In Focus: Max Hooper Schneider

Imagining a world without humans

Travel 12 hours by road into the Gobi desert from Ulan Bator in Mongolia and you’ll come to a section of mountain that glows. Local nomadic tribes have been using this bright spot as a beacon ever since 2012, when the artist Max Hooper Schneider coated an 8m² area of rock with phosphorescent pigment for Mineral Complex, his contribution to the 2nd Mongolia 360° Land Art Biennial; the patch of land will continue to glow for 300 years.

The following year, for Living Epoxy: Disarticulation of Delphinapterus leucas (2013), Schneider displayed the bones of a giant beluga whale, cast from photoluminescent epoxyresin, but this time aglow in the windows of a building near the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica, Los Angeles. Schneider mixed up the bones to confuse the structure of the whale and increase the strangeness of the moment for people in the gallery and passersby on the street.

29-Genus_Watermeloncholia__copy.jpg

Genus Watermelancholia, 2014,  bioengineered square  watermelon, glass-cube aquarium,  UV electrolyte bath, copper  wire, battery-operated digital sign,  25 × 25 × 25 cm. All images courtesy: the artist and Jenny’s, Los Angeles; photograph: Michael Underwood

Genus Watermelancholia, 2014, bioengineered square watermelon, glass-cube aquarium, UV electrolyte bath, copper wire, battery-operated digital sign, 25 × 25 × 25 cm. All images courtesy: the artist and Jenny’s, Los Angeles; photograph: Michael Underwood

Both works promote what Schneider has termed a ‘lonely encounter with something anomalous’, which for the artist signifies both an approach to aesthetics and the philosophical question at the heart of his work. Having degrees in both biology and landscape architecture, Schneider creates worlds as though he were a renegade scientist, using his practical skills in laboratory research for fiction and art instead of empirical inquiry. Schneider distils his practice down to a single pithy dictum – ‘to un-quantify the world’ – but the artist appears to be investigating something more expansive. 

Schneider imagines a world without humans, or one in which nature has been depopulated of human interests. Such strategies of art-making have received a surge of interest in the last decade, partly due to the rise in awareness of global warming. Much as during the Cold War, writers, directors, painters and artists are seeking to respond to the real possibility of an avoidable disaster, in which other surviving species make use of the old, ruined worlds.

In Schneider’s From Death Row to Purgatory, made for the 2014 Paramount Ranch art fair in Los Angeles, visitors could approach a pink casket, displayed as though at a funeral viewing. Inside, the artist had created a marine environment for creatures such as red-eared slider turtles, goldfish and crayfish. Described by Schneider as ‘faunal ready-mades because of their mass production, ubiquity and availability in virtually every pet store in the us and abroad’, the creatures lived in the casket for the duration of the fair, rescued (albeit temporarily) from near-certain death in la’s Chinatown.

Schneider framed From Death Row to Purgatory as a fictional narrative in which the rescued creatures are subject to a pre-death version of the Catholic notion of purgatory and Paramount Ranch serves as a way station on the path to the afterlife. Not only is the resulting work biology meets theatre meets sculpture, it also raises a number of questions: what does it mean for animals to occupy an object needed by humans alone? Can an artist study the boundary between the created narratives of humans and the real world of animals? What does it mean for a human to be unable to understand how the world may be experienced outside his own particular consciousness?

inline_25-The_Pound_Jennys_CMYK_copy.jpg

 ‘The Pound’, 2014, installation view at Jenny’s. Courtesy the artist and Jenny's, Los Angeles

 ‘The Pound’, 2014, installation view at Jenny’s. Courtesy the artist and Jenny's, Los Angeles

Schneider took this study further in ‘The Pound’, his 2014 exhibition at LA gallery Jenny’s, which presented an assortment of make-believe creatures – all hybrids of organic matter and machines. There was a treadmill cross-pollinated with a crocodile, a vintage popcorn machine turned habitat for snails, a spinal cord floating in an evaporating receptacle of blood and a watermelon in an aquarium apparently sending out its thoughts via an LCD. Alongside each specimen’s backstory, advice was displayed regarding its appropriate care: Genus Watermeloncolia, for instance, is considered ‘low risk, delusional’. Here were doomed species that needed to be saved, just as animals in a pound might. Undergirding ‘The Pound’ are nostomania and an equally obsessive desire to fill sentimental items with new life and consciousness.

Currently, Schneider is working with an old Maytag washing machine, of the kind that advertised a world of ease and optimism for a broad swathe of the general public in the wake of two world wars. It is yet to be determined what sort of world Schneider will dream up for the Maytag and which, if any, creatures will occupy its clean world of the past. What is certain, however, is the timelessness of Schneider’s message: whether it was yesterday’s Cold War anxieties or the reality of today’s rising seas, a world which goes on without humans is still a world worth studying.

is a writer and curator living in Los Angeles, USA. His writing can be found at icallitoranges.blogspot.com

Max Hooper Schneider is an artist based in Los Angeles, USA. In November 2014, he had a solo show, ‘The Pound’, at Jenny’s, Los Angeles, and in February 2015 his work was included in the group exhibition ‘Apple of Earth’ at High Art, Paris, France.

Issue 171

First published in Issue 171

May 2015

Most Read

A report commissioned by the museum claims Raicovich ‘misled’ the board; she disputes the investigation’s claims
In further news: Jef Geys (1934–2018); and Hirshhorn postpones Krzysztof Wodiczko projection after Florida shooting
If the city’s pivot to contemporary art was first realized by landmark construction, then what comes after might not...
Ignoring its faux-dissident title, this year's edition at the New Museum displays a repertoire that is folky, angry,...
An insight into royal aesthetics's double nature: Charles I’s tastes and habits emerge as never before at London’s...
In other news: Artforum responds to #NotSurprised call for boycott of the magazine; Maria Balshaw apologizes for...
At transmediale in Berlin, contesting exclusionary language from the alt-right to offshore finance
From Shanghai to Dubai, a new history charts the frontiers where underground scenes battle big business for electronic...
Hauser & Wirth Somerset, Bruton, UK
Zihan Karim, Various Way of Departure, 2017, video still. Courtesy: Samdani Art Foundation
Can an alternative arts network, unmediated by the West's commercial capitals and burgeoning arts economies of China...
‘That moment, that smile’: collaborators of the filmmaker pay tribute to a force in California's film and music scenes...
In further news: We Are Not Surprised collective calls for boycott of Artforum, accuses it of 'empty politics'; Frida...
We Are Not Surprised group calls for the magazine to remove Knight Landesman as co-owner and withdraw move to dismiss...
Paul Thomas Anderson's latest film is both gorgeous and troubling in equal measure
With Zona Maco opening in the city today, a guide to the best exhibitions across the Mexican capital
The question at the heart of Manchester Art Gallery’s artwork removal: what are the risks when cultural programming...
In further news: Sonia Boyce explains removal of Manchester Art Gallery’s nude nymphs; Creative Scotland responds to...
Ahead of the India Art Fair running this weekend in the capital, a guide to the best shows to see around town
The gallery argues that the funding body is no longer supportive of institutions that maintain a principled refusal of...
The Dutch museum’s decision to remove a bust of its namesake is part of a wider reconsideration of colonial histories,...
At New York’s Metrograph, a diverse film programme addresses a ‘central problem’ of feminist filmmaking
Ronald Jones pays tribute to a rare critic, art historian, teacher and friend who coined the term Post-Minimalism
In further news: curators rally behind Laura Raicovich; Glasgow's Transmission Gallery responds to loss of Creative...
Nottingham Contemporary, UK
‘An artist in a proud and profound sense, whether he liked it or not’ – a tribute by Michael Bracewell
Ahead of a show at Amsterdam’s EYE Filmmuseum, how the documentarian’s wandering gaze takes in China’s landscapes of...
In further news: Stedelijk explains why it cancelled Ettore Sottsass retrospective; US National Gallery of Art cancels...
With 11 of her works on show at the Musée d'Orsay, one of the most underrated artists in modern European history is...
Reopening after a two-year hiatus, London’s brutalist landmark is more than a match for the photographer’s blockbuster...
What the Google Arts & Culture app tells us about our selfie obsession
At a time of #metoo fearlessness, a collection of female critics interrogate their own fandom for music’s most...
A rare, in-depth interview with fashion designer Jil Sander

Latest Magazines

frieze magazine

October 2017

frieze magazine

November - December 2017

frieze magazine

January - February 2018