Art often is thought of as a deviation from ordinary experience by manipulating shapes, colors, materials, etc. And while that idea is not necessarily stilted, art, most times, is manifested right in front of us. For artist Michael Sailstorfer, ordinary objects do more than fill a mundane experience. And in amplifying such experiences, space and context surrounding objects can drive a viewer to reflect on the previous memories and sensations. Sailstorfer focuses on crafting sculptures that shift the target object’s perspective and the surrounding areas. The objects at the center of Sailstorfer’s ideas are usually items that one can find without many difficulties, like lightbulbs or pipes. Still, the space that these artworks are found in drastically alters the viewer’s manner of observation.
One example of such is “Forst.” Five hanging trees occupy ten meters of a bright, white gallery. These trees are regularly seen throughout, but when placed in a different context, a white pathway changes how they are viewed; this juxtaposition of white walls instead of lakes or dirt makes it simple but effective. Similarly, a parallel positioned statue of liberty clawing the wall with its torch strikes many sentiments. “Freedom Fries” places the statue of liberty in an almost comedic position that one is not used to observing. “My pieces are made for the audience. I consider my work as a door that viewers enter and then take their path from there; viewers are encouraged to develop the idea of the piece further based on their background, experience and biography”, Sailstorfer says of his work.Michael Sailstorfer, Forst (“Forest”), 2014 Trees, engines, steel construction. Courtesy of the artist and Galerie Johann König, Berlin. Photography by Caylon Hackwith. © Rochester Art Center.
By placing the significance of his work on each viewer’s history, the implication that would proceed is the weighted imagination toward arbitrary details. Objects like trees or statues on their own may be forgotten, but in the right context, they trigger similar experiences like going to a bay or swamp during one’s childhood. Those memories may have been stored and forgotten, but upon remembering the feeling of looking at those trees, they resurface personal memories and anecdotes. But it is not only the visual that spawns those types of reactions. The other senses play a part in the experience, something that Sailstorfer is keen on noting. Smells bring to mind a variety of associations of place, taste, action. “1:43-47” (2008) places a popcorn machine at the center of the room that has overflowed the floor with the yellow snack. Without being physically present, one can easily imagine what popcorn smells like and other images that come along with it. As Sailstorfer further explains, “Working with smell affects the visitor emotionally, triggering memories, stimulating his central brain right away whereas other, less intense experiences or impressions have to pass the cerebral cortex first and might not last as long.”
Other pieces like “Ofen Mailand” convert an electric scooter into a chimney, and “Gun 1” attaches a tube on to a silenced pistol, making it look like a stretched barrel. In all these pieces, there is a sense of familiarity that alters and plays with our imagination on the objects’ usage. Still, while there is an amusing level of jest and warmness in making these sculptures, Michael Sailstorfer maintains an even ideal posture towards the artist’s role. “That’s quite complex. but I think for me, it’s about demonstrating creative, free, and alternative ways of thinking and supporting the freedom of thoughts in general.”
In the same way, flags or poems perpetuate a sense of pride or urgency, sculptures in everyday life promote the remembrance of who we are, and perhaps that is the way to freedom.