Friday, September 21, 2007

Art and Politics: "The Industrial Complex"

The Faculty Art opening last Monday featured many fine works by VSU faculty. The following piece by Michael Schmidt, one of my first new friends here, was for me the most striking piece.

Photo by Michael Schmidt (click photos for full size)

Oil in, bullets out? Bullets in, oil out? It depends on where you stand, how you read--left to right (English, western) or right to left (Arabic, Hebrew). Michael Schmidt's work features a melange of styles and materials, as he indicates on his web site, but the two most interesting are used motor oil and cast 50 caliber bullets. The oil is from all of us and represents our rapacious appetite. The bullets are molded from an actual spent round provided by a young soldier who will soon leave for Iraq again, if he hasn't reported already. (We hope he will return soon and safe, hopefully accompanied by most or all of our troops.)

Photo by Michael Schmidt

The bullets enter or leave from a vaginal, gothic-cathedral-style door that pierces the blue line, penetrates some watermark, exceeds a reasonable limit. Their whiteness violates the meaning of the word purity.

The oil in porcelain "styrofoam" cups drinks in your eye. It shines back, accusing. It's not subtle, not meant to be. It is, however, a beautiful sculpture. The cathedral door is too big, but barely large enough, as though the cups were once smaller, the factory walls wide and high enough. Everything now is squeezed, soon to be crushed perhaps. I also imagine bullets and oil both entering, filling the factory with the blood we refuse to see boiling down into our want for more and more, "honoring" our spirit of rapacity, of privilege, soon to go up in smoke.

Photo by Andrew Nuse

Mike also produces a lot of functionals, many embellished with old logos from oil and gas companies, many no longer in existence. They function as art. I call them post-oil retro pieces, because they already feel quaint and nostalgic, but they also suggest an apocalypse, like kitsch from the future come back to warn us that our thirst will make deserts everywhere, that the age of oil was some dream become myth. They make us remember the future.