Displacement and Do-it-yourself

Review of Kevin Schmidt’s Commons at the Kamloops Art Gallery

A common theme in most of Kevin Schmidt’s work is taking things out of their expected environment and placing them in a culturally alien environment. The selected works of his from the past decade that make up Commons, his exhibit in the Kamloops Art Gallery, are no exception.

On one wall of the gallery is a blown up image of a wooden billboard in which Schmidt etched some apocalyptic phrases from the Book of Revelations. He drove north and put the billboard up in the Northwest Passage, where it would only be seen by a handful of boats that pass through.

Another video installation, called “EDM House,” features a house built in 1905 that Schmidt covered in Christmas lights. The artist painstakingly synced the lights to a ‘90s influenced EDM track. In the description of the piece Schmidt says that creating a digital brand today is as necessary for survival as developing land used to be when the house was originally built.

Experiencing this piece was slightly bizarre, with the juxtaposition of the house and the thumping music. Perhaps it’s a sign of my youth, but I found myself searching the description placard for the name of the looping track (it was not provided).

A subtler piece is a series of five photos of a 1984 Chevrolet Caprice. At first glance the images of a station wagon parked in front of some absolutely gorgeous landscapes seem out of place, which, as it turns out, is Schmidt’s whole point. The description card is strategically placed so that you have to pass all the photos without knowing the context. The point of this piece is that the photos are done in the style of an ad you might see in a magazine, and Schmidt takes them out of the commercial space and places them in a museum, blurring the lines between “authentic” art and corporate productions.

All of Schmidt’s work is very do it yourself. He built his own projector and his own camera, and made the billboard by hand. Each of the projected pieces are in self-contained rooms and he made a makeshift dark viewing room that looks a bit like an igloo because he needed one more than the space had. While the actual creations aren’t very polished looking, they are fully functional and show that you can create pretty much anything you put your mind to.

The least impactful piece for me was actually the one I most looked forward to seeing. Schmidt rigged a homemade camera up to a weather balloon, and took a photograph of Earth from near space. The photo is impressive, but it lacks the juxtaposition that characterizes his other pieces. There were also a series of watercolours which, while beautiful, seemed out of place and message-less.

Otherwise, Kevin Schmidt’s work is thought-provoking and just beautiful to look at. Commons will be in the Kamloops Art Gallery’s central gallery until Jan. 2.