BY Bruce Haines in Features | 13 OCT 05
Featured in
Issue 94

Michael Sailstorfer

Between the earth and the sky

BY Bruce Haines in Features | 13 OCT 05

Without reason, Dean Moriarty, the reckless hero of Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road (1955), is infatuated with the wayward Marylou, who eventually steps free of her rollercoaster life and marries a used car salesman. Such contrary outcomes are the catalyst for Michael Sailstorfer’s projects; the artist handles an enormous range of different materials and functional objects – from lamp posts to helicopters, bus stops and cars, caravans to the forest floor – with a kind of audacious architectural alchemy, transforming them into engrossingly dysfunctional sculptures, their previous utilitarianism transformed into follies of uselessness, charm and wit.

Sailstorfer’s sculpture Dean and Marylou (2003) comprises two four-metre long metal boxes articulated by a rubber bellows section in the middle. Just as Richard Serra titles his sculptures with names of famous people, or Stuart Cumberland his paintings after obituaries in the newspaper, Sailstorfer invests his work with the potential for alternative associations. Transfers of hearts and traces of graffiti retained from the original paint-work decorate otherwise blank panels like the cover of a teenager’s schoolbook. Still clearly identifiable as the form of a bendy-bus, the sculpture’s surface is like a skin that carries the memory of a love story.

Zeit ist keine autobahn (Time is not a motorway, 2005) is a motorized car tyre that spins against a gallery wall, going nowhere fast. Rubber dust accumulates slowly on the floor as the tyres wear themselves out, continually replaced from a pile nearby. Alluding to urban misbehaviour by boy-racers in overpowered small cars performing ‘donuts’ in car parks, the sculpture is a touching metaphor for both marking time and the time-consuming aspects of making art. A recent sound sculpture Reactor (2005), made for his graduate show in Munich, comprises a huge lump of concrete with 36 microphones set into its surface and hooked up to a large speaker, amplifier and mixing desk. Functioning like the pickups in an electric guitar, the improbable ensemble amplifies the super-low frequency vibrations of the building which itself behaves like the strings on the instrument, threatening to rumble its foundations, an effect from which it is impossible to escape.

Travel and the idea of home are recurring themes in Sailstorfer’s work. Improbable destinations and the desire to reach somewhere else are evoked in a Cast of the surface of the dark side of the moon (2005), and the photographs that document Sternschnuppe (Shooting Star, 2002), a performance that involved an elaborate contraption – a specially built catapult attached to the back of the artist’s yellow Mercedes – that shot a street-lamp a pitifully short distance into the sky.

A fixed-wing glider remodelled into a tree-house, D-IBRB (2002), is one of a number of works by Sailstorfer that explore flight, movement and displacement; Hoher Besuch (Official Visit, 2005) comprises an ex-military helicopter with specially mirrored windows and spinning rotors, placed on a classical plinth. In Heimatlied (Folk Song, 2001), four recycled caravans have been transformed into a fully operational tin house in a field, its odd-placed door handles and De Stael-style decoration from the original caravan acting as a reminder of the structure’s former wheeled life. 3 Ster mit Ausblick (Audacity with a View 2002) records the process of a wooden chalet being consumed by fire, leaving no trace of what it was, save for the metal boiler into which the wooden structure was fed and destroyed.

Like the sculptures of Manfred Pernice, Sailstrofer has a healthy regard for an object’s formal qualities, while leaving open the possibility of investing it with fiction or romance. The artist describes his approach with a quote from Isa Genzken: he wants to make art that comes ‘less from the head than from the stomach’: unlike, say, Simon Starling’s approach to sculpture, Sailstorfer leaves his work unencumbered by explanation – his facility is finding the poetic in the prosaic. Like the relationship between Dean and Marylou, the possibility for failure reaps empathy from the encounter he creates – whether in a gallery, on a street or up a tree – somewhere between the earth and the sky.