardonically investigates the historically racialized watermelon. Originally shown at the intermission of “A Minstrel Show, or Civil Rights in a Cracker Barrel”–a notorious production by the San Francisco Mime Troupe that exploded racial stereotypes by exaggerating them—the film became popular on its own as a stalwart entry at underground film festivals. In Chronicles of a Lying Spirit (by Kelly Gabron) (1992), Cauleen Smith fabricates a personal history of her emergence as an artist from white-male-dominated American history (and American film history). The evening will close with a discussion facilitated by Dennis.

Founding member of The Black Aesthetic, Ryanaustin Dennis is an Oakland-based curator, artist, and writer. His practice is concerned with how 20th and 21st century experimental performance, film, and writing histories are shaped by the metaphysics of blackness. He has done curatorial work for E.M. Wolfman Bookstore and is a Southern Exposure Curatorial Council Fellow. The Black Aesthetic is a creative organization whose mission is to curate and assemble both a collective and distinct understanding of Black visual culture through screenings, publications, discussions, and more.

Known for prankster experimentalism and on-the-spot invention, the films of San Francisco native Robert Nelson (1930–2012) are among the defining landmarks of the post-Beat American underground of the 1960s and 70s. His free-spirited approach, sharp wit, and artistic rigor marked inspired collaborations with William T Wiley, William Allan, Steve Reich, and the Grateful Dead, and helped shape a language and style for the burgeoning psychedelic culture.

Cauleen Smith (b. 1967) is an interdisciplinary artist whose work reflects upon the everyday possibilities of the imagination. Operating in multiple materials and arenas, Smith roots her work firmly within the discourse of mid-twentieth-century experimental film. Drawing from structuralism, third world cinema, and science fiction, she makes things that deploy the tactics of these disciplines while offering a phenomenological experience for spectators and participants.