January 2008, Chris Sauter @ CUETOPROJECT
Chris Sauter, Mesopotamia,
courtesy CUETOPROJECT, New York
HomeMaker, Chris Sauter
Through January 12th, 2008
551 West 21st Street
Civilization, Dining, and the power of Gestation
by Christina Livadiotis for Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art
Chris Sauter believes in the power of gestation. No, he’s not an evangelical, but rather, and quite unknowingly it seems, a perspicacious humanist. A leviathan model of a cross-section of a homemade uterus inside of a wooden shed inside of the Cueto Project on West 21rst Street commences Chris Sauter’s HomeMaker.
Chris Sauter, The Origin of Culture,
courtesy CUETOPROJECT, New York
The literal definition of gestation describes the process of being carried in the womb from conception to birth. Gestation as a concept, quite lissome in meaning, can mirror many different situations in societal and political life. In fact, analogies relating the two are often employed in common language: “World War II was born out of ignorance.” Concepts, movements, even wars experience a period of gestation before they are born or brought to life, just like human beings. They need time to form, feed, and grow before they can exist on their own, as a single entity.
Following the logic above as perceived and explicated by Sauter, that the exhibition flows from micro to macro, starting with the inside of the body, with the beginning of idea, the beginning of life, is quite fitting. The first component of this multi-faceted and multi-media exhibition is entitled Workshop. Workshop showcases a giant model of a cross-section of a uterus and ovaries made entirety from materials from Sauter’s own home renovation. The uterus itself however is not the only item on showcase, as surrounding the uterus lie a bevy of raw materials left over from the fabrication of the uterus, in addition to research materials, preliminary drawings, photographs of each stage of the project and so forth. In a phone interview with Sauter, I asked him the purpose of including everything that was used to create the work in the actual exhibit itself. Sauter replied, “Anything involved in the process of developing and creating the work is the work,” because that’s just the kind of man he is.
Sauter is from Texas and still lives and works in San Antonio. As cliché as it is to iterate, the man is real. He is upfront and unpretentious about his work, which he claims is nothing more than his way of communicating and relating his personal experience with that of the greater world. Before I let you in on our conversation, allow me to first give you a quick tour through the rest of HomeMaker.
Sauter takes you from Workshop, the inside of the body, to experience outside the body with The Known Universe and The Origin of Culture, to outer space, with a barley discernable photograph depicting the big bang at the end of the exhibit. The big bang brings the exhibit full circle, sinuously of course, for while it is the quintessential macro event, it is of course also the beginning of every other beginning; the beginning of time. In such a way, via the architectural layout of HomeMaker, Sauter exemplifies how individual life and greater civilization are intrinsically bound and interchangeable in their gestation, birth, and subsequent existence.
Chris Sauter, The Sheet,
courtesy CUETOPROJECT, New York
The Known Universe is a reconstruction of Sauter’s childhood bedroom containing a telescope constructed from hundreds of contiguous circles of various sizes cut from the walls and ceiling of the displayed room. Almost everything in the room comes from Sauter’s actual childhood bedroom of the Texas trailer where he grew up. The telescope stands in the center of the room and is surrounded by the holes its creation has so rapaciously yielded. These holes, in their sacrifice, have formed a constellation of stars that stretch across the small expanse of the room. In The Known Universe, one can almost picture an 8-year-old Sauter lying supine on the bed effusively watching the stars. With one sock lying limp next to the ruffled unmade bed, underneath a poster-ed wall, across from a desk with books and toys, one gets the paranoid feeling that little fictitious Sauter will be back any minute. Even though it was not my childhood bedroom, the viscid nostalgia pervading every detail of the room made my heart ache, for my own childhood lost.
The Origin of Culture showcases the tabletop of an American Colonial style dining table with an oak relief map of Mesopotamia, the birthplace of civilization.
With my first phone call ever to Texas, I speak with Chris Sauter:
CL: Let’s start from the beginning. Tell me a little bit about Workshop.
CS: Workshop for me is like a mini retrospective. It speaks about where ideas come from, how they evolve, the creative process, evolution, birth, gestation. Everything that led up to the piece became a part of the piece. I included all the materials I used to create the uterus in an effort to find out where my ideas came from.
CL: How do you describe what you do? In general, and in this particular exhibition?
CS: What I attempt to do, what HomeMaker does, is collapse perceived dichotomies, big vs. small, biology vs. culture, from the outside in. I believe that biology, or our bodies, can be understood through the societal world and conversely, this world can be understood through biology, or the natural way in which our bodies function.
CL: In The Known Universe, you showcase your own childhood bedroom as you remember it. This, to me at least, seems very personal. Do you consider your work personal?
CS: Actually, I never thought of my work as personal. The Known Universe, my childhood bedroom, is most personal thing I've ever done, but its not just personal for the sake of being personal. I use this extremely personal angle to get to something more universal. I was hoping that because of that specificity, the extreme specificity of a person’s bedroom, its meaning and influence would be universal.
CL: So this desire of ubiquitous significance explains why you chose your childhood bedroom, specifically, to showcase?
CS: Actually, when I first showed The Known Universe in Paris, it was created using the model of an adult bedroom. So as you could imagine, the space was bigger, the bed was a double, etc. But the purpose of the bedroom, the significance behind it remains the same. The bedroom, regardless of whose it is, is the most personal of all the spaces in the home. If you break the home into biological places, the bedroom is the most biological room, for it houses the most primary functions of sleep and sex. The dining room for example, is very controlled, very learned.
Chris Sauter, Workshop,
courtesy CUETOPROJECT, New York
CL: What is your definition of home?
CS: Home is a place that culture begins. Once a person goes out into the worlds as one ages, culture becomes more complex.
CL: So in according to your logic, home is civilization, if civilization is being defined by culture?
CS: Yes. They are one in same. Biology and civilization are interchangeable. We understand the world though biology and biology through the world.
CL: Tell me about the table.
CS: The Origin of Culture replaces the tabletop of an American Colonial style dining table with an oak relief map of Mesopotamia, the birthplace of civilization. This is where the plow was invented, where civilization was born. Agriculture was born in Mesopotamia—nature and culture collides. The dining room is also a generator of culture, where civilization begins in a home. It is a very rarified concept, dining. It’s interesting how we take these basal activities, such as eating and sex, and create these complex networks around them.
CL: Speaking of which, I particularly enjoyed the sheet in the corner next to The Known Universe with certain stains adorning the nether end highlighted by the overhanging blue light. Besides a certain shock value, what are you saying with this exhibit?
CS: America has adopted the Descartes-ian splitting of the body and the mind, and we’ve been trying to merge the two again ever since. Your body wants one thing, be it sex, food, or any other basal biological desire, but your mind has already established restrictions against that want in accordance with the prevalent cultural and social law. We dine in a dining room but we eat alone. The stained white sheet explores the very American phenomenon of turning natural biological processes into cultural taboos.
CL: Do you think this phenomenon is specific to America?
CS: Yes. America has such issues with the body. In Europe, you see the naked body everywhere. When I was in Germany recently, I was shocked to see a photograph of a full frontal, no face, just neck to knees, of a naked man on a magazine cover. That would never happen here. We fetish-ize the body here.
CL: Do you think this fetish-ism is USA-wide, or are certain regions worse than others? Texas vs. New York, for example?
CS: No, I don’t consider it regional. Texas isn’t any more prude than anywhere else. I haven’t experienced anything different here in terms of that.
CL: Are you political?
CS: It might seem like I am. Political, that is. I use a lot of images in my art of plows, and mining for oil. But the truth is, I'm not. I am not at all about poles, but rather about unifying those poles. The dining table, political edge, in terms of Mesopotamia, seeing as how that basically is Iraq, Iraq on top of American Colonial. There is a taking from the American table to create the raised sculpture of the landscape of Mesopotamia, of Iraq. But I am not trying to be political; to say anything that is not there, that cannot be seen. It is what it is.
CS: Yeah, I was just trying to find a title that would tie the work together, and home is such an integral part of the work. Traditional role of the homemaker is woman. My mother was a homemaker in fact. But it was I in this exhibition. I have literally made a home.
Noah Becker: Editor-in-Chief