Gilded Cities is an outgrowth of work I completed as a fellow at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in 2018. As part of the fellowship, I explored displacement within the city of San Francisco.
Spurred by this work, I developed Gilded Cities to explore the fact that the San Francisco Bay Area has become an enclave for the rich—unattainable to all but the most privileged. Nine utilitarian objects throughout the Bay Area (such as sewer plates, water pipes and manhole covers) were gilded in 23 karat gold. The objects often have text associated with them that serves as a reminder of the basic services necessary for survival surrounding us that are largely taken for granted: water, sewer, electricity etc.
The project also contained echos of historic events in the convulsive history of the area. For instance the birth of San Francisco in the gold rush and the use of the term Gold Mountain by Chinese immigrants to describe the city.
An immersive website has also been created by developer Nick Bushman. It allows people to view the objects online, or to map their locations and visit them.
The project became part of the national and local conversation about displacement in the San Francisco Bay Area and received the following press coverage:
For me, art museums are our most important civic spaces. Spaces that offer a rare opportunity for cultural nourishment and consciousness expansion. This series of photographic images explores the space inhabited by great works of art. Spaces that, as Proust said “in their sober abstinence from all decorative detail, symbolize the inner spaces into which the artist withdraws to create”.
During World War II my grandfather participated in the removal of the stained glass windows from Chartres Cathedral in France in an effort to save them from destruction by bombing campaigns. This was not an entirely altruistic endeavor on his part. As the owner of Conrad Schmitt Studios in Milwaukee Wisconsin, America's largest stained glass studio, an opportunity to examine the exquisite medieval craftsmanship of the cathedral's windows must have been irresistible.
This story became a part of my family’s identity and I felt it necessary to make a pilgrimage out to the cathedral, so on a month long trip to Paris in 2013 I set out to visit it and see the famous stained glass windows. Upon seeing the cathedral however, I became fascinated by the play of light upon the interior rather than the windows themselves. As a lifelong photographer I am intrigued by the many manifestations of light. It is, after all, the foundation of the photographic process.
I began photographing these spectral light forms as they suddenly appeared and then just as quickly faded away, slowly traveling over the interior geography of the cathedral. The structure was a kind of massive camera obscura, the bright orb of the sun passing through the Medieval optics of the stained glass windows and then projected into the interior.
I was aware of the Gothic aesthetics of light where it is analogous to divinity, purity, and cosmic perfection and wondered how many throughout the centuries, like me, had contemplated the phenomena of these projected short-lived orbs of light, ignoring the more didactic lessons in glass above?
For three days in April 2015, San Francisco’s Market Street was the site of the Market Street Prototyping Festival, which transformed the area into a public platform, showcasing exciting ideas for improving our famed civic spine and how we use it. Our design, Street Sketch, was one of 50 designs selected from over 200 entries from around the world.
The project was a partnership between the San Francisco Planning Department, the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, and the Knight Foundation.
The core of the 12 x 12 ft. structure was a free standing wall. The wall’s sidewalk-facing side served as the primary drawing surface, while the other three sides contained information about the project that encouraged people to be a part of the San Francisco creative community. This wall also created a barrier between the traffic along Market street. The chalk surfaces were devoted to drawing, generating a welcoming sense of place and made the area more conducive to social interaction.
The structure was constructed using volunteer work from peers and students from San José State University and California College of the Arts.
Based on the prototypes success it was selected to become a permanent structure in San Francisco and a new prototype was designed. The goal of the new design was that it be more sculptural, be able to withstand the elements, and accommodate visiting artists who would periodically paint murals on its surface.
This is an ongoing project exploring the vast urban landscapes of the Bay Area in California. I am drawn to these decaying places and structures because of the rich patina of human activity that lies upon them. The massive structures of concrete, glass and steel that inhabit these environments are often ignored as industrial blight; but they serve as witnesses to the historical transformations taking place in our urban environments.
One common thread that runs through this series is my exploration of scale and isolation. In an effort to capture these massive structures and their rich detail, my work probes what we think of as the traditional picture space. Foreground, background and subject have been documented independently as a series of high resolution digital images and then reconstructed. The skies, structures and roads are separate planes. Multiple slices of time are combined to form one image.
An online archive of book pages bearing marks, notations and other marginalia, the Webby award winning Pages Project explores the act of reading, each reader’s unique relationship to the material, and the nature of the book as a transitory physical object in a digital age.
The project has been featured by:
The New Yorker
HOW: Top 10 Websites for Designers
The Huffington Post
The Global Digital Citizen Foundation
A series of pen and ink, ink wash, and watercolor plein air sketches
The contemplation of art has been completely transformed by technology and mass tourism.
In some cases people insist on having a mediated experience even as they stand in front of a work of art. Others struggle to create a zone of contemplation around art as they're jostled by crowds.
These images explore this fascinating process of interaction.
Facter was launched in March of 2017. The sites goal is to launch a people-driven movement dedicated to civil discourse and bold truth-telling on the internet.
Participants adopt social media forums to participate in and drop truth bombs where they see misinformation and fallacy.
Of San Francisco’s 404 privately owned single room occupancy hotels 30 reported that at least half their rooms were empty. Many had 100% vacancy rates.
If those 1,827 rooms were made available to the cities homeless it could have a serious impact on the problem.
Statistics were gathered to locate the six SROs with the highest vacancy rates. Then they were mapped and tagged with Housing Displacement Facts specific to each location.
The intervention strives to shed light on displacement.
A body of work composed of curvilinear and geometric painted and cut forms, tea stains and printed artifacts.
The series was part of the show "Notations" at Cecile Moochnek Gallery in Berkeley, California. It was featured in the Artweek Magazine article, ‘Notations’ at Cecile Moochnek Gallery, September 2006.
All projects designed and constructed by Erik Schmitt excepting furniture which was constructed by Lucinda Daly. Interiors were done in collaboration with John Fortney.