ERIK SCHMIDT’S MAGIC REALISM
Pier Paolo Pancotto (translated by Silvio Saraceno)
The atmospheres suspended in time and space, codified during the Twenties of the 20th century through the Italian experience of “Valori Plastici” (1918–1922) and its travelling exhibitions in Europe (Das Junge Italien organised by Ludwig Justi in 1921 in Berlin, Hannover and Hamburg) and Florence (1922) and the German experience of Neue Sachlichkeit (with the exhibition that Gustav Hartlaub curated at Städtische Kunsthalle in Mannheim in 1925) and the texts by Franz Roh (NachExpressionismus. Magischer Realismus. Probleme der neusten europäischen Malerei, Leipzig, 1925, hence the definition Realismo magico adopted in Italy by Massimo Bontempelli) and Rom Landau (Der unbestechliche Minos, Hamburg, 1925), are the back drop to Erik Schmidt’s work, constituting an ideal premise for it. In fact, despite many differences, there are various elements that, in some way, approximate the aforementioned circumstances with Schmidt’s professional and individual path. Born in Herford in 1968 and working in Berlin, in 2019 he stayed at Casa Baldi in Olevano Romano, a location near Rome that was a destination in the 18th and 19th centuries for many international artists, especially Germans, attracted by the landscape of the Roman countryside. Casa Baldi, a branch of the German Academy Villa Massimo in Rome, hosted the artist for three months during which Schmidt worked, among other things, on the video Fine (2019) and then, once back in Berlin, he created Inizio, 2022 (HD Movie, 14:57 min.). The latter is set in the area in proximity to “La Sa pienza” University and features a boy and Schmidt himself as protagonists. The two of them arrive at the German Acade my’s headquarters after having travelled separately (although repeating, at times, the same gestures) from Termini Station to Villa Massimo, through subways and buses, crossing Viale del Policlinico and Piazza Bologna. Here, during a collective action halfway between a propitiatory ceremonial and a Dionysian ritual, a tableau vivant and a choreography, they meet and initiate a “silent dialogue” made of gestures that are now graceful, now violent, at the end of which the artist continues his journey alone, riding his scooter through the streets around the Academy, Via Nomentana included.
The justmentioned scenes alter nate, with an irregular rhythm, with those of a hive full of bees intent on producing honey, an image that seems to refer to the concept of rebirth and renewal in nature (in fact, these small insects disappear in winter, but reappear in spring) which is somehow echoed in the “silent dialogue” that is established between the two protagonists (or between the artist and his alter ego?) and ends with Schmidt’s free, solitary ride on the twowheeled vehicle. Even during the most agitated scenes, everything is cadenced by a linear and joltless narrative that is almost editorial in its ability to align facts and people in a sequence beyond a specific chronological (what year, what season are we in?) and logistical dimension (thefilmed places are only identifiable by those who are from Rome, otherwise they could be anywhere since they are so little “Roman” to the collective imagination) that shifts the story to a universal and time less other dimension. This apparently anodyne, dogmatic, almost uncritical language instead hides a reflection on everyday reality and the incon sistencies, uncertainties and, why not, anxieties it conceals: one only has to get to the bottom of things and observe them with precision to realise it. Schmidt proceeds in this direction, evoking and renewing, in his own way, those atmospheres suspended in time and space already mentioned at the beginning, which are typical of Magic realism and the various articulations that determine its phenomenon. Just think, for example, of the characters (or, again, the main character and his double?) captured by the camera. The procedure followed is almost documentarylike. These indi viduals are caught in the exer cise of their daily life which, as such, is made up of different moments, beautiful or bad, meaningful or banal, that are also reflected in the soundtrack, in which street and natural sounds, voices, choirs and soft accompanying notes are mixed together, leading to a dreamy atmosphere. Schmidt manifests this by using multiple visual layers. He captures them with the gaze of the careful but not prying eye, catching their every attitudinal and behavioural nuance, either in isolated form or in relation to the civil, social and urban context that hosts them. He thus proceeds in his analysis of the central theme in his re search, identity, which is al ready found in many of his of ten interconnected paintings and videos.
Evidence of the latter includes, for example, the film trilogy shot in rural Westphalia consisting of Hunting Grounds (2006), where hunting scenes alternate with those of a dinner party set at Wendlinghausen Castle in the Teutoburg Forest; Bogged Down (2010), where one suddenly jumps from a house party to a baroque park and a thermal resort; Gatecrasher (2010), where various locations in Westphalia (the artist’s birth place) are alternated, including Rheda Castle, a stage for danc es and elusive encounters. Or Cut/Uncut (2016) and Further up & Further (2018), respectively filmed in Tokyo and Berlin, apparently moving without a precise itinerary among the various corners of the metro polises (or as it happens in its own way in Fine, 2019, where the background to the subject’s vicissitudes is an ancient village, in an atmosphere dense with spirituality, rather than a big city). It is not clear how aware the films’ protagonists (or the only protagonist, almost always Schmidt himself) are of their actions and whether they follow the written plot of a script or, rather, just go along with their instincts. The fact is that, as in Inizio, they play apparently “anonymous” roles since the activities they perform — walking, eating, dancing... — are of little significance at first glance, but become privileged tools to explore the most recon dite corners of existence and bring out the multitude of in terpretations to which it is open. In essence, it is enough to go beyond the commonplaces and the conventionally attributed meanings of people and things for the semantic value of reality to change and, as a con sequence, our perception too.
Schmidt thus invites the spectator to question all their own certainties and to look more closely at what life offers them by sharpening their gaze as much as their mind. Inizio (2022) is a proof of this orientation and how it turns out to be central to Schmidt’s research.