Michael Sailstorfer Is Against Simple Art!

Berlin-based artist Michael Sailstorfer is clear on one thing: “It’s not my task to make the world a better place.” His solo show, Try to reach the goal without touching the walls just opened at Carbon 12 Dubai, a gallery that is known for its experimental bordering on badass program. If we were still in high school, Carbon 12 would be that guy with the tats in the leather jacket smoking a cigarette in the back of the classroom, quoting dark French novels, nothing desperate about him.

Michael Sailstorfer is against simple art. He doesn’t want you to understand his work right away. Beauty is not a priority either. He tells me that actually, “I like to disappoint a little bit. Pieces should have multiple doors to open. They should have several layers that are not discernible within the first two minutes.” He normally works in sculpture and this show includes some of his first experiences with two-dimensional art. We spend quite some time in front of what he refers to as his maze series, large canvases primed in iron or copper then exploited by chemical reactions that took place when Sailstorfer experimented by spraying the pieces with acid.

Lenkrad. Aluminum Spray Paint, 2012

Lenkrad. Aluminum Spray Paint, 2012

The series came about at a time in which he was uncertain as to where his artistic practice might be leading and the works serve as a physical ledger of the decision making process he was confronting. He chose the maze as a metaphor because “Within the maze you have to find your way out by going on a journey. You are forced to take positions, left or right, up or down. Some of the decisions you make will inevitably be wrong and this path can be charted in a drawing.”

I appreciated learning that Sailstorfer’s footprints can actually be seen on a few of the pieces, leftover from when he laid a canvas flat on its back to add the acid. They made the work feel handmade and symbolic of a long, instinctive struggle, the imprint left from a man wrestling through the night to come to terms with his own shadow.

Maze 50. Acrylic screen print. Acid on copper primed canvas, 2012.

Maze 50. Acrylic screen print. Acid on copper primed canvas, 2012.

Maze 55.  Acrylic screen print. Acid on iron primed canvas, 2013.

Maze 55. Acrylic screen print. Acid on iron primed canvas, 2013.

Labyrinths are uncommon in the Middle East and I wondered how a local audience would relate to the Sailstorfer’s archetypal journey. Other work in the show extends the metaphor to incorporate driving, something that the Formula 1-obsessed UAE culture will certainly identify with. A sculpture of a steering wheel refers to the direction that each one of us chooses to drive our own life towards, and reminds viewers of the functional artistry of the car and the choice to be mindful or mindless at every moment of the journey.

Carbon 12 usually has some sort of boundary-pushing video playing around the corner of the gallery space in the back. I was not to be disappointed on this occasion as I viewed a video that Sailstorfer made years ago as a 3rd year art student. Radiohead blasts from a tinny speaker inside an old school Volkswagen Transporter. A camera has been installed upside down and viewers are treated to a pleasurably disorienting view of the artist belting out a private concert while traversing the Bavarian countryside in the dead of night. Disco lights are involved.

Good Idea: Try to reach the goal without touching the walls will be at Carbon 12 in Dubai through 7 January, 2014. The gallery is located in Alserkal Avenue in Al Quoz. For timings and additional information go here.

Image Credits: Courtesy of Michael Sailstorfer and Carbon 12 Dubai