Laura Heit's exhibit 'Two Ways Down' is showing at the Schneider Museum of Art in Ashland through June 11. Mail Tribune/ Denise Baratta

Matchbox cabaret

Laura Heit has a thing for art that moves. But it wasn’t until she took an animation class in college that she realized that moving images were what she’d been striving for when she kept making series of prints in a printmaking class in high school.

Heit will perform “Matchbox Show,” an installation based on cabaret characters so small they fit in just what the name implies, at 6:45 p.m. Friday, April 8, at ScienceWorks Hands-On Museum in Ashland. The show is being staged in conjunction with the Ashland Independent Film Festival, which runs through Monday, April 11.

Another exhibit by Heit, an interactive media installation called “Hypothetical Stars,” will be on display through Sunday, April 10. Yet another Heit installation, “Two Ways Down,” is part of the “In Scene” exhibit at the Schneider Museum of Art through June 11.

AIFF director of programming Richard Herskowitz says Heit’s work, along with that of San Francisco-based artist Jeremy Rourke, exemplifies the festival’s interest in blending film, music, visual and performing arts. Rourke will present a show called “Stopping the Motion: An Expanded Cinema Performance,” at 1 p.m. (for kids) and 7 p.m. (for adults) Saturday, April 9, at ScienceWorks. Herskowitz called such works “expanded cinema.”

Heit, who is based in Portland, studied at the Chicago Art Institute and earned a master’s degree at the Royal College of Art in London. She lived in Chicago and later taught in Los Angeles until moving to Portland five years ago. She’s been working on and touring “Matchbox Show” since 1999. Her work has been shown at the Museum of Modern Art and the Guggenheim in New York City and many other venues.

Heit worked for several years with the popular Redmoon Theater doing site-specific and spectacle theater in Chicago. She built very large puppets for outdoor plays and pageants sometimes attended by 10,000 people.

“It got really big,” she says. “Then there was a moment I wanted to do something I could make in an hour and fit inside my pocket.”

The matchbox shows aren’t just small. They’re short, too, five minutes or less.

While they tend to get praised for their whimsy and eccentric beauty, Heit’s works often create disturbing images. A lamp casts moving shadows. A man and a horse appear strangely out of scale with each other. Cars perch precariously in trees. Disembodied heads seem to search for their limbs.

“The goal of my work is to make people feel something,” Heit says. “So much of the world looks beautiful, but when you get down to it, there’s another side.”

“Two Ways Down” is a hand-drawn installation and film based on Hieronymus Bosch’s iconic, 500-year-old triptych “Garden of Heavenly Delights,” which depicts people and animals in a nightmare world. It’s part of the larger exhibit “In Scene,” which displays the work of eight different artists. Heit created cutout figures she mounted on revolving stages from which they cast shadows.

“Hypothetical Stars” takes viewers on an imaginary journey to a remote star system. The exhibit combines photos from a digital microscope with footage from NASA’s Apollo 12 mission. With movement, shadows and projections, she creates a fantasy universe with stars, planets and moons.

“Traveling Light: Animation,” Heit’s performance at ScienceWorks, will include animated films created by the artist and others working with paper and clay and film. The evening will feature a live performance by Heit and a cabaret show by her matchbox puppets, whose actions will be projected onto a large screen.

She says she accidentally revisited her matchbox cabaret characters when there seemed to be a lot of natural disasters in the news, and she was inspired to put her small characters in situations of peril.

“We like to be in control,” she says. “But with what we’re doing to nature sometimes we’re not. Without being didactic, I wanted to show the small moments in catastrophes.

“It’s all cycles, death and rebirth.”

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