Insider Series: Resident Artist Holly Schmidt

Burrard Arts

Holly Schmidt, Burrard Arts Foundation’s most recent resident, has spent her ten-week residency immersed in the complexities of desert plants. Her temporary studio at the gallery is, when I visit, a dusty landscape of papier-mâché prickly pear, agave, and yucca plants—a desert topography she is creating for her upcoming show Quiescence, opening at BAF Gallery on April 5. Using corn starch and newsprint to create ephemeral plant sculptures, Schmidt is circling back to a subject and process she first discovered more than four years ago. She first began creating papier-mâché plants as part of an art and agriculture project involving youth at Moving Arts in Española, New Mexico, where she was struck by the form and resiliency of desert flora, as well as the complexity of interconnected communities there. “This was an opportunity to return to something and to see what would flourish in the right conditions,” she told me.

Flourishing under the right conditions happens to be a definition of the show’s title, too. Quiescence, in biological terms, is a state of expectant dormancy—waiting for the perfect moment to grow. Schmidt’s practice revolves around socially engaged art projects which can take the form of everything from performative dinners, pop-up flower shops and foraging expeditions, to guided walks in the woods. She’d been waiting, however, for the chance to do something more introspective. “This has felt like an opportunity for something contemplative,” said Schmidt, “it is just a different orientation to the work, a chance to be quiet and pay attention to the forms of these plants, taking time to study them and to think about their structure and how they are in the world.” Thinking about the structure of plants leads easily to thinking about the social structures in which we find ourselves; namely how detached and destructive much of humanity has become towards the natural world. When it comes to plants, “how they are in the world” depends heavily on how we are in the world.

“The core thing I am thinking about [is] these relations,” she says. Her socially-minded art practice looks to collaboration and informal ways of learning to better understand relationships between people, plants, and ecologies. Schmidt is also fascinated with what she calls the “more than human world,” meaning the plants, animals, and landscapes that can strike humans as inexplicably sentient. “Plant life in particular,” she says, “how do we encounter plant life? How are our lives entangled with plants?”

In the case of desert plants, human entanglement is particularly strong—these plants are trendy, yes, but also evocative of a changing climate. Succulents and cacti can withstand extremes of weather; perhaps our fascination with them is also tinged with envy.

Holly Schmidt’s show, Quiescence, will open at the Burrard Arts Foundation on Friday, April 5th and run through Saturday, May 25th. Join us for the opening reception on April 5th from 7-11pm.