Kevin Schmidt: We Are the Robots Lights Up the VAG with Interactive Installations

Kevin Schmidt, 'dIY HIFI, 2014 - 16, wood
Lowther DX55 speakers, DIY kit tube amplifier,
cables, hardware. Courtesy of the Artist and Catriona Jeffries, Vancouver

Kevin Schmidt: We Are the Robots
Jul 14–Oct 28, 2018
Vancouver Art Gallery, 750 Hornby

DIY-Inspired Creations Unveiled at the VAG

A new interactive installation happening at the Vancouver Art Gallery this summer will have DIY-er's and nerdy audiophiles alike converging to see BC-based Multimedia artist, Kevin Schmidt's interactive installation, We Are the Robots.

The exhibition spotlight's Schmidt, who draws on aspects of conceptual and performance art while embodying the do-it-yourself (DIY) sensibilities of an amateur inventor. The title, We Are The Robots is inspired by the origin of the word robot, in Czech robota, meaning "forced work". Showcasing Schmidt's exploration of DIY knowledge production, the presentation points at the utopian aspects of mass knowledge distribution that we see over the Internet, like how-to videos on YouTube for example, and the pressures to commodify and brand knowledge that circulates through this system.  Schmidt uses this interactive electronic art installation to pose questions about the nature of DIY projects and its' impact on both the environment and our values.





"What I'm really interested in, and what I want to bring attention to is, yes, it's really great to do all this DIY stuff but it's all based on resource extraction and I want to ask, "What are the values of that? What are the relative values about the way we're running things? I don't really have the answer, but it's something I want to ask questions about, or people to think about or problematize. I'm presenting this body on how to do this, but essentially it's on a platform that's trying to capitalize on the production of knowledge. Its not just for free, so that's one thing I'm trying to highlight, and the other thing is the production and power to run all this stuff. It also has drawbacks. That's why in the audiophile I have a field recording I made on the Peace River of an area that will be flooded by the Site C Dam;  so it's like, where all these birds nest and when they flood it, that habitat will be gone, the environment will be very different." Kevin Schmidt

For a more in-depth look at the exhibit, tune into our IGTV channel HERE to see our full video interview with Kevin Schmidt on site at the VAG !

The exhibit is separated into three unique installations.

DIY HIFI, 2014-16
wood, Lowther DX55 speakers, DIY kit tube amplifier
cables, hardware. Courtesy of the Artist and Catriona Jeffries

Bring your favourite vinyl and experience sound information you may have never heard before in this interactive makeshift audiophile listening room. Comprised of gigantic stereo speakers, a kit tube amp and a "sweet spot" listening chair, Schmidt has reimagined the refined experience of audiophile listening (typically presented in private domestic settings), as public sculpture.  The walls in the room are also part of the exhibit, where Schmidt has built acoustic diffusers using wood remnants from cabinetry reno's.

Photo: Poppytalk

Photo: Poppytalk


RGB Beg Cycle, 2018
styrofoam model, RGB lighting, DMX controllers
customized recording software, MIDI keyboards, computer
Courtesy of the Artist and Catriona Jeffries

If you happen to be passing by the Gallery outside, anyone can see another of Schmidt's interactive inventions, the fluorescent, multi-coloured LED light strips aligning the Gallery's facades corresponding to notes played on electronic keyboards inside that are installed in the third floor galleries. Reminiscent of retro video games, the installation is programmed in such a way that whenever there is a lapse in the interaction, the installation will start to light up and play, luring one to come and play (from both inside and outside of the gallery).

Photo: Poppytalk

How to Make an Off-Grid Hydroelectric Light Show, 2018
direct drive washing machine, hose, cables, battery, inverter,
modular synthesizer, lights, video
Courtesy of the Artist and Catriona Jeffries

Featuring a new video and sculptural work which involves the clever reconfiguration of a repurposed washing machine to generate enough electricity capable of producing a light show in a wilderness setting. The play between modular synthesizers and surround sounds also references the Youtube genre of performers, some with large online followings, who set an idyllic landscape as the backdrop to a synthesizer's production of soundscapes modulated by a disembodied hand. Click here for the how-to video.

Photo: Poppytalk

Photo: Poppytalk

"Kevin Schmidt harnesses his curiousity and passion for DIY construction to transcend the logic of the everyday. The simple genius of Kevin's inventions and the dramatic natural settings in which he often presents them  has inspired many fans. With this presentation, visitors will have the opportunity to discover his creations like never before in an exciting hands-on and interactive way, inside and outside the gallery. Kathleen S. Bartels, Director of the Vancouver Art Gallery.


Schmidt first gained attention in 2002 for Long Beach Led Zep, a single-channel video where he is featured playing guitar lines from Led Zeppelin's 1971 hit, "Stairway to Heaven". Using a gasoline powered generator and Marshall amp, he performs with the backdrop of Vancouver Island's picturesque Long Beach. Since then, Schmidt created the epic work, A Sigh in the Northwest Passage (2010), placing a large cedar billboard inscribed with text from the New Testament's Book of Revelations on frozen surfaces of the Northwest Passage. Schmidt also produced High Altitude Balloon Harmless Amateur Radio Equipment (201), in which he fastened a camera onto a homemade weather balloon to capture the atmosphere's upper limits.

Kevin Schmidt: We Are the Robots
Jul 14–Oct 28, 2018
Vancouver Art Gallery, 750 Hornby
Artist info

Also opening in July at the Vancouver Art Gallery: Ayumi Goto and Peter Morin: how do you carry the land? Stay tuned for a post coming soon!


Jan Halvarson

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