disciplines, produced a labyrinthine oeuvre of collections, works, insights andimages.Assembled from texts delivered by music, film and American studies scholars atsymposia held by the Getty Institute in 2001-2002 and co-edited by Rani Singh,Smith's onetime assistant,
attempts for the first time to contextualizeSmith’s work and thought in an academic context, drawing connections to theavant-garde tradition, as well as emphasizing the contiguity of Smith’s modernistrelation to folk art with that of Fluxus, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg andAndy Warhol, and exploring tangential connections to everyone from MelanieKlein to Bertolt Brecht and John Keats. It’s a necessary volume not only for itsscholarly apparatus but because a large part of Smith’s corpus remains out ofprint, as do the only two other volumes on his work,
Think of the Self Speaking
. Given its goal of historicizing, evaluating and above allattempting to produce meaning from Smith’s work, however, the Getty volumenecessarily sacrifices a certain oral richness that abounds in the other two books:
relies on a kind of idiosyncratic folk history of Smith offered byhis most intimate friends, including Allen Ginsberg and Robert Frank, while theinterviews that comprise
Think of the Self Speaking
present Smith as his ownbest/worst representative, engaged in shaggy-dog tangents, deliriouslyassociative ramblings and tall-tale provocations.Commentators variously employ labels like "aesthetic anthropology" or"ethnographic modernism" in order to describe processes Smith developed inwhich taxonomic and scientific operations are governed by artistic predilection.The underlying aim of such processes was to locate correspondences,synchronicities, rhythms, cycles and patterns that supposedly indextranshistorical structures. Smith’s stridently modernist emphasis on suchstructures permitted profound epistemological and artistic traffic betweenseemingly unrelated fields. Having decided that "books are an especially badway of recording information,"
Smith set out to transmit these structures throughpainting, film and music compilations. As a result his works often reflect asemiotic intensity that one commentator sees as prefiguring internet culture,insofar as they express “a highly annotated reality where diverse subjects arelinked in unexpected ways."
The reliance on structures to produce such interdisciplinary traffic marks one ofthe more significant registers of alchemy in Smith’s work. A lifelong student of theKabbala, Smith’s early films display a strong interest in the structuraltransmutation of sound into image, and his master work
Heaven and Earth Magic
depicts a dense cosmos of relentless alchemical transformation. Smith’s pathtowards alchemy, we’re told, supposedly began with a paternal injunction:Smith’s father, a Freemason and Theosophist, sent his son at a young age towork the blacksmith’s equipment in the family basement with the order to