Night is a Girl, Tiger Strikes Asteroid, 2011

Night Is A Girl
Tiger Strikes Asteroid, 2011

The Solipsism of an Inverted Cartography

"On Exactitude in Science...In that Empire, the Art of Cartography attained such Perfection that the map of a single Province occupied the entirety of a City, and the map of the Empire, the entirety of a Province. In time, those Unconscionable Maps no longer satisfied, and the Cartographers Guilds struck a Map of the Empire whose size was that of the Empire, and which coincided point for point with it. The following Generations, who were not so fond of the Study of Cartography as their Forebears had been, saw that vast Map was Useless, and not without some Pitilessness was it, that they delivered it up to the Inclemencies of Sun and Winters. In the Deserts of the West, still today, there are Tattered Ruins of that Map, inhabited by Animals and Beggars; in all the Land there is no other Relic of the Disciplines of Geography." 

Suarez Miranda, Viajes de varones prudentes, Libro IV, XLV, Lerida, 1658 from Jorge Luis Borges, A Universal History of Infamy, Penguin Books, London, 1975

We encounter what resembles a coral bed but upon further examination it bears a family resemblance to an unholy marriage of disparate elements. These resemble the exoskeletal remains of an impossible and somewhat harrowing symbiosis of human organs hosting parasitic natural accretions of coral and wood combined with the impossible sprouting of the limbs and heads of infant humans. One can imagine Mary Shelley creating this fictional aquatic homunculus, the bed of a bizarre coral colony known only through its calcified remains. In its animate state it would be a frightening experience for the scientist encountering this undersea Frankenstein's monster. Perhaps it is an act of mercy to only consider the traces it left behind. 

The sculptures of Terri Saulin, however, are of a much more benevolent origin than these hybrids might imply. The process begins with cartography. Cartography is the science or art of making maps. It is also the catalyst that inspires the sculpture of Terri Saulin. Her use of mapping calls to mind the work of the late Ree Morton, one of my teachers at Philadelphia College of Art, although Terri was unfamiliar with her work before our discussions. Rather than using cartography in its traditional role of simply mapping, the maps she makes generate a new and fantastic topography with more similarities to a mutated coral bed than the plant beds of an urban yard, which is the actual landscape examined. Often the original product of the mapping process which breeds the porcelain topography will be remapped and those maps overlaid on other maps and traced to produce another series of shapes. It is a labyrinthian and solipsistic use of the mapmaking process and an inversion of the process when the topology produced by the map is mapped again. Like the Borges story above, the sculpture of Terri Saulin employs a radical expansion of the cartographic process beyond its traditional uses and limitations. Her prolific production of these porcelain sculptures may realistically cover the entire small area of land that she has obsessively mapped over time, although their actual placement might be subjective. The production of a three dimensional topography rather than the mirroring of one and producing a three dimensional schematic is the inverse of the traditional cartographic process. This process itself is sometimes again inverted by creating maps of the porcelain topography that has been created by another map. This provides another additional shapes, which are traced and overlaid to drawings and potentially more objects. Once the initial information is transferred from the mundane reality of an urban yard, the options of mapping, tracing, and casting could conceivably mimic the spiral of a Fibonacci series, a mathematical principle applicable to many examples in nature, that explodes into an orgy of the self- referential reproduction. The system information produced and altered by the overlapping, tracing and remapping of existing sculptures can sustain itself without a return to the scene of the original landscape if she so desires. 

Topography is both the starting point and the end of a solipsistic system generated by the cartographic record of her back yard. The choice of the yard as paradigm is an extension of her love of her miniature botanical gardens, the process of planting in general and the growth of herbs as a future element of her remarkable cuisine. During my visits to her studio she served lunch. What a wonderful chef she is! I had some of the best meals in recent memory in her kitchen, which looks out through her sunroom to the garden that is the inspiration and the site of the maps. If she thinks that I have had my last meal in her kitchen she is wrong. Her gastronomic skills will inspire me to find reasons to be invited to lunch. 

A visual vocabulary of human-like organs result from the tracing of maps over other maps. They resemble organ shapes but they appear to have secreted a calcareous carbonate shell that left behind a brittle record of an organ not longer there. Along with the organ shapes are other natural shapes, coral, wood, bone and the recent addition of doll parts. The porcelain shares the whiteness of bleached coral and bone, with the gloss of clear glazes applied in small doses, perhaps acknowledging the wetness of living things. These objects appear to be generated by a natural process of accretion, mimicking coral in their assembly. Hollow sea urchin shapes develop, the porcelain giving them the ghostly look of coral. Coral, the major point of reference regarding the appearance of the work, is an animal that reproduces asexually or hermaphroditically. This is a curious subtext, considering Terri herself describes the recent inclusion of baby parts as representative of reproduction or its absence. The shapes are the result of the overlays of multiple maps of the yard. A vocabulary of various porcelain shapes are assembled into what ends up suggesting a coral bed. A major recurring element is what appears to be the exoskeletons of human organs, with holes that may have once been the point of entry of arteries or tubes. They also suggest the void left from the point other minor organs once shared space that are now absent. The organ shapes tend to be the central and larger elements to the sculpture, the point of attachment for smaller elements recalling bone, wood, coral and other shapes of natural origin. In the more recent works the addition of cast doll parts leads the work from a natural history to a human one that never came to fruition. 

I habitually do a quick analysis of a persons bookcase while in their homes. A great deal can be learned about someone very quickly by what they read. The bookshelves in the Saulin home are heavy on Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, two philosophers that use the term "rhizome" or "rhizomatic" to describe theory and research that allows for multiple, non-hierarchical entry and exit points in interpretation. The rhizome works with horizontal and uses trans-species connections, which directly relates to the structure of this sculpture. In botany, the rhizome is a horizontal root stem found underground. If detached and broken into pieces, they may result in growing into an entirely new plant. Saulin's sculpture looks as if it is the product of a rhizomatic system of vegetative reproduction, the shapes repeating themselves throughout this body of work with theoretical similarity. 

There is an inherent beauty in these exoskeletal works and a natural elegance. In a curious way, the recent inclusion of doll parts, which would be innocent enough by themselves, create a malevolence when combined with the shapes that seem the result of the mining a coral sea bed. Perhaps this emanates from imagining the partial human shapes in the aquatic environment, a drowned antediluvian world that could have been pulled from a story by J. G. Ballard. During my earliest visits to Terri's studio, the doll elements were not cast yet although they may have been in the theoretical process. They were not what I was expecting. They appeared and they did not have the effect I thought they might when combined with the other elements. I read them as adding an air of malevolence and the horror of scientific experimentation to the work. I am not sure which direction Terri Saulin will take this sculpture in the future but I am certain that if the path leads through the kitchen I will certainly be following her work closely. Her culinary skills are so remarkable that she may have found the cure to my chronic tardiness. Like Pavlov's dog, I find myself salivating in the cab, anticipating her gastronomic triumphs. I enjoy the sculpture but I refrain from putting it in my mouth.  

-- Michael Macfeat, March 2011 

"If we were able to take as the finest allegory of simulation the Borges tale where the cartographers of the Empire draw up a map so detailed that it ends up exactly covering the territory (but where the decline of the Empire sees this map become frayed and finally ruined, a few shreds still discernible in the deserts — the metaphysical beauty of this ruined abstraction, bearing witness to an Imperial pride and rotting like a carcass, returning to the substance of the soil, rather as an aging double ends up being confused
with the real thing) — then this fable has come full circle for us, and now has nothing but the discrete charm of second-order simulacra. Abstraction today is no longer that of the map, the double, the mirror or the concept. Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being or substance. It is the generation of models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal. The territory no longer precedes the map, nor survives it. Henceforth, it is the map that precedes the territory — PRECESSION OF SIMULACRA — it is the map that engenders the territory and if we were to revive the fable today, it would be the territory whose shreds are slowly rotting across the map. It is the real, and not the map, whose vestiges subsist here and there, in the deserts which are no longer those of the Empire but our own: The desert of the real itself." 

- Jean Baudrillard, "The Precession of Simulacra"