Artists Holly Schmidt and Charlene Vickers connect poetically with the land

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      Charlene Vickers: Chrysalis
      Holly Schmidt: Quiescence
      At the Burrard Arts Foundation until May 25

      The two solo shows on at the Burrard Arts Foundation (BAF) spotlight the work of local artists Holly Schmidt and Charlene Vickers. At the same time, they showcase BAF’s admirable programs in support of the cultural life of our city. Both Vickers and Schmidt recently completed residencies at the foundation’s gallery in False Creek Flats, during which they were provided with time, funding, and modest studio space to complete new bodies of work, with exhibitions to follow. The residencies, which are also supported by the City of Vancouver, enabled both to further develop their highly engaging practices.

      Vickers, a multidisciplinary artist whose work includes performance, installation, and sculpture, here presents paintings on paper and canvas that use colour, gesture, and texture to convey, she says in her exhibition statement, “a dreamt and imagined space of floating and transformation within memory of Anishinaabe territory”. In the past, she has employed watercolour and gouache to create abstractions that allude to the porcupine quillwork of her Anishinaabe forebears. Here, however, her abstract forms are landscape-based, evoking a liminal space between inner and outer worlds, between a meditative state and a land “brimming with life”. These works were inspired, Vickers writes, by a summer of tree planting in her ancestral lands, when each long and laborious day ended with a swim in a freshwater lake. Floating on her back in the cool water, looking up at the sky and at clouds of mating dragonflies, centred and refreshed her—and charged her with the sense of “new life being created” above her.

      These memories and sensations are evoked in horizontal passages of colour and gesture indicating sky, land, and water, over which float brilliantly hued organic forms, some of them, as seen in Mating Pods Over Illuminated Landscape, seemingly in flames. Floral or geometric forms also appear, sometimes overlaid with compressed scribbles of colour that convey pure energy. In works such as Buzz Cells and Memory Sparks, Vickers deploys concentric circles across her surface, reminiscent of Anishinaabe designs, in colours ranging from brilliant yellow and orange to muted purple and intense aqua. The impression is poetic and celebratory, expressing a sense of connection with the live and abundant land of her ancestors.

      In new works by Charlene Vickers, memories and sensations are evoked in colours and gestures indicating sky, land, and water.

      Schmidt’s projects have often been collaborative or community-based, with a frequent focus on parks, gardens, and growing things, especially as they bear upon social and ecological issues such as food security and sustainability. Her installation Quiescence is an outgrowth of an earlier residency and a food-justice project she undertook in the American Southwest. At BAF, she riffs on work she did with schoolchildren in the New Mexico city of Española, leading them in the creation of papier-mâché sculptures of local flora. Quiescence consists of Schmidt’s own keenly observed sculptures of food-bearing plants that occur on the New Mexican plateau: banana yucca, buffalo gourd, and prickly pear cactus. The sculptures, which she produced using unpainted, biodegradable papier-mâché, are hung upside down from the ceiling. The effect of this pale, silent, inverted landscape is ghostly and unsettling, almost hallucinogenic.

      Quiescence honours the ways in which desert plants have adapted to the extremes of their natural environment. At the same time, it alludes to the ways human beings have, for eons, integrated their lives and livelihoods into such specialized ecosystems. And although the high desert of the American Southwest is an entirely different place from the temperate rainforest of the Northwest Coast, this work finds a philosophical home here that is both beautiful and disturbing. It is impossible to walk through Schmidt’s installation without thinking about the impact of the harshest conditions of all, the pollution and climate change that our species has catastrophically wrought upon the natural world.