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Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Manipulations of Form, Weight and Volume: Michael Sailstorfer, Modern Art Oxford

Review by Matt Swain

Modern Art Oxford hosts Michael Sailstorfer's first solo presentation in the UK, comprising mixed-media sculptural interventions exploring notions of flight, movement and displacement. These works often involve a shift in the context of objects, exploring themes such as movement and stasis, deconstruction and dispersal, lightness and weight.

The exhibition here is a new version of his recent work Wolken (Clouds) 2010. Large industrial tyre inner tubes are suspended across the ceiling of The Yard forming a remarkable and large installation. They are inflated, twisted and bunched, creating a cluster of cartoon-like black rubber forms, intertwining but not quite blending with the architecture. In doing so, Sailstorfer plays with form, weight and volume to the extent that you are initially unsure what the objective is. The strong odour of rubber hangs in the air which serves to emphasise their physical impact and you are able to interact by touching the tyres, or "clouds".

So are these dark clouds or amusing shapes? Located somewhere between surrealistic dream landscapes and the monumental sculpture of minimalism, this work dominates the architecture and all visitors to the exhibition, questioning our relationship with nature and making reference to it's size. The link to outside - clouds - is relevant as this is an outdoor exhibition and it is this connectivity to nature that provides the overriding visual message and stimulus. This does not detract however from the fact that this work is clearly able to be observed on several levels. Taken as a whole, it is all about taking something out of context and placing it into a new environment, a new world, using deconstruction as a method of construction.

Sailstorfer has previously made reference to the fact that he is interested in what sculpture can be and how it can spread out and use more space than it physically has. Essentially, he is a sculptural alchemist transforming previously useful objects into a cluster of useless objects with charm. Investing simple objects with fiction and romance, his work is not clothed in explanation, rather, there is a sense of wonderment and even melancholy which allows you to drift into your own personal space, whilst at the same time being very aware of your surrounding environment.

Alongside his presentation in The Yard, Sailstorfer has selected three films by US artist Gordon Matta-Clark (1943-1978) which are being screened in the Basement downstairs. Matta-Clark was best known for his site-specific works about space, architecture, deconstruction and urban environments and in particular his "building cuts", a collection of works in abandoned buildings where he removed sections of walls, floors and ceilings. Matta-Clark found unique ways of merging sculpture and architecture with performance and much of his work is a commentary on the perceived decline of the American dream at that time.

Fire Child (1971) 9.47mins, colour, silent, Super 8mm film, records Matta-Clark's process of making a sculpture, a wall made from rubbish and waste paper which builds a monument from decay and questions preconceived notions of what a wall is and what it should be. Fresh Kill (1972) 12.56mins, sound, 16mm film, fascinatingly records the destruction of Matta-Clark's own truck "Herman Meydag" by a bulldozer in a rubbish dump. Considering the theme, one is not expecting high art but there is an intriguing cinematic air to this. The relentless, punishing attack by the bulldozer, a barrage of noise and power and the circling birds above observing every detail (as is the viewer) create a bizarre almost Hitchcock-like parallel universe. At times, it is like the bulldozer is a bird of prey and the truck is a carcass, with only the blue sky in saturated colour to prettify the ugliness. Days End (1975) 23.10mins, colour, silent, Super 8mm film, reveals Matta-Clark working on an abandoned pier in New York where he cut out sections of the door, roof and floor. Immediately, the crushing silence contrasts with what you know would have been a crescendo of noise, both in the cutting sections and in the history of the once majestic pier. Cutting into the doors, light floods through the incisions creating spontaneous fragments and light shapes, illuminated by the sparks from the tools Matta-Clark is using, the highlight of which is a crucifix-like incision bathed in sunlight. Sailstorfer has selected wisely with three films which complement his own art and which extend the concept of construction and reconstruction.

In all respects, Sailstorfer expertly exploits the space and hijacks all visitors. Slightly absurd, genuinely subversive, you realise very quickly that you are becoming integrated with the sculptural form in the invisible space beneath the "clouds". The viewer is seized as if from ambush, making this an invasion of the senses.

Michael Sailstorfer Clouds continues at Modern Art Oxford until 22 May. For further information please see their website: www.modernartoxford.org.uk

Michael Sailstorfer, Wolken, 2010. Photography by Achim Kukulies
Courtesy the artist and Modern Art Oxford

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