michael sailstorfer

no light
Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, Paris
17 January – 7 March 2009

In Bret Easton Ellis’s fourth novel Glamorama (1998), the main character of the story, Victor Ward, leaves his life of Flatliners 2 scripts and VIP bars in New York to be propelled, in a Xanax haze, into a world of fashion infused terrorism and political conspiracy in Europe. In the last section of the book, set in Paris, Ellis makes it clear that Ward’s early embrace of the fashion world’s vanity was also a calculated acceptance of corruption and moral bankruptcy, allegorised in such a way that Goya’s black paintings would suit as illustrations. In his first exhibition at Emmanuel Perrotin gallery in Paris, German artist Michael Sailstorfer gave me flashbacks to Ellis’s novel and the sinister undertone that was generated when detailed descriptions of art and fashion events were combined with descriptions of car bombing victims and torture scenes.

 ‘No light’ featured Sailstorfer’s typical collection of disparate materials, treated in a way that cleverly reflected on the medium of their making and their function as metaphor. Collectively, the exhibition resembled a pessimistically themed VIP party that was set up and then aborted at the last minute—possibly due to a bomb threat. Black carpet was installed throughout most of the exhibition, littered with faint traces of popcorn that acted as confetti. The popcorn was the by-product of 1:43-47(2009); essentially an aluminum popcorn machine missing a front glass window which was to prevent the popcorn from spilling out. The work stood alone in the room and its human dimensions gave the feeling that it was watching everything else going on around it, spitting bits of overcooked popcorn into a pile accumulating below.

In another space, six German poker machines, coated entirely in chrome, were installed in a row on the wall, intermittently making drowned-out sounds. Their shiny silver surface reflected the room and at a glance they resembled mirrored bathroom cabinets. A reference to Donald Judd and the Minimalist preoccupation with viewer dynamics seemed to balance on the precipice of irony here, just resisting transformation into an art trick from the 1980s. In the same room, Untitled (hand) (2009) consisted of a large, wooden 3D representation of a hand giving thethumbs up (or thumbs down) sign, rotating like a cement mixer. The thumb followed a more obvious craft-orientated sensibility and its loud creaking sound seemed expertly calculated to overpower the muffled happy sounds of the nearby poker machines. The work’s delight at its own detachment was consistent with Sailstorfer’s practice thus far. Like other contemporary figurative sculptors, such as the Australian James Angus and even Jeff Koons, Sailstorfer seeks a balance between metaphor and materials, forcing opposing ideologies into a quality that can be popularly, if inadequately, understood as uncanny.

Born in 1979, Sailstorfer has already had a fairly significant career and has made many impressive works straight out of university. Sculptures such as Time is not a highway (2005) (a fully functioning car wheel attached to a gallery wall on which it skids) are created in such an aesthetically compelling yet ambiguous fashion that they seem to be waiting to be turned into icons of the decade. Whether it is exploding trees, inflatable army tanks or an underwater photographic representation of the alphabet, Sailstorfer’s work is more than just spectacular one-liners; but even if you think they that is all they are, it is still difficult to deny their success.

Generating an off-putting and oddly unfamiliar tone, Reactor (2009) was a reworked sound piece in which thirty-six microphones were set in concrete and amplified. Here, three microphones were individually cast in small polyurethane black cubes and placed at the entrance to a long space, at the end of which hung nineteen black fluorescent light tubes. The tone that the microphones generated on opening night is difficult to put into words. Even as I wanted to resist giving in to a work that seemed intent to unnerve, there was something about that sound which rivaled Gregor Schneider’s rooms for creepiness.

Used as the title and focus of the exhibition, a low-key work consisting of black polyurethane casts of party light bulbs hung from the ceiling at the entrance to the gallery. Again, this sculpture balanced between being a message and being an object, toying with Marshall McLuhan’s conception of the electric light as pure information; a medium without a message. One can sense Sailstorfer’s willingness to communicate something directly to the viewer before censoring himself so that only the bare structure of a position remains. His brand of dark romanticism can be found in the work of German peers Isa Genzken and Thomas SchŸtte, however both of these artists have also created a context for their work that is shaped by their morality, aloof to art market trends. Although I would like to know what Sailstorfer stands for beyond an interest in re-contexualising everyday forms, he could be consciously making such unfulfilled expectations into his mode of operation.