Feature: Callum Schuster

A Thing in the World
Artist Callum Schuster engages contemporary installation art as an exploration of time, space and what it means to create and experience art.

Photography by Zach Hertzman at Light x Hevvy

0001_DEB_DSC_5778Callum Schuster stores some of his portraits in the loft space of his studio, just south of Queen Street. The skilled paintings are dark and striking. I recognize one of them—a rounded, swollen face emerging from a blackness—from when I interviewed Charlie Bierk last year (they were sharing a studio at the time.) But the majority of Schuster’s own space is filled with textural and installation pieces—minimalist, carefully crafted projects and abstract experiments. Schuster’s work is hyper focused on fundamentals and the building blocks of art and creativity.

Schuster recently finished a week-long show at the O’Born Contemporary gallery with Liam Crockard called Intervention: Slapstick Meets Instances of In Finite. Now he’s preparing a piece for The Power Plant’s opening exhibit this Friday, September 20. His work will be featured in “More Than Two” curated by Michael Lexier—the exhibit will contain pieces by 101 notable Toronto artists.

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Schuster’s pieces in his most recent show, In Finite, feel both surreal and playful. For example, in the corner of one room copper elbow joints appear to be pouring out paint that are frozen in time just before hitting the ground. The gallery vents ooze white paint that coats the gallery walls.

“The idea behind that show was based on the ancient Greeks and Romans belief that creative people had a daemon—this half-divine, half-human spirit that would live within the walls of their studio. When it came down to the time of making something —the point of creation—the daemon would come flowing out and guide the artist through their creative process.”

0018_DEB_DSC_57910005_DEB_DSC_5278Schuster is interested primarily in the raw materials that make up art: paint mixtures, canvas, space and time. Taking these as his point of exploration has lead him to, “explore reality through abstract notions.”

In In Translation, a show he had in March, visitors gazed at themselves in a partial infinity mirror. In the vicinity of the visitor’s reflection, a single LED light placed between the surfaces is reflected forever.

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Throughout his studio he has a number of small personal projects on the go that reflect this. For example, stalactites of thick paint mark specific periods of time (one stalactite represents a week of dripping paint); a physical brick made up of RGB and cmyk colour layers is a representation of a pixel; a long wire that juts out from the walls and hang from ceiling is attached at precisely measured intervals; a minimalist white cube has solidified after half melting. He is also currently experimenting with more durable forms of paint. His work speaks to focus, mastery of raw materials and longevity.

One of the great things about the faucet piece in In Finite is that if you start looking for meaning in the piece beyond the experience of it, it effectively tells you to stop doing that. His work reminds the viewer that the gallery is an artificial space and that they are (regardless of whatever can be read in the works themselves) in this present moment, standing in a building and looking at a piece of art. It’s subversive, and even meditative. In Finite uses the mythology of the gallery space to highlight itself as an artificial thing in an artificial environment. The work breaks ideas that viewers might have about what the work means or what it means to be in a gallery and looking at installation art.

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[Special author’s note: I’ve decided to omit a paragraph that further mused on the exhibit by discussing large scale social anxieties about smartphones and personal identity creation. It is safe to say that the intervention did its job and compelled this viewer to make up his own crazy mind about what it means to be experiencing the installation. ]

Schuster’s upcoming works will further explore ideas of the infinite as well as repeating mathematical formulas in nature. He is already planning a large-scale exhibit for 2014 Nuit Blanche at Fort York curated by Magda Gonzalez-Mora. These pieces will include an “infinite cube, aleph-six” providing multiple perspectives on infinity.

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Schuster surfaces a quote from George Braque, “There is only one valuable thing in art: the thing you cannot explain.” For Schuster, this realization, “multiplies our curiosity in art that much more.”

“A lot of my work,” he says, “has become about interpreting nature, ideas, theories and points in history into our space so that we can be self reflective and we can be in the now. This experience can be a chance to meditate and reflect and have your own opinions instead of being told a story.”

0015_DEB_DSC_5702Callum’s work can be experienced at the Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery on September 20th and on the web here.