Approaching Train (Wastelands) - 2003
Edition of 3,
Analog C-Print, hand-printed and by the artist on Fuji Crystal Archive Paper, based on a Polaroid.
Artist inventory Number 545.02
Not mounted. signature label and certificate.
Reality with the Tequila:
Stefanie Schneider’s Fertile Wasteland
by James Scarborough
“How much more than enough
for you for I for both of us darling?”
(E. E. Cummings)
Until he met her, his destiny was his own. Petty and inconsequential but still his own. He was cocksure and free, young and unaccountable, with dark hair and aquiline features. His expression was always pensive, a little troubled, but not of a maniacal sort. He was more bored than anything else. With a heart capable of violence.
Until she met him, she was pretty but unappreciated. Her soul had regis- tered no seismic activity. Dust bowl weary, she’d yet to see better days. A languorous body, a sweet face with eyes that could be kind if so inclined.
Until she met him, she had not been inclined.
It began when he met her. She was struck in an instant by his ennui. The sum of their meeting was greater than the imbroglios and chicaneries of their respective existences. He was struck by the blank slate look in her eyes. They walked, detached and focused on the immediate, obscenely unaware of pending change across a terrain of mountainous desert, their eyes downcast and world-weary, unable to account for the buoyant feeling in her heart. His hard-guy shtick went from potentiality to ruse. The gun was not a weapon but a prop, a way to pass time. Neither saw the dark clouds massing on the horizon.
They found themselves alone in the expanses of time, unaware of the calamity that percolated even as they posed like school kids for the pic- tures. Happiness brimmed in that wild terrain. Maybe things were begin- ning to look up.
That’s when the shooting started…
Stefanie Schneider assumes that our experience of lived reality (buying groceries, having a relationship with someone, driving a car) does not correspond to the actual nature of lived reality itself, that what we think of as reality is more like a margarita without the tequila.
Stefanie Schneider’s reality is reality with the tequila. She does not abol- ish concepts that orient us, cause and effect, time, plot, and story line, she just plays with them. She invites us to play with them, too. She offers us a hybrid reality, more amorphous than that with a conventional subject, verb, and predicate. Open-ended, this hybrid reality does not resolve itself. It frustrates anyone with pedestrian expectations but once we inebriate those expectations away, her work exhilarates us and even the hangover is good. An exploration of how she undermines our expectation of what we assume to be our lived reality, the reasons why she under- mines our expectations, and the end-result, as posited in this book, will show how she bursts open our apparatus of perception and acknowl- edges life’s fluidity, its density, its complexity. Its beauty.
She undermines expectations of our experience of reality with odd, other- worldly images and with startling and unexpected compressions and expansions of time and narrative sequence. The landscape seems familiar enough, scenes from the Old West: broad panoramic vistas with rolling hills dotted with trees and chaparral, dusty prairies with trees and shrubs and craggy rocks, close-up shots of trees. But they’re not familiar. These mis-en-scenes radiate an unsettling Picasso Blue Period glow or the intense celestial blue of the cafe skies that Van Gogh painted in the south of France. Yellow starbursts punctuate images as if seen through the viewfinder of a flying saucer. At the same time, objects appear both vintage and futuristic, the landscape of a post-apocalyptic world.
Landscapes change seemingly at random as do the seasons. Stefanie Schneider offers no indication of how time flows here, except that it con- ceivably turns in on itself and then goes its merry way. Time is a river whose source is a deep murky spring which blusters about with an occasional swirling eddy.
That Stefanie Schneider thwarts an easy reading is obvious but why does she do this? Since she will not countenance anything linear, logical, or sequential, and because she does not relish anything concrete and specific, she has to roil things up a bit. Nor does she seem comfortable with a book of images that is settled, discrete, and accountable. Instead she wants to create a panoply of anxious moments that refuse to settle down into any predetermined reading. She seeks to assemble the ele- ments, establish a provisional cosmology and then let each of us bring our own life experiences to bear on the enterprise. She unravels the paucity of a universe compromised by a matrix of either/or and replaces it with a kaleidoscopic neither/both cornucopia.
No fan of Descartes, she does not adhere to anything predicated on cogito ergo sum. No, the chance to present a universe of limitless iterations and utterances, open-ended, casualty-thwarting, intrigues her. She broaches a Heraclitan world: she shows that attempts to master, manage, and hoard time prove to be as elusive as a blind man trying to grab a salmon barehanded from a cold mountain stream. Even within the clear cut parameters of the Old West universe onto which she gloms, she shows that time is a bandit, that it is a mirage, that it is as unpredictable as it is indefinable and infinite. She coaxes us, scene by scene a slow- motion, out-ofsequence film clip, to agree with her that a running moat of lived reality easily overwhelms a castle of rationality.
Stefanie Schneider does not mount a demolition effort much less a de- construction one. Rather, she dismantles our expectations and sets about rebuilding not things but their connections anew. She is the mistress of the synapses. Indeed all these annoying ambiguities and irritating am- biances set the stage for a very particular certainty, one kernel of truth amidst these skewed and open-ended fields of inquiry. What connects all these images, in whatever order they might be presented1, is what I call an Augenblick, the mental distance between each page in whose ex- panse occurs the processing of shards of lived experience between these blinks of an eye that comprise the pages of Wastelands. During these innumerous Augenblicke, we take whatever shifts and turns that Stefanie Schneider throws at us, recalibrate our bearings, and then move on, at least until the next inevitable obstruction.
Irritating (and enlightening) as these shots may be, they’re nothing new. Rilke writes that, instead of trying to understand the quiddities of things, we should just be joyous at their mystery, just assume that they’re written in a lovely script that neither you nor anyone else can ever understand. Keats writes about being “awake forever in a sweet unrest,” although he’s talking about love. Stefanie Schneider makes us work for this idea of an Augenblick, but the result is worth it. The scenes and their sequencing dazzle us in a Borgesian Hall of Mirrors. Stefanie Schneider shows us that reality is anything but linear and user-friendly, but once one becomes accustomed to her enhanced dimension of space and time, we see the world in all its multifarious beauty and rapture. For that reason, Stefanie Schneider’s Augenblicke show us that reality may be a wasteland but it is as fertile as fertile can be.