Lost and Found: Christian Schmit's 'Lost in the Making' questions the reliabilty of memories

The artist works in a one-inch-to-one-foot scale, creating fragile and intricate dioramas that provoke a tension of intimacy with his audience.

click to enlarge Christian Schmit’s ' ‘E’ is for Evaluation' - Photo: courtesy of the weston art gallery
Photo: courtesy of the weston art gallery
Christian Schmit’s ' ‘E’ is for Evaluation'

Christian Schmit’s current exhibition at the Weston Art Galley, Lost In the Making, is the work of an artist deftly demonstrating both his mastery of craft and conceptual concerns.

It is the work of an artist who has conquered technique enough to focus on philosophical concerns: Why do objects appeal to us so much? What kinds of stories do objects tell us about the people who use them? How does intimacy of scale affect meaning?

With a BFA from the Art Academy of Cincinnati and an MFA from the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning, Schmit works as an adjunct at both of his alma maters and employs everyday objects such as pizza and cereal boxes and junk mail in his art, recycling the paper-based materials into scenes that he thinks of as monochromatic “drawings.” 

“I just love cardboard,” Schmit said during a packed artist talk he gave at the Weston a few weeks ago. “I think it’s a humble material. It doesn’t ask for attention.”  

Yet throughout Lost In the Making, Schmit’s work provokes a tension of intimacy with his audience, as the one-inch-to-one-foot scale in which the artist works forces viewers to get up close and personal with each delicately fragile diorama in order to really appreciate them for their meticulous intricacies. Though visually unassuming from afar, the closer you get, the more mind-blowing Schmit’s work becomes.

Within several pieces in Lost, Schmit questions the reliability of memories (an issue he’s long wrestled with in his work) and seems to grasp longingly at their tangibility, creating monuments of beauty in their stead. His work is decidedly domestic — often incorporating common objects (ladders, chairs, desks, bookshelves, etc.) into the scenes he assembles.

One such example is “Confabulation,” a tableau of furniture and recording equipment that is, in the artist’s words, “a room gone awry.” And Schmit admits that the piece reflects his own fear of forgetting and his tendency to fill in the gaps of his memory with things that aren’t necessarily true.

His piece “The Archive” is, in Schmit’s words, a “movie set” of dozens of bankers boxes stacked on tiers of shelving. The artist says that the work reflects his desire to have a place where he could “just go and unpack every memory that I have.”  

Given Schmit’s penchant for built-in drawers that often feature spare parts and additional elements to each piece, one might assume that there are indeed “memories” within the boxes in his scaled-down “Archive.”

As a longtime art teacher, Schmit also thoughtfully seems to critique his own position as an authority figure. “ ‘E’ is for Evaluation” is about an interaction with a student during a thesis committee meeting that Schmit says haunted him for years. In order to unpack the event, he reconstructed the scene, trying to work through some of the angst. 

The artist presents a room, just moments after a critique, with four folding chairs (one of which is knocked over), a folding wall and a mess of just-tossed papers. Into the plinth, he’s included one tiny drawer that pops out like a Joseph Cornell-ian slot machine with the course evaluation he received.

Many of the objects throughout Lost In the Making are indeed functional. The piano in “Low Note” does play, the chairs in “ ‘E’ is for Evaluation” actually fold, ladders in “ ‘A’ is for Adjunct” extend and articulate and the projector in “The Four Necessities” actually projects.  

“There’s no reason for that,” Schmit said in regards to all the features viewers might never know of or even get to appreciate. “I have to love an object to do that.”

With no figures in his work and an obsessive eye for detail in craft, Schmit is clearly a lover of objects. 

Lost in the Making is an intimate, poetic work that is bolstered by Schmit’s mastery of skill and a self-conscious tongue firmly planted in cheek. The artist’s commitment to craft allows audiences a personal glimpse into the mind of a maker trapped inside the belly of a Nietzschean art-making machine. 

LOST IN THE MAKING is on view at the Weston Art Gallery through Aug. 28. More info: cincinnatiarts.org.