Insider Series: Keith Langergraber

Burrard Arts

Battlestar Galactica, sci-fi fandom, meteorites and skateboarding –Keith Langergraber, our newest resident artist, finds fascination in these fringe subcultures. The artist, who completed a BFA at the University of Victoria, his Masters at UBC, and currently teaches at Emily Carr, will display the results of his residency here at the BAF beginning January 12.

Langergraber is a true multimedia artist, equally comfortable working in film, sculpture, assemblage, drawing and installation. In fact, his shows are usually made up of a combination of these forms. However, as diverse as his chosen mediums are, the themes and subject matter he’s attracted to remain remarkably consistent. Langergraber sees art where many don’t – in obsessive niche communities with their own highly developed rules and hierarchies. His three-part film, Theatre of the Exploding Sun,follows a fictional character played by the artist, as he investigates a rift in the time-space continuum created by Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty. The project has been featured in three of his shows to date, and borrows the lo-fi aesthetic of DIY fan filmography. Langergraber also explored skate culture in his show Concrete Poetry, and his most recent exhibition, Betrayal at Babylon, delved into the obscure world of meteorite hunters.

Langergraber’s work finds parallels and commonalities between what’s traditionally considered “fine art” and the outsider fascinations that may nevertheless be the product of just as much labour and inspiration. Aesthetically, his work draws comparisons to art brut – ironically, of course, as Langergraber is an established mid-career artist. But still, his work retains the rawness and urgency of many of the outsider forms by which he’s inspired. His sculptures are reminiscent of the geeky, technical practice of model-building, and his drawings bring to mind obsessively detailed projects by inmates and psychiatric patients.

For The Gates of Heaven, his upcoming show at the Burrard Arts Foundation, Langergraber used Paul Scheerbart’s 1913 utopian science fiction novel Lesabéndia as a jumping-off point. Described as a ‘cosmic ecological fable’, the book’s admirers included Gropius and Walter Benjamin. Along with Scheerbart’s other masterwork Glass Architecture, the book exemplifies the utopian trope of glass as the construction material of the spotless future, depicting a mad architect building a 44-mile tall tower to save his planet. Langergraber will reference the book in both sculpture and drawing, creating waves of urban growth that mimic the replicating structure of crystals.

The work draws attention to the similarities in the way human and natural organisms propagate, and the perhaps false binary that exists between them. Integrated with man-made structures drawn from Scheerbart’s book will be depictions of organically occurring structures of the same material – the glass reefs of BC’s Haida Gwaii region. Dating back 9000 years, these natural architectures consist of glass silica skeletons that can reach up to eight stories high. In Langergraber’s work, the organic and utopian structures will appear to be growing together, replicating madly as all things in nature do.

Visible on the walls around the sculptural installation will be a suite of drawings depicting the reefs and an altered Hubble Telescope image that, under the name the Gates of Heaven, circulated virally on Facebook in January 2016. The image had been digitally altered to add a futuristic landscape to a real photograph of the Omega Nebula, but was shared by many who saw it as an actual portal, of a mystical or fantastical nature. The angular, crystalline structure of the picture’s altered component certainly recalls Scheerbart’s utopian cities.

Langergraber worked with Heather McDermid to create an audio element that synthesizes these two elements of the show. Embedded within the sculptures, speakers will play a soundscape created from sonifications of electromagnetic radiation generated by stars, planets and events sounds that originate from within and outside of our galaxy, including sounds generated by stellar winds from the actual Omega Nebula.

Much in the same way that the boundary between the man-made and natural is broken down in Langergraber’s work, so too do the lines between fact and fiction prove themselves irregular and movable. Collaging together art, science, fantasy and nature, The Gates of Heaven leaves the viewer questioning their own experience of reality.

Join us for the opening of The Gates of Heaven on January 12 from 7-10pm, along with Circle, Sphere, Horizon Line from Lyndl Hall. The show will be displayed until February 18, 2017.