Maybe it’s human to exhibit “a hope for disaster,” artist Robert Smithson mused in a 1973 interview about the concept of entropy, which he links to a “desire for spectacle.”
Carrie Schneider plays to this desire by photographing a house on fire in a placid lake. She journeyed to northern Wisconsin, built an 8' x 8' house, rowed it to a small island and set it aflame. This well-thought-out “disaster” is riveting, the gesture’s ritualistic nature even more so. The Brooklyn-based artist repeated the process (travel, build, situate, ignite, photograph from the same vantage point) over and over, but at different times of day and in different seasons, à la Monet’s Haystacks.
Schneider intended “Burning House” as a response to Smithson and a visual argument against the second law of thermodynamics: a fire that seemingly never goes out. Her series also offers a meditative, multilayered viewing experience. As the house burns in each of the 15 large-scale photographs, one’s focus shifts from its destruction to the changing surroundings: the colors of the sky, fullness of the trees and shape-shifting plumes of smoke.
The artist, the weather and the seasons prove to be exciting collaborators, and the images on view reflect careful selection. August, sunrise (2011) features a blue-pink cover of clouds. The fire is calmly contained inside the house, as if someone woke up and simply switched on a light. December, midday (2011) depicts a frozen, desolate landscape with footprints in the snow revealing traces of the artist-arsonist. In September, nightfall (2010), the sky and lake are a deep, stormy blue; the flames, an especially brilliant gold by contrast. Here Schneider more than satisfies an interest in spectacle. She documents a pilgrimage, igniting a remote place with sacred power.