“The show’s title refers, in part, to the piles of stones that punctuate the open land on the Isle of Skye, where Schmidt spent several months last year.”
Because their principal components are video projections, Rachel Schmidt’s landscape installations are essentially illusory. Yet they wouldn’t exist without the actual places, including Panama and Taiwan, where the local artist has had residencies. Her latest such sojourn was in Scotland, which Schmidt has brought back with her — virtually — in the form of “Cairn Sounds,” now planted in a darkened Hamiltonian Gallery.
The show’s title refers, in part, to the piles of stones that punctuate the open land on the Isle of Skye, where Schmidt spent several months last year. The other titular element is a clanging, rippling soundtrack by Baltimore percussionist om.era.kev. (Like Dan Deacon, his better-known sometime collaborator, the musician is clearly well acquainted with Steve Reich’s gamelan-inspired compositions.)
Schmidt’s videos observe distinctive scenery and features, such as the thick-coated sheep seen in several of the pieces. The looped mini-movies also record human desecration of pristine vistas, notably an old television set somehow abandoned in a stream. It’s an odd and even comic example of litter, but one that could hardly be more a perfect find for a videographer.
Some of the moving images document the artist’s interventions in the scenery, such as a tree to which she tied articles of clothing; the fluttering garments are echoed by various scrims hung in front of the projections. Other videos, altered after the fact, are jumbled by pixelated areas and glitchy effects such as a sheep that haunts one vignette with its jerky, ghostly presence.
Besides the hanging fabric, the pieces incorporate 3-D elements, such as a real drum kit and, in a tableau titled “Trash Cairn,” a pile of paper-cast bottles. Such throwaways are as commonplace as the Isle of Skye is exotic, and a reminder that humans make similar messes wherever they live or travel.
Across the river, another Schmidt installation is closer to being part of its environment. The artist has previously shown a work in which white pieces hovered above the floor, evoking glacial ice that breaks and detaches from larger floes as the Earth warms. She constructed similar forms for “Distort Displace” but covered them in AstroTurf to suit the site: the front lawn of the Arlington Arts Center.
To add whimsy, and beckon passersby into this little world, the artist has affixed lawn chairs to the raised platforms. On a nice day, the seats must be a pleasant place to sit and ponder the planet’s accelerating crackup.