Mike Schuh’s multi-disciplinary practice consists of performing acts with and upon easily obtainable objects in order to subvert specific aspects of their given practical functions. The artist’s objective is not to inject meaning into objects and experiences, but rather to create situations that are catalysts for questioning the very impetus to make meanings of the world and the role that empirical knowledge has in our daily lives. The objects used are small and familiar, and the acts of artistic production are gestural and restrained. The result is an object that has not merely been altered by re-contextualization, but one whose essences have been reorganized. What they were may still be what they are, but what they do is not what they did.
Take for example the first piece that viewers encounter when they enter the gallery, It Wasn’t Night It Wasn’t Day. This video loop shows a screen door caught in a moment of perpetual dysfunction. When one normally encounters a door, it is closed, closing, open, or opening, yet this door satisfies none and all of these simultaneously. Creaking along, the action appears to be taking place at dusk, a moment that is neither day nor night. Schuh has created a perfect anomaly. This perpetuation of in-between creates a sense of repulsion that is peppered with moments of attraction, calling into mind questions of time and space. Time and space constantly weave in and out of Schuh’s train of thought. A sculptural gesture on display is a vertical stack of six 12 x 12 inch mirrors applied directly to the gallery wall. The artist’s use of a readily available package of mirror tiles draws attention to its materiality and reflective function. The piece delivers both the appearance of our body and the room surrounding it, reminding us of what we ultimately are: a unit defined by time and space.
This exhibition was conceived with total consideration of the space, both the objects created for it and the way that it will be navigated by viewers. In an effort to make use of the given architecture of the gallery in a more direct, confrontational way, the artist has turned the windowsills of the 1890s graystone that the gallery is housed in into actual seats from which to view the show. The entire show is being hung and placed from the vantage point of the windowsills. The red velvet cushioned stopping points become one single piece that traverses throughout the many rooms of the gallery. The artist states:
“The architecture of the space defines the possibilities of how viewers relate to this work. The works are not free of the walls, the floor, & the ceiling that surround them. Yet they are not possible without them. The gesture of this piece pushes back at the governing power of the architecture. Function is called into question; not only that of the windowsills, but the artwork as well, and our relationship to it.”
Schuh is also concerned with language and the role it plays in the acts of perception and understanding. This is evident in the sculpture End. A plaster copy of a domestic end table, the sculpture emblemizes language and our relationship to it, with particular regard to the process of naming. When something that is called “end” is reproduced in a material that would render it an impractical object, while maintaining the scale and form of the original, what kind of “end” is it? Is this gesture of re-making (without re-naming) in fact an ending or a beginning? The audience is left to consider a sculpture that references its source table through its physical presence, and all things “end” through its name, or title.
Ultimately Schuh’s exhibition creates the potential for experiences through the arrangement of objects and recorded events in space that invite the viewer to not only question what they understand about these things, but also the very nature of understanding.