What we’ve know of the apocalypse is pictorialized by myth-makers; really though, it’s a blank canvas. Before painting the idea of The End in red, take a trip to the Glass Wheel Studio.
Get inside the head of someone who knows that it’s all going to shit but, no matter what happens, believes it’s going to be alright: an apocaloptimist.
Optimism generates possibilities and understandings. Signs of it are immersed in narrative. In Rachel Schmidt’s Apocaloptimist: A Future True Story, you’ll find the elements of a production. Meaning, here, is derived from the complete experience; it’s a well thought out participatory storytelling event.
How do you glean the sense of optimism in Schmidt’s future true story? Simply by putting on a mask of a bird, horse, or fox. Immerse yourself as one of the characters by shedding your identity. A lightheartedness surfaces as you perform your character. Your inclusion transforms an installation into theatre.
Opening night, Rachel Schmidt and I talked about narratives, rejoiced in symbology, and the creative power of play. Schmidt talks about stories that inspired Apocaloptimist: A Future True Story and her other work. This is a shortened version for publication.
Christine Marie Rucker: Tell me first about your experience here and walk me through all your lovely references.
Rachel Schmidt: I met Cheryl back when she saw me in a performance I did at The Emerging Art Fair in D.C. and scheduled a time and made a studio visit. At that point, Glass Wheel was still completely under construction and hadn’t even been finished. And I think that I just knew right off the bat she was really like this basic one-woman army. She had this energy and I was just really excited to work with her. She told me about Jen’s pieces downstairs. Sometimes it’s hard to put things together as far as your curatorial perspective of understanding that both of your works had a lot of dialogue. At first I didn’t really see it. Now that I am in the space, and I’m looking at Jen’s work — in her show up right now she is looking at the Anthropocene. I have a solo show in Arlington right now called Daydreams in the Anthropocene and it’s just like: we’re both reading the same books; we’re both looking at some of the exact same concepts within our studio practice; and it’s kind of fascinating that Cheryl picked up on that. So, already I’m having like a incredible experience. I’m just so happy about it all! Everyone here has been incredibly supportive. Obviously this space is amazing. It’s stunning. And you know this whole neighborhood and walking around it’s got this electricity.
What are some of the similar books that…
… that Jen and I? Well, there’s a book that came out this past year called Art and the Anthropocene. It’s very academic but I think it’s really exciting because it’s broadening this sort of larger vocabulary for discussing climate issues and growing urbanization and displacement of species. You have a lot more artists that are dealing with it right now and making work about it. I think it is now starting to kind of coagulate into an actual vocabulary. People are starting to look at this work under that umbrella, put it together, and see this is like a conversation happening about the same topic.
It’s so important that multiple people are talking about the same thing, or what is in essence the same thing. That’s how the vocabulary comes out of these voices. Like, we didn’t know feminism was Feminism… until the voices came together to come up with this one -ism. It’s pretty amazing.
But it’s also important because people are coming at it from different approaches. So, like, a lot of my work is very much about Futurism. I am approaching concepts of futurism and it seems like you know futurism and the futurism of everything is going to be completely shaped by the natural forces that are going on now. You know the expansive rate at which Man is transforming the planet. And so that was sort of how I entered in through some of that research and some of those concepts. It’s funny because like I think that you have some other artists that are approaching it from a much more political and activist standpoint. I think that is super crucial and important, also. I just think that all of these voices and different takes are all leading to the same place. Which is really important.
Yeah, absolutely. I read that you were calling this storytelling. You’re building myths, also. So, I’m really curious about your characters. I was hoping you could tell me about them. Somebody described them as “yuppie, brownstoners.”
Oh yeah! That’s funny… You can see it a little bit in this drawing. I started drawing these photo drawing / photo collages and the whole concept is that 500 years into the future the planet will grow into this one mega city. So, I used images and photographs I’ve taken from cities all around the world. In this particular image there is this banner that says KALE, but it’s not “kale” it’s “kalé.” It’s a photograph of Istanbul. It’s a Turkish toothpaste company or something. The reviewer — who never talked to me or reached out to me. It was just a straight sort of review, which is great – interpreted it as a commentary on kale consumption in Brooklyn and looked at it as sort of me commenting on hipster culture. And I thought man, he must really be down on hipsters that day because it has nothing to do [with it]… It’s good to have multiple interpretations. A friend of mine came in, who is Turkish, and said, “omg… I know exactly where that sign is.” I think it’s all what you bring to the table. Which is one of the greatest things about art and about art review… but regardless of how literal or forceful an artwork is, a viewer still brings in their interpretations. So it’s always there.
So one person is Turkish and interprets that (your intention) and then another person interprets it from their point of view. I see these as two different masks. Which is kind of like what you’re doing with these animals here.
So with this big city, apocaloptimist table, I have been thinking a lot about animals and animals in urban spaces. And how urban spaces are forcing the hand of evolution in a great way, and creating a urban versions of particular animal species. There is a huge resurgence of deer, predatory birds, hawks, foxes and raccoon in cities that in some ways have completely split from their country predecessors, and are now this new generation to urban dwelling creatures. I think that you fast forward 500 years, those species are going to have incredibly unique skills, traits, and characteristics, and part of what I wanted to do was bring back this performative–but more of this participatory–element where the piece is never quite complete until the viewer puts on a mask and participates.
So by doing that, you elect to become this animal in this somewhat foreign [land]scape. Which is why the table is structured as it is. You have these notches you step into those empty spaces and you are completely surrounded by the cityscape. When you are wearing a mask, you are literally looking through this narrowed, pinholed vision. You, now, are zoning in, through that. It limits your scope. We’re always trying to play with scope and play with perspective and this is a very physical way of manifesting that.
I saw that earlier your work Casa de Juvencio, Damels & Daemons, and Boat Journeys all have an installation element. I was like Aw, where is the wall paint and the lighting here?
With these installations — Casa de Juvencio, Damels & Daemons — that’s just the way that I would always prefer to work. I’ve always just wanted to do installations. Even within a lot of my sculptures they’re built to be collapsible and they’re built to be a little transformable. So like this piece, The Deadliest Catch, changes every single time it is shown. Depending on the space. It was at a different gallery and the gallery had really high walls so it went up really high and the droop of the net was much broader. Then I another time I showed it, it was a thinner wall so it looked kind of like a pregnant belly. Every time it was able to transform itself based on the space. That nimbleness, or something that can be tailored to each site, is crucial to how I want my art to behave.
That’s how stories are also.
Like the same prophet named Jesus, like in Zeitgeist, which says Jesus has been told about this many times. It’s displayed as a scrolling list.
I love stories. I think that narrative is all over.
What’s your favorite story?
I don’t have one.
I love fairy tales. I like the process of fairy tale making. If you look at it in some ways, Snow White and George Washington are kind of the same thing. It’s this like, “oh, the purity, oh, and” it’s just oh these people who are historical figures become mythologized. We make them these super human unrealistic characters and they are no longer humans. They have migrated into the world of being fairy tale. I feel like this happens a lot, too, with family history. So that Casa de Juvencio installation was actually about hearing all of my grandmother’s stories. She’s Mexican and her family are all Mexican migrant workers and hearing all of the stories… something about it just felt like listening to a fairy tale. I was just like, “That can’t be real. So they have like mud monsters? and they saw boats in the dessert?” …and all these fantastical magical things.” Basically I took those and turned them into a physical room. What if these fairy tales we hear growing up are real, and do we have that sort of magical element?
That’s really cool. What was that form above the beautiful reclining chair?
It was a collage of photographs of snake skeletons. There was a couple of ransom stories when I was younger that seems to revolve around snakes. Never in a malicious or scary way at all. Nothing like biblical evil or serpentine… nothing like that. It was always silly, innocent fun. It kind of manifested into this freezing. I had written all these stories that were in this little tiny book right next to that chair. Most people weren’t brave enough to look through a book because at a certain point art installation becomes prop-like…. or something you are not suppose to touch or interact with. In that was a series of fairy tales; all family histories are fairy tales.
It kind of looked like a thought bubble.
It felt like one!