Eric Schnell



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2009

 

 

A Better Story: Part IV

A Better Story: Part IV conveys the chaos of our world and attempts to locate salvation both within and outside of that world. It began in early autumn 2003 when the artist drew a diagram of the placement of a five-part sculpture and numerous drawings in UTEP's Main Gallery, and evolved into the fourth and most recent chapter of his ongoing visual narrative. The diagram, labeled Version 1.8 in a nod to technology and computer software, looks more like a chart of an impassioned psyche than a floor plan. Notes scrawled in pencil embelish its imagery. Four holes pierce the left margin of aged paper on which it's drawn, as if it had excerpted from an oversized ledger filled with documents of the insanity of contemporary life. After Schnell completed this rendering, he began work on the creation of new images and objects for A Better Story:Part IV, which also includes elements from A Better Story: Parts I-III, exhibited in New York City, Los Angeles and Galveston, Texas between 2000 and 2003.

A Better Story: Part IV is a literal and metaphorical pathway, its starting point a structural screen. (The diagram indicates this structure to be a translucent tent with opposing doors. The idea evolved from there.) The front of the screen is rooted in everyday territory; its backside marks the center of the sculpture, a place much less mundane. Just beyond it is a "rest stop". Too tiny to comfortably support human weight, it is more of a place for psychological pause and transition than for physical relaxtion. The sculptures third part is what Schnell calls a "boat element", connoted by a mast alone, which is comprised of small, energetic drawings suspended from above. This "boat" metaphorically transports its passengers to a fantastic place that the artist describes as the "Translucent Beyond, [that the viewer] passes into like a snake shedding his skin, then dissolving into ten thousand flickering stars." There the boat disintegrates and the sculpture ends, but the experience continues into part five, a place that, at the time of this writing, has no corporeal manifestation but that Schnell anticipates being "a possible escape." This concept of the sculpture as a journey towards transcendence tests the viewer's imaginative powers, since each part of the sculpture is visible from all other parts.

Schnell draws upon several aesthetic traditions and practices to create distinctive imagery that is entirely his own. He sustains the charged expressiveness, materiality, and predominately neutral palette of Anselm Kiefer and Kurt Schwitters. Yet A Better Story: Part IV also conveys the obsessiveness and scale of installations by artists such as Yayoi Kusama and Ilya Kabakov, a particularly pertinent comparison because of his interest in the boat as a metaphor for life. Kabakov's Boat of My Life is fifty-eight feet long and has twenty-five boxes on its deck, each filled with personal objects. It is based on the artist's memories of the former Soviet Union, where he constantly sought escape and was, psychologically speaking, a nomad. A Better Story: Part IV, like Boat of My Life, is so large and multi-faceted that the viewer moves through it as well as looks at it, an experience that offers a glimpse of the artist's mind and the artist process, which, in Schnell's case, relates to freeing oneself from mental traps that restrict the realization of full human potential.

In his quest for transcendence, and in the theatricality of the physical product of his quest, Schnell can just as easily be related to pre-modern artists as to post-modern ones. These historical figures beleived their avocation and vocation to be a key to their heaven, to a land beyond. Schnell's artwork is undoubtedly secular, but its relationship to release and redemption lends it a sense of the spiritual. A Better Story: Part IV is a pathway through the chaos that represents today's world, one with spectacular views and a destination that becomes yet another starting point. The artist finds some tranquility in the act of traversing this path and invites his audience to join him in the journey, to accept the absurdity and to appreciate the beauty.

Kate Bonansinga
Director of University Art Galleries
The University of Texas at El Paso

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