@ the Riverside Art Museum

April 7 – June 25, 2011

Throughout the past two decades of her practice, the majority of Schnitt’s films have shared a style that, with subtle humor, engages the viewer without the use of unnecessary drama or set storylines. Usually shot with a minimum of staging, and using spaces and locations readily familiar to most (a hillside home in West Los Angeles, a suburban living room in Pasadena, the Grand Canyon), the films’ unusual calm appear at times to be remarkably like a documentary film in format and pacing – a visual strategy at the core of Schnitt’s work. Questioning the idea of what society has defined as normal, the films cannily detail with gentle humor the cultural clichés and the absurdity of modern life. The environments that Schnitt films are backdrops that capture the often obsessive ways people become defined by their own patterns of behavior, and where one fits into the thread of society. 

In Living a Beautiful Life (2004), a seemingly successful couple in Los Angeles detail in various areas of their Hollywood Hills home what they perceive as a perfect life. They speak candidly about their multiple houses, high-paying jobs, well-behaved children, and their future dreams. As the film continues, cracks in their life appear; issues of fidelity and fears of being trapped come to light. Based upon answers to a questionnaire that Schnitt culled from middle school students, the actors in the film only mime the idealized thoughts of children, wryly pointing to the emotional underdevelopment of modern society.

Like a Grimm’s fairy tale where all is not what it seems, Once Upon a Time (2005) plays with ideas of fantasy and entertainment. A camera spins in the middle of an ordinary living room as various animals populate the scene: cats, dogs, ducks, goats, and cows, amongst others, soon fill the room in chaotic mass. What is left in the film’s end is a disordered mess and silence – a fitting end to the aftermath of imagination gone awry and without order.

The final film of the exhibition, 18.8.2005 (2005), shows Schnitt at the rim of the Grand Canyon’s edge on the day of the film’s title. Sitting perfectly still against the sublime depth behind her, Schnitt’s lack of movement slowly defines the film. Whether a documentation of the moment, or like a cheesy snapshot of thousands of other boring vacation photos taken by countless others, humor and a certain peril exists in being bland: there are birds of prey that fly over her head as signs of life existing. Schnitt’s films are in their own obsessive way showing what becomes of us when limiting ourselves to what is normal or simply easy.