Installation and Drawings by Jean Schmitt
February 6 - March 28, 2020
I am searching for connections between nature and the human experience. I create environments using video, sound and drawing to present natural phenomena or their disruption as metaphors, highlighting their expressive qualities. Occurrences like a standing vulture, wildfires, or floodwaters spilling their banks highlight the urgency of the present moment. My artwork considers the capacities of thought, feeling, and action in the face of a declining system.
The Gormandizing Vultures and Vigilant Vultures are an extension of the Meisen porcelain vultures commissioned by King Augustus of Prussia in the 1700s. His porcelain menagerie was certainly a result of an obsession, as is my series. I am captivated by the translation of these dark and misunderstood birds into their opposite, the most pure and white materials, porcelain. The opportunity to rethink an often reviled creature invites the potential to see them for what they are, nature’s recyclers, converters of energy, harbingers of change.
The Visible, Invisible drawing series features the gestural line extracted from video footage of vultures circling on thermal air currents. As the vultures ascend, they visually activate the invisible tunnels of air. Ascension, extraction, gestural line. Virgil guided Dante downward through the otherwise invisible rings of hell. Are these opposite gestures related? Do I stand at their apex? In the drawings I include digitally abstracted media images of challenges on earth: the effects of violence, displacement of people, environmental degradation, climate change, and extreme weather events. Instead of descending their rings, the vulture rises above current conditions while serving as an energy converter, a harbinger of change and a symbol of hope. From the ground, I can lie on my back and gaze up to watch the vultures catching the thermals under their wings. I see them moment-to-moment, tracing a line. I think about ancient cultures who considered the vulture as a harbinger of change, a symbol of transformation. Back on earth, I consider the urgency of the present moment and the imperative to act toward a better future. Drawing side panels abstract media images of the effects of climate change. The later drawings show a turning of tides with a new agency and activism lead to, not just despair, but to action! New Waters shows the Malizia II shuttling Gretta Thurnberg to agitate across the Atlantic. Young women activists like and Artemisia Xakriabao are inspiring people across the globe, across cultures and across generations! New Waters II features kayaktivists disrupting offshore oil extraction. It seems clear that the only thing left to despair is business as usual, which should be terrifying because we know how it ends. The new decade calls for the ignition of the ordinary into the extraordinary, commoners into agents of change! I understand the vulture as a harbinger of just this.
Jean Schmitt started as a musician and crossed over to visual art in the late ’80s. She has been producing work that combines sound and moving images with sculpture and drawing ever since. She maintains a studio in Kansas City, Missouri where she focuses on large-scale drawing, sculpture, and sound composition. Jean approaches installation and multimedia projects with the same sensibilities a conductor or composer uses to combine multiple voices in music and relies on theories from perceptual psychology and neuroscience to guide her decisions. More work can be found at jeanschmitt.net. She currently teaches in the Foundation Program at the Kansas City Art Institute and formerly with foundation programs at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design and Northeastern University in Boston. She sees foundation as an opportunity to shake up established ways of thinking, to embrace unknown territories and to open new pathways to creative practice.