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Lakeside Park Artist Explains His "Lost in the Making", Opening in Cincinnati

A mysterious figure punches away at a typewriter, pages forming into an impenetrable mountain range of paper. A bed is consumed by great dunes of books, leaving no room for the occupant. A botanist’s notes are swallowed by an untamable tangle of plants.

They are all part of Christian Schmit: Lost in the Making, carefully constructed, jaw-droppingly intricate sculptural tableaus that peek into the secret and obsessive world of absent characters.  

Lost in the Making, which has been two years in the making by the Lakeside Park artist, opens June 17 at the Aronoff Center’s Weston Gallery in downtown Cincinnati.

The character at the center of each ‘scene’ is unseen, but clearly creating a life’s work – the work a world he has disappeared into.

And while there are many characters and scenarios, “they are really all just me,” Schmit says. “A number of the pieces are about characters working on intense and secretive projects. This mirrors the struggle and isolation I often feel as an artist, making the kind of work that I do.

“I'm not a writer, but a typewriter and a giant stack of paper can represent the unhinged and unsupervised nature of the artistic process.”

Obsession, determination, isolation, alienation and futility, Schmit notes, “are themes I’ve been dealing with for years” but instead of interpreting them through angst, Schmit was inspired to build complex dioramas “that are unassuming, but contain echoes of personal experience.

“Hopefully the viewer is drawn in, and then picks up on some of the subtleties of the message.”

Schmit’s approach developed during the years he taught art to younger children. “The work we made was most often sculptural and from recycled materials.

“I quickly became dissatisfied with the level of ambition of the project -- why do robot arms have to be toilet paper tubes? Why can't they have articulated joints? That sort of thing. I wanted to marry the humility of materials that kids use to a sophisticated craft and concept. So all of the work in this show is made from household items -- cereal boxes, junk mail, et cetera -- the work is about my world and also made of my world.”

When Schmit began creating his tableaus, he wrote elaborate back stories for them “with all kinds of tangential detail.” Some of the more recent pieces deal with his experiences as a teacher, “so they really have front stories.”

“I think in order to teach in an art school, you become a character whether you want to or not. And students are certainly characters. Dioramas have traditionally been used as teaching tools, so these are teaching tools about teaching.”

These days, Schmit says it isn’t the absent character who defines the situation. “Whoever sits in that chair is absent, or the defined character is absent. Whatever surrounds the character defines the situation. Chairs, for example, are anthropomorphic, and can easily represent human experience.”

Lost in the Making may be inspiring Schmit’s next project. “The pieces that reference teaching are lining up as an alphabet--"A is for... B is for..." I might attempt to complete this alphabet.

“Some of my artistic heroes are people who worked as teachers and made work about teaching and institutions. Teaching is a subject I grapple with daily, and I've never really thought about making art about teaching, despite what a significant part of my life it is.”

Christian Schmit: Lost in the Making, June 17-Aug. 28. Weston Art Gallery, Aronoff Center, 650 Walnut St. (corner of Seventh and Walnut Streets), downtown Cincinnati. Gallery hours: 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday, 12-5 p.m. Sunday. Open late on Procter & Gamble Hall performance evenings, call ahead for hours. Gallery talk 7 p.m. July 12. Free (donations welcome.) 513-977-4165 and www.cincinnatiarts.org/weston-art-gallery

There’s more: FAMILIES CREATE! "BOOK IT!" with Christian Schmit and WordPlay, a community-based literacy organization for students K-12 years old. All workshops $5 per child. Pre-registration is recommended. For more information or to register, contact the gallery at [email protected] or (513) 977-4165, or register online at cincinnatiarts.wufoo.com/forms/m1s4meyi08jkw7f/

Written by Jackie Demaline, RCN Arts

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