In mid-August 2015, I spent two nights in the Smith Mansion. The Crazy House. My nights there were cold and uncomfortable, I’d borrowed a sleeping bag from the Wyoming Inn just up the road where I had stayed other nights that week. Sleep did not really settle for me at the Smith Mansion. Not because of ghosts, just because it wasn’t a nice place to stay.
In 5 days, I recorded about 13 hours of material depicting the Mansion in all varieties of light and from every angle and location: interior and exterior. The footage looked interesting and held promise. Yet, after months and months of trying to piece together visuals for a film, I continued to fail to make anything worthwhile. When I was in Cody, Wyoming filming the Smith Mansion, I went to a biker bar. There, I heard about an interview with Lee Smith, recorded a little while before he died. While trying to make something with my recorded material, I also remotely searched archives in Wyoming for the interview. Through good luck and the persistence of archivists at theWyoming State Archive in Cheyenne, we found the interview with Lee and Dee Smith. As my search for the interview progressed my inability to make the film became more pronounced.
After locating the interview and gaining copyright clearance I heard the voice of a guy who I felt that I had come to know, through spending time in his house filming and sleeping there too. On hearing the interview I gave up on the film. My attempt to make art from my material had failed miserably. The interview in its raw, unedited, rambling state is a conversation about self-determination and a rejection of authority by twin brothers.
My response to the brief is born out of failure – a reminder that sometimes making art is impossible. And a reminder that archives can contain moments that evoke more meaning than art ever could.
I would like to thank: Travis Walker at Teton Artlab Jackson, Wyoming. Cindy Brown at the Wyoming State Archives Cheyenne, Wyoming. Ellie Parr and Harry Whitlock at the American Heritage Center, University of Wyoming, Laramie, Wyoming. Karen Preis at the McCracken Research Library Buffalo Bill Center of the West Cody, Wyoming. Sunny Larsen, Smith Family, Smith Mansion Preservation Project Wapiti, Wyoming.
Jordan Baseman 2016