Vancouver – Catriona Jeffries Gallery & Morris and Helen Art Gallery

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Vancouver–Catriona Jeffries Gallery

Catriona Jeffries Gallery & Morris and Helen Art Gallery, Vancouver, 2008

Two things shine through the persistent fog that is springtime Vancouver. Both are works by Kevin Schmidt, currently featured in major group exhibitions in the city.
The first, aptly titled Fog, is a dual slide projection on two sides of a floating wall suspended in a dark room. The images straddle representational conventions, striking a chord midway between the natural and the artificial. Fog depicts a quintessentially BC forest scene, with trees exceeding the frame of the picture, leaves and lichen draping over the branches, and moss covering the ground. The scene is shot at night, artificially lit with theatrical lights, and with what appears to be fog rolling out over the forest floor, generated from a smoke machine off-camera. The image is a still, although it appears to be moving, playing off the artifice of cinema. Fog could pass for an advertising stock photo, a diorama at a natural history museum, a dark fairytale, a film set for a horror flick shot in Hollywood North.
Fog is about the spectacular, and it is spectacular itself. Schmidt unapologetically engages the romantic tradition of the pastoral while ironically undermining its representation by revealing the means by which such a representation is produced. It is an obvious fake, yet the illusion remains seductive.
The second work, Wild Signals, is a video projection of a concert-worthy light show set outdoors in a vacant Yukon landscape. Schmidt hitched a major lighting rig, speakers, and a smoke machine in the centre of a frozen lake at twilight, poised against towering mountains. Coloured lights and fake fog flicker across glittering snow, while speakers pump out a low-tech version of Close Encounters of the Third Kind’s famous five-note theme. The shoot was timed to coincide with the readymade spectacularity of the natural landscape, a crepuscular sky competing with the gaudy spectrum of artificial lights. In the background, a natural bank of fog moves in, replacing the artificial smoke and obscuring the mountains at the end of the take.
In Spielberg’s film, a group of scientists lure an unidentified flying object down to earth using a scripted sequence of notes and lights. In Schmidt’s video the mother ship fails to appear, the lights gradually fade to darkness, and the music dies. Wild Signals is a lonely rave, an unlikely stage, a theatrical event without a climax or an audience, save the people standing in the gallery, well outside of the scope of the image.
Ironically, Schmidt’s portable generator is the main medium of his practice, being the apparatus that made both works possible, as well as past ones such as Long Beach Led Zep (2002) and Burning Bush (2005). Schmidt pulls out all the theatrical devices to make what are beautifully composed non-events, leaving one in a suspended state of anticipation. The promise of his work is in what it fails to deliver, and how that critically reflects on the nature of the spectacular.

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