As both a painter and photographer, Bastienne Schmidt has always been fascinated and focused on the idea of identity and place as defining the personal and universal artistic mysteries of our shared past and present.
This orientation continues in her current exhibition at the Sag Harbor Whaling Museum in which she uses archeology and her perceptions of historic artifacts as a conceptual launching point to investigate the perpetually enigmatic elements of memory, time, and history. She recognizes, much as the author John Logan has pointed out, that “to be civilized is to know where you belong in the continuum of our art and your world. To surmount the past, you must know the past.”
Part of the Parrish Museum’s series of what is referred to as ‘Road Shows’, which are designed to foster connections between aesthetic vision and commonplace existence by mounting exhibitions and presentations at venues separate from the main museum itself, Ms.Bastienne presents works that echo with a sense of historical antiquity that is both extremely personal and yet profoundly part of the collective human experience.
Titled the Archeology of Time (which also references the artist’s personal history as the daughter of an archeologist who often took his family on digs in Greece and elsewhere), and featuring a number of works that, one assumes, were designed as site-specific installations, there is, throughout the exhibition, a dynamic and fascinating melding of textural and calligraphic impulses. These gain in power from her incorporating and reconciling the sometimes contradictory aspects of the logically systematic world of geometry and function with the wonderfully random spontaneity of artistic improvisational impulse.
For the most part in the exhibition, Ms. Schmidt accomplishes this through the use of paper as the ground upon which she formulates her gently rhythmic constructs and abstract calligraphic narratives. This allows the artist to conjure a remarkably fragile elegance to the physical structure of the works, a sensibility that is further underscored by the seemingly evanescent elements of the materials themselves.
Curated by Andrea Grover, the exhibit mostly consists of works from two series, Threads and Grids from 2015 and Grids and Maps from 2016, as well as display cases featuring functional objects from the Whaling Museum’s collection of historical artifacts which are then reinterpreted by Ms. Schmidt utilizing integrated organic components, paper, thread, and fabric.
Of singular interest from the Grids and Maps series are the three works that have been placed within the floor to ceiling windows in the exhibition space. Allowing light to stream through the works thereby giving the paper ground a translucent effect that is visually arresting, this also generates a visual sensation reminiscent of both Japanese shoji doors and Chinese scroll paintings.
This impression is particularly evident in the two works directly opposite each other in the gallery although the physical construct of each differs significantly. One of the pieces consists of a single large sheet of paper upon which the artist has attached a grid of small squares upon which are collaged pieces of heavy string that impart a literary sensation as if one could ‘read’ the intertwined threads as the viewer’s eyes are drawn across the work.
On the opposite side of the room, by contrast, Ms. Schmidt uses pieces of thread to connect the small squares of paper thereby constructing a physically architectonic grid composition that playfully interacts with the natural world seen outside the window frame it hangs within. Further, adding to the work’s impact is the artist’s use of extremely subtle dyes and stains to the paper itself, thereby imparting, upon closer inspection, a sense of visually syncopated cadence not unlike the languid movement of water or of smoke on a gentle breeze.
Bastienne Schmidt’s exhibition titled The Archeology of Timer continues at the Sag Harbor Whaling Museum through August 24. For further information contact either www.sagharborwhalingmuseum.com or www.parrishart.org.