This article is an expanded version of a catalogue essay written for the 2021 exhibition Cauleen Smith, H-E-L-L-O: To Do All At Once, Great Hall Exhibition, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. The event was the first online exhibition of the series, due to COVID-19 restrictions, and featured the multimedia artist’s 2014 film H-E-L-L-O, commissioned for the multi-year curatorial project En Mas’: Carnival and Performance Art of the Caribbean. H-E-L-L-O. Set in post-Katrina New Orleans, Smith performs a deconstructed ceremonial procession through the city, activated by individual bass-clef musicians who together form a dispersed orchestra. Filmed in significant locations across New Orleans, Smith’s slow lurch sutures spaces that typically unyoke body from environment, architecture, or understanding by uniting her panoramic exploration with a five-note score drawn from Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), which similarly fostered connection between distant and foreign bodies. This article explores the work’s confrontation of New Orleans as a historic space recovering from the traumatic devastation of the built environment and communal systems, a distorted signifier of “authentic” diasporic art forms like jazz and carnival for touristic economies, and a futurological imaginary that can reclaim both physical and psychic autonomy through reengagement with the city’s population on its own visual and sonic terms.

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