Dorothee Sauter:

Geology,

Cooking Heart,

Curious

and other stories

 

Vernissage:  Friday 11 June 2021 16h – 20h

Exhibition:  12 – 26 June 2021

Thursdays - Saturdays 13h – 19h

Pfeffergässlein 25 (via Nadelberg 33),

4051 Basel, Switzerland

Curator: Angelika Li 

Enquiry: info@onkili.com 

Dorothee Sauter’s solo exhibition “Geology, Cooking Heart, Curious and other stories” (Basel, 2021) offers an extraordinary landscape populated by ambiguous free life forms. One may wonder if the scene is terrestrial or underwater? A myriad of mind games. The enigmatic sculptures stand as a cluster with their own wills: breathing, yelling, grasping; mouths, eyes, ears; protuberances, limbs, phalli; outward, inward, gesturing an urgency of energy discharge, if not explosion. Our eyes drift along these tentacular movements which suggest a potent life force with immense resilience and willpower. The colours are unmanipulated raw pigments from different continents, disarming in their utmost honesty. Placed together they create an almost-palpable fluctuation in atmosphere and temperature. Are they vessels carrying distant ancestral memories, dwellings inhabited by organisms beforetime, rhizomes in evolution, symbols of fertility or a group of quasi-objects extending from Bruno Latour’s concept of a ‘parliament of things’? Sauter wittily muddles our sense of time, shifting prehistory and future.

 

Staying curious, Sauter’s technical interest is geared towards the properties and transformation of clay minerals, metal oxides and the vitreous state of rocks, with aspirations to bring together testimonies from completely different geological time periods into her work. To Sauter, her sculptures are films for the mind’s eye: fragments of memory whether conscious or subconscious, moments in a lecture, images in the newspaper, something she has seen but cannot fully understand, stimulation by science and literature. Her goal is not only the finished sculptures and vessels, it is also her developing process: the peculiar poetry of becoming, the dance between intent and chance.

Excerpt from the curatorial essay by Angelika Li

 

Image above: Cooking heart, 2021, fired clay, pigments, 40 x 15 x 11 cm (detail)

 

Photos on this page: Marco Schibig

 

 

Dorothee Sauter: Geology, Cooking Heart, Curious and other stories

Angelika Li 

Basel, Spring 2021​

Geology is a constant topic for Swiss artist Dorothee Sauter. Growing up surrounded by forests in Aarau, Switzerland, she is the eldest of four daughters whose father was a chemist and mother was a teacher. At an early age, Sauter developed a curiosity about nature and the evolution of life, thinking of the oscillation between the prehistoric and the contemporary.

 

“What is the origin of life?” is Sauter’s question. Intrinsically scientific and humanistic, her thinking processes imagine the times before human existence. The primal living substance – earth – has become Sauter’s main source and medium in her quest. Sauter describes her working method as ‘thinking with the hands’. For her, the working process with clay is a balancing act between control and letting go, giving freedom to the material to work with, sculpting her emotions. Throughout the act of morphing, her hands leave marks on the material that constitute memories, both tangible and intangible; sealed and irreversible.

 

During her formative years in the 1970s, Sauter was exposed to diverse cultures and practices of ceramics: from the distinctive regional techniques in Switzerland, to the well-preserved ancient wood-firing heritage in Sifnos, Greece, to the Asian aesthetics, philosophy and practice inspired by traditional Japanese porcelain-making in Henrichemont, France. She studied under professor Setsuko Nagasawa from Kyoto at the Ecole des Arts Décoratifs (section céramiques) in Geneva, a school open to new influences and international exchanges at the time.

 

Sauter’s quest did not just stop there. Instead, she embarked on multiple journeys to the United States from the 1980s which marked pivotal points in her artistic development. She advanced her study on sculpture at the San Francisco Art Institute; explored cutting-edge techniques in Sun Valley, Idaho; and was exposed to the freedom of expression and experimentation of the Californian ceramicist community. In the American Southwest a new horizon on prehistoric cultural resources led her into an archaeological investigation on the Mimbres pottery culture and Anasazi cliff dwelling architecture, providing a prelude to her pursuit of landscape architecture starting in 2000.

 

Along Sauter’s journey are the inspirational lives and work of feminist revolutionaries including Iris von Roten, Simone de Beauvoir, Eva Hesse, Lynda Benglis and Donna Haraway. Fresh from her graduation, Sauter worked at the first woman-led pottery workshop in Switzerland founded by Margrit Linck where she engaged in utilitarian ceramics in the Bauhaus style.

 

While running her own studio in Bern, Switzerland, Sauter was also sporadically teaching and working on public works commissioned by the City of Bern. Her work began addressing the social structures and norms she encounters: gender identity, woman’s role and domesticity. She reengineered everyday utilitarian objects associated with gender stereotypes in the domestic realm, for instance in ‘Leibesrolle’ (1989) and ‘Pfeifenwunsch’ (1990), into large-than-life-size sculptures with mutated bends, edges, and twists against their functionality. Rounded parts become piercing angles, acting as a rebellious statement, if not a forceful protest. These feminist narratives were demonstrated in her exhibition at Kunsthalle Bern and two-person exhibition with Silvia Bächli in Burgdorf in the early 1990s. 

 

As a young mother, Sauter was eager to find out more about human biology – again: “What is the origin of life?” – and this directed her to the medical archive at the University of Bern where she found research materials on the phenomenon of sperm deformity and its relation to sickness, inflammation, damage and death. This extends to the curiosity about what constitutes a ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’ life form in morphology. The research was instrumental to the ‘Spermien’ series (1992) and shed light on the ‘Einzelstück (Hand) aus Verhinderung’ series (1994), a connection between the hands and the cerebellum (the “little brain”) that controls our muscles, movements and balance.

 

Eva Hesse’s influence on the pursuit of new material is evident. In Sauter’s “Red Vinyl” series, she revisits her childhood and the recurring subject of gender identity. Casts from domestic objects of deceased women and her sons’ toy cars, representations of body parts and human organs oscillate between death and birth, beauty and vulgarity, pop up conspicuously in her solo exhibitions at Galerie Francesca Pia, Bern in 1996 and the University of Illinois in 2001. Sauter experiments with non-traditional materials such as a bold red plastic which is challenging to handle and provocative to the senses, especially to the olfactory. The radical colour and texture resonate flesh and blood, a rebirth of forgotten domestic objects.

 

In 2000, together with her family, Sauter moved to the United States, and it was also when her cultivated passion for landscape architecture brought her into a master’s programme at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Particularly significant for Sauter’s artistic transformation were the practicum at Champaner-Pavagadh Archaeological Park in Gujarat, India in 2003 and her involvement in the renovation in 2005 of Houston's Emancipation Park, one of the oldest public parks in the city, before she started practicing in a landscape architecture office in Houston. She returned to Switzerland in 2016, living in Basel with a studio in Rheinfelden.

 

Sauter’s solo exhibition “Geology, Cooking Heart, Curious and other stories” (Basel, 2021) offers an extraordinary landscape populated by ambiguous free life forms. One may wonder if the scene is terrestrial or underwater? A myriad of mind games. The enigmatic sculptures stand as a cluster with their own wills: breathing, yelling, grasping; mouths, eyes, ears; protuberances, limbs, phalli; outward, inward, gesturing an urgency of energy discharge, if not explosion. Our eyes drift along these tentacular movements which suggest a potent life force with immense resilience and willpower.  The colours are unmanipulated raw pigments from different continents, disarming in their utmost honesty. Placed together they create an almost-palpable fluctuation in atmosphere and temperature.

 

Are they vessels carrying distant ancestral memories, dwellings inhabited by organisms beforetime, rhizomes in evolution, symbols of fertility or a group of quasi-objects extending from Bruno Latour’s concept of a ‘parliament of things’? Sauter wittily muddles our sense of time, shifting prehistory and future.

 

Staying curious, Sauter’s technical interest is geared towards the properties and transformation of clay minerals, metal oxides and the vitreous state of rocks, with aspirations to bring together testimonies from completely different geological time periods into her work. To Sauter, her sculptures are films for the mind’s eye: fragments of memory whether conscious or subconscious, moments in a lecture, images in the newspaper, something she has seen but cannot fully understand, stimulation by science and literature. Her goal is not only the finished sculptures and vessels, it is also her developing process: the peculiar poetry of becoming, the dance between intent and chance.