KAOS author Ben Caldwell (Courtesy photo)

In the winter of 2017, Taj Frazier began working with Ben Caldwell to help Caldwell catalog and organize his expansive archive of work as an ethnographer and documentarian.

Caldwell is an arts educator, cultural entrepreneur, independent filmmaker and founder of KAOS Network, a multimedia arts/tech accelerator center that he founded in Leimert Park nearly 40 years ago.

Frazier is an author, associate professor of communication at the University of Southern California, and director for the Institute for Diversity and Empowerment at USC Annenberg.

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Interested in learning more about Caldwell’s story during archiving, Frazier began interviewing him and it wasn’t until five months into the process that Frazier proposed the idea of working on a book to Caldwell. Caldwell asked if Frazier would be interested in working on that book with him due to Frazier feeling like an extension of Caldwell’s family. This connection eventually led to their book, “ KAOS Theory: The Afrokosmic Ark of Ben Caldwell,” published by Angel City Press and released on Sept. 26, 2023.

KAOS author Robeson Taj Frazier. (Courtesy photo)

KAOS theory is the first book to tell the story of Caldwell and the KAOS Network. It includes vibrant graphics and media archives. In this book, they dive into a timeline of Caldwell’s life, beginning with his ancestors, his boyhood in New Mexico, his time at war in Vietnam, his contributions as a filmmaker and pioneer of the L.A. Rebellion Film Movement, and of course how he originated KAOS Network.

“When I first moved here in the early 70s, my aunt lived here. So she was really the catalyst for me seeing this neighborhood, and since I was an artist, there were a few artists that- she’s a teacher, so she kept saying, ‘I know other artists, you should meet them,’” Caldwell said.

“I came here to go to school at UCLA. One of my cohorts out at school brought me to Leimert Park too, to  introduce me to Alonzo Davis and Dale Davis, who were the brothers that started Brockman Gallery, which really sprang the [Black] artists community here for the first time.”

For Frazier, who spent his first ten years of life in Harlem, New York, which has a rich Black cultural point, he saw Leimert Park as another important Black cultural hub. He sensed a familiarity between the two despite them being on opposite coasts. Frazier has lived in LA for almost 15 years and has always been intrigued by Leimert Park.

KAOS Theory book cover (Courtesy photo)

Collaborating with Ben has been a great learning experience for Frazier in terms of spirit, purpose and work and he said it has been a joy, a pleasure and a gift that he does not take for granted.

“Being able to work with Ben over the last five plus years has helped me feel that much more rooted in both Leimert village and Crenshaw but even more so in Los Angeles.  Leimert and the surrounding areas really feel like home. They really feel like those are my people. That’s a space where I both feel valued and acknowledged, but as well as where I feel like I’m contributing,” Frazier said.

Kaos Network was initially started as a healing facility for the youth and community by Caldwell with assistance from Dr. Sebi. Caldwell was looking for a way to work with multigenerational interactions in Black spaces after his experiences teaching at Howard University. However, the name “Kaos Network” didn’t come to fruition until around 30 years ago.

“Initially, we called it Video 3333 and named it after the address because the address has the elements of mystery in it, too, because of the threes. Threes are special, so we thought four threes together made a super powerful conjunction with our place and then around the 90s, video was starting to die,” Caldwell said.

Caldwell recalls going to an event at the American Film Institute with his wife, Pam, where a seminar was held for a week on different economic theories. One of them was called chaos theory. Caldwell and his wife were blown away by the lecture and were inspired to rename Video 3333.

“We named it Kaos Theory- and chaos is, after you do a deep dive in it, you find out that it’s really the basic elements of creative juices that happen in the world,” Caldwell said.

Caldwell on the IFresh Set. (Courtesy photo)

“Then my wife bought me the symbol of Sanskrit chaos and what that word means is where brilliant dreams are born. So, we thought that was an interesting double entendre in ways. So, it has a meaning where most people would think it means out of focus, where in fact it means an opening up of the world because you see everything.”

Because of this creativity and introspection, Frazier and Caldwell needed to focus on the layout and the aesthetics of the book. Frazier said they wanted to remind people and encourage them in the power of literature and for the imagery in their book to be an essential part of the narrative. The book plays with different color fonts and pages, as well as many captivating works of art from the archives laid out on each page.

“I really think part of what we wanted to provide readers with was an immersive -even nonlinear kind of way of engaging with the book. So that certain things might linger if they read it a second time, certain things would stand out that didn’t stand out the first time. We wanted something too, that when people held it, they felt the weight of it, the presence of it, the beauty of it, we really wanted them to look at it and feel a sense of admiration and pride,” Frazier said.

Caldwell said that he hopes the readers take away a blueprint on how to interact with their communities with art and also use their skills to give back to and inspire their neighborhoods.

Ben Caldwell in high school. (Courtesy photo)

“Hopefully, our book will encourage people to think about how creating expression and community collaboration can play a role in their own healing processes, especially familial healing in terms of family trauma. Trauma that we carry as Black people in this country and in the world,” Frazier said.

In promotion of the book, Caldwell and Frazier will be in conversation and book signing at The Artform Studio with Myka 9 on Thursday, Nov. 9.

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