"Try to reach the goal without touching the walls" Exhibition Text

Katrina Kufer
Oct 27, 2013 8:53AM

Michael Sailstorfer is the kind of artist that would make environmentalists angry, and disaster fetishists feel loved. “It’s not my task to make the world a better place” and that he certainly does not, with his transformation of previously functional objects into useless (but commanding) artistry. Everyday industrial materials are manipulated, occasionally through unorthodox techniques, to induce oxidized-decay, self-destruction or disgruntled stagnation. It is resourceful, but it is also havoc-wreaking; but either way, Sailstorfer deconstructs, decontextualizes and reassembles the seen “today” into an unseen “tomorrow”.

Sailstorfer is innovative with his materials in a way that recalls youthful experimentation. He plays, dismissing fundamental characteristics of objects, such as sound, scent, weight and function, as though he finds them arbitrary and malleable. He will hurl a light-post from his homemade Mercedes-catapult (Shooting Star, 2002), or accost multiple senses via a tire literally burning itself out (Time is not a motorway, 2005). His limitation-bending practice births works with new “constraints” that are perceptively impossible yet apparently…physically plausible. Absurd innovation, or mischievous experimentation? The effect induces dichotomous wonderment and fear in viewers; his materials aren’t the only things he is playing with.

Sailstorfer counts on the accepted boundaries of physics and propriety to activate the destabilizing effect of his works on both their materiality and the viewers. In true enfant terrible form, this is an artist whose artistic practice deals with the understanding of how objects function, why, and how “man arranges himself in this world” accordingly… then spends his time dismantling all of it. This impish defiance began early in his practice, flouting the traditional approach of his sculptor father (minimalist forms in limestone, granite and marble) and appropriating Richard Serra’s[1] perilous manipulation of weight and balance fused with a Germanically-inspired use of industrial materials.

Motion in space is another key element of Sailstorfer’s practice within his materials, themes and exhibition locales. Try to reach the goal without touching the walls deals explicitly with motion. This is the kind of ride you take Saturday afternoon, weary from the night before, where everything seems to be going wrong. The video you’re recording is upside down (World Tour, 2003), the steering wheel isn’t turning the way it should (Lenkrad, 2012)… this journey seems like one giant endless maze-like track (Maze, 2012). The absurdity is laughable. But at least your partner-in-crime is entertaining you with song (World Tour). All the “right” elements are present, in theory, “ready to go”, but directional acceleration is futile because something is missing, something that Sailstorfer consciously eliminated, “I like the idea of creating something new by taking something away.” This may be a commentary on the “go, go, go” mentality relevant to most modernized societies, but then again, it may be merely an observation of contrast from his Bavarian-countryside upbringing. Sailstofer implies one thing and suggests another, just another facet of his play, because sometimes, it is just a story he fabricates. It makes his works initially graspable, but there is always that twist, that metaphorical wrench thrown in. In Try to reach the goal without touching the walls… the exhibition swerves suddenly and includes a robot; off-topic for the exhibition, but perfectly in tune with what we have learnt to expect from Sailstorfer. Just a little naughtiness to remind you that this may be serious art, but we needn’t be so serious about art.

Sailstofer embodies practical imperfection, but translated into aesthetics, it equates to poetry. The concept of wabi-sabi[2] reformulates beauty as the acceptance of impermanence, imperfection and incompleteness. Michael Sailstorfer’s works are ephemeral, technically faulty, and fragmented. Sailstorfer celebrates his materials with unadulterated purity, paying tribute to their design quirks, allowing the typically “unsavory” elements to become poetic necessity.

“Noise means that something is in action, moving, breathing. Noise makes you experience time. Something making noise is alive.” 

What is silence?



[1] b.  1938, USA, controversial site-specific sculptor who explores the relationship between artwork, site and viewer with large-scale industrial materials. Numerous key exhibitions and installations since 1960s.

[2]  Japanese aesthetic philosophy of beauty with the acceptance that nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect in the natural cycle of growth, decay and death.

[3]  Michael Sailstorfer interview, October 2005

Katrina Kufer