The 21st Century Odyssey
For The Box’s fifth solo exhibition of Barbara T. Smith’s work, the focus will be on The 21st Century Odyssey, a two year-long durational performance that took place from September 26, 1991 to September 26, 1993. These dates correlate with the opening and the closing of Biosphere 2, located near Tucson, Arizona, where her partner at the time, Dr. Roy Walford, was the interred physician. Smith took on the role of Homer’s Odysseus and traveled the world while Walford, confined inside the Biosphere 2 facility along with 7 other “Biospherians” for 2 years, was Penelope. For Smith, this work was an endeavor to attain a global consciousness while maintaining the connection between Biosphere 1 (the earth) and Biosphere 2. “I was holding Bio 2 in my heart and connecting, of course, with Roy as a vehicle of that connection.”
As part of this work, Smith traveled extensively internationally and domestically and considered every aspect of her life in this two year period, from the exotic to the banal, as part of the performance. In Homer’s The Odyssey, Odysseus struggles for ten years to get home to Ithaca after his battles in the Trojan War. Between 1992 and 1993, Smith traveled to India, Nepal, Thailand, Australia, United Kingdom, Germany, and Norway; within the U.S., she went to Northern California, Hawaii and Seattle. En route, Smith created real-time performances with local citizens while transmitting images of these events via videophone and computer to Walford in Biosphere 2 and a third key partner, the Electronic Café International, led by Kit Galloway and Sherrie Rabinowitz. The Electronic Café, where Smith often attended their trans-communication events, was an early cyber café with advanced telecommunication capacity. It was located at the 18th Street Arts Center in Santa Monica, CA. Galloway and Rabinowitz collaborated in The 21st Century Odyssey, anchoring their three-way transmissions and archiving all of the early videophone communications Smith had with Walford.
The Box will present a comprehensive collection of both audio-visual materials, including videos, vintage equipment, and video phone transmissions, as well as more ephemeral artifacts: remnants from performances, clothing/souvenirs from her travels, and protective offerings given to Smith by friends and mentors.
Smith herself provides a poignant assessment of The 21st Century Odyssey:
It was a journey to establish a global consciousness for myself. I was carrying with me a thread of goodwill and openness, not trying to convince anyone of anything nor take anything from them, just to experience and learn. I was also embodying the myth of Odysseus ... It was an art issue too. What is a durational artwork? What constitutes it? I think this is also about consciousness. To hold an art consciousness for a long and varied duration. I think that changes or enhances everything I did during that time.