Body Swallows World
Pencil, colour pencil, acrylic on paper
46.4 x 72.4 cm
Aurel Schmidtâ€™s Body Swallows World is inspired, in part, by ThĂ©odore Rousseauâ€™s The Forest in Winter at Sunset (c1846-67) in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where the artist lives and works.
Rousseauâ€™s paintingâ€“ a huge and gloomy autumnal scene, with complex interlacing of tree branches and roots â€“ provided a template for Schmidtâ€™s investigation of landscape as both external terrain and projection of the inner life of the body. Taking its title from Mikhail Bakhtinâ€™s 1940s book Rabelais and his World (in which the author discusses the carnivalesque, a chaotic celebration of bodily sensuality), Schmidtâ€™s work treads a fine balance between the grotesque and the refined. A meticulously rendered sylvan scene of dense woodland at the edge of a still lake dissolves into teeming life on closer inspection.
That delicate forest floor in gentle ochres and greys is, in fact, a carpet of squirming maggots; what looked like a tree stump is a huge curl of turd, with inquisitive fly; fat, intestinal caterpillars dangle from the branches, like anacondas. As an allegory of worldly decay, Schmidtâ€™s work embeds the horror of human decomposition in an image of its opposite: the bucolic, regenerative landscape of Rousseauâ€™s Romantic escapism. But Bakhtinâ€™s carnival is here too: thereâ€™s a wild and gleeful celebration at the heart of Schmidtâ€™s work, with its festoons of squiggling creepy-crawlies standing in for streamers and bunting, a party at the end of the world where no-one gets out alive.
Text by Ben Street